Mark Trahant, a journalism professor at the University of North Dakota, has tried to teach a seminar on the Dakota Access pipeline protests for two years. After his second proposal was rejected this year, Trahant has decided to quit.
As chairman of his department, Trahant originally proposed a seminar on the reporters who covered protests at Standing Rock. His proposal was rejected by the university — so the next year, this school year, he pitched a class on the role social media played in publicizing DAPL protests. Trahant’s seminar was again denied.
Because of its proximity to Standing Rock, where hundreds of water protectors and protesters were arrested by the time it was forcibly shut down in February, UND is uniquely positioned as an educator. “The University of North Dakota is in an ideal situation of bringing everybody together and having the players have a large conversation,” Trahant said.
The decision to deny his proposed seminars, Trahant told the Associated Press, “went up to both the provost’s and president’s office.” And it should come as no surprise as to why both the provost and the president ultimately turned down Trahant’s requests:
Trahant said he was told that “senior administration” feared the state Legislature would retaliate against the university if he went through with his plans for the lecture series.
“To be fair, I pushed,” Trahant said. “I could have just said after the first one, OK, they’re not going to do this, but I came back with a new proposal.”
Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribe who has covered the Dakota Access oil pipeline on his blog for years, elaborated on his decision to quit in a Facebook post shared Thursday. “I am disappointed and disgusted that the university is not an institutional leader in the state,” he wrote. “It should be a beam of light, shining on the protected realm of rational discourse.”
Dejected would be an appropriate word to describe Trahant’s conclusion. “I understand that it’s important to keep fighting, but when your institution is absent, well, for me, this chapter ends,” he wrote. “I do appreciate my many colleagues who do great work and will carry on.”
UND’s President Mark Kennedy, of course, dismissed Trahant’s claim that the University was concerned about retaliation from the state’s legislature. “[UND’s] senior administration has never, to my knowledge...expressed any fear of retaliation by the North Dakota Legislature,” his spokesperson said in a statement released on Thursday night. “[Kennedy] regrets any perception that the university would have prevented a faculty-led activity from taking place based on perceived fears of legislative response.”