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The University of North Dakota:  Sad and Dreary Little Postscript

For thirteen years, I taught at the University of North Dakota in the Department of Indian Studies and I served as departmental chair for four years.  I was also a member of the graduate faculty and, for many years, the Honors Committee -- and served a term as Honors chair.  During that time I was the only Indian on the regular Indian Studies faculty and, when I became tenured, was the only Native faculty person with that status. Prior to coming to UND, I had taught as a full-time faculty person for thirteen years at other higher ed institutions in such fields as sociology and urban & regional planning and had done considerable part-time teaching.

I liked virtually every student I taught at UND (as elsewhere) -- Indian or non-Indian.  And my classes were among the largest ever held at the institution;  my evaluations from students were consistently very high.   A few faculty were friends and a handful of administrators.

The fact that my salary at UND, when I retired in 1994 as a full Professor, was only  about $36,500 -- one of the very lowest for anyone of that rank in any state college or university in the United States and far, far below even the generally low UND level -- was  one of the least of the problems I faced. The often hostile atmosphere became more and more so as I became increasingly involved -- at the University, in the community, and in the region -- in very successful social justice, human rights, and advocacy campaigns.

In time, there were attacks on my consistently large and popular courses -- e.g., "Racism and Hate Groups in America;"  the innovative standing-room only "UFOs, ETs, and Close Encounters,"  and even my section of "Introduction to Indian Studies."

Eventually, in the Fall of 1993,  I decided to take early retirement and go on to other endeavors.  This I did but,  interestingly,   I was never carried throughout my final  teaching year on  any of the   officially published and public   lists of UND retirees, nor notified or invited in any fashion to the  annual retirees'  dinner or given the usual photos or the usual gift of a chair.

These I could forego.  But I did formally inquire of the then UND President, Kendall Baker, about the emeritus status virtually always given at UND to retiring professors and academic administrators.

I received no definitive answer on that.  As time passed, I found I was not listed in the UND directory as "Professor Emeritus" -- only as retired -- nor was I carried in the back of the University Catalogue, or on the UND Web Site,  as only emeriti are.

In short, I was (and am) almost completely excluded from any UND public list -- even though I'm an officially retired full Professor!

Finally, after several query attempts and no response, I did get, in answer to a letter of mine of January 26th, 2000, a February 10th response from John Ettling, the current Vice-President for Academic Affairs & Provost.  He conveyed the formally negative response from  what now constitutes the "Department of Indian Studies" at UND.  His letter is reprinted here with my response of February 14th. (I should add that I've  repeatedly requested -- in the event I am not given emeritus status -- specific reasons for the denial.  I have received no reasons of any kind from anyone.)

But first, this letter from a former and long-time student and social justice colleague of mine, Ms. Lisa Carney of Grand Forks -- feisty union labor and human rights activist.

This letter of Ms. Carney's was  hand carried by her to the offices of the Grand Forks Herald on March 2nd,  2000.   The Herald normally publishes letters within a week or so.  But by April 2nd, it had still not appeared.  Meanwhile, we have been receiving many supportive E-mail messages from   UND-related people (Indian and non-Indian)-- as  well as  from friends in the U.S.  generally and Canada.

Now that a fairly long article -- "Former Prof Fights For Emeritus Status" -- has just appeared in the Sunday, April 2nd Grand Forks Herald,  we very much hope that Lisa Carney's fine letter will now make it into print.

The writer of this Herald article, Mr. Ian Swanson, is a very decent and capable reporter who interviewed me thoughtfully and well for an hour.

His article is honorable.  It covers much of a prolonged and complex situation.  And he -- and I certainly appreciate this very much indeed -- lists my WebSite address.  And if you, whoever you are, have now come here, you have already read ,or you certainly will , my basic causal context and listing of key component detail  with respect to the denial of my emeritus status.

As always -- and once a Professor, forever one -- a peripheral clarification or two are in order.  The famous Woolworth  Sit-In of May 28th 1963 at Jackson, Mississippi  was a good deal more than simply mustard and other condiments.  It was a mob scene that went on for several hours and which featured my being struck repeatedly by broken sugar containers and brass knuckles -- and it was bloody, very much so, and it was my blood. Photos of the Sit-In  have recently been appearing in many well done "End of the Century" books.

A little more to the point of the current matter is the fact that -- while I certainly noted positive dimensions in  my review of the book by   now former Indian Studies colleague Mary Jane Schneider  -- I consistently felt that it lacked a certain critical empathy with grassroots Native people and communities.  Thus, I consistently did not use  the book in any of my classes.   Years later, when the Herald  mistakenly conveyed the impression that all Departmental members were using the Schneider book, I corrected this with a short letter.   The present Herald reporter, Mr. Swanson, accurately quotes me as indicating that I do not feel  this issue has any bearing on my  emeritus controversy.

And, finally, on the matter of our very friendly UFO/ET encounters -- admittedly somewhat unusual -- all  events  took place on the ground.  (No "beaming up.")  In fact, the whole affair was rather prosaic, downright conventional.

But these are really very minor and routine clarifications vis-a-vis the Herald article which, for the first time,  sets out in print my UND situation:  an experience which, for me, was characterized by a myriad of fine and friendly students all the way through, and by a few good faculty and staff and administration friends -- but which, in its final period, descended for me into a kind of nightmare.

Source: John Salter