When I taught expository writing at the University of New Mexico in 2018, my students read “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. A staple of most high school English classes in the U.S., a lot of students dismiss the book as being just “a fairy story.” A few students asked me why they had to read it again in college, and I asked them to be patient and see if they could glean anything new. Once you understand a story’s plot, you can focus on dialogue, setting, characterization, theme, historical context — all elements of a good story that point a reader toward its deeper ideas.
One section we focused on was when under cover of darkness, Squealer the Pig starts erasing the rules that the barnyard animals democratically agreed upon and written on the side of the barn, changing: “All animals are equal” to “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” Through an incremental regression of values, the pigs slowly undermine the egalitarian Animal Farm, and before long, the animals are in a similar spot as before: overworked and in despair as loved ones, fundamental rights and casks of whiskey disappear into the farmhouse.
This February, the UNM Board of Regents endorsed a revision of UNM’s mission statement, which “supersedes” the previous mission approved by Regents in 2001. The revision removed entire sections — Academic Freedom, Excellence, Integrity and Professionalism, Creativity and Initiative, Diversity within the Academic Community, and Access and Student Success — keeping a few words from each to form a single sentence.
The revision of a mission statement, especially for conciseness, isn’t inherently negative. The 2001 mission tended toward eloquence and had a lot of sections: something most busy students won’t seek out as additional reading. But that wordy document ensured students’ rights to a certain kind of academic experience at a university that prioritized these values.
I won’t list all the revised sections here, but I will include the entirety of “Academic Freedom.”
“As a center of knowledge, the University adheres to the doctrines of academic freedom and free speech. The University will continue to protect the exploration of ideas and will encourage inquiry and creative activity by students, faculty, and staff. At the same time, the University opposes statements and activities that reflect bigotry and prejudice and that consequently tend to diminish active participation by all elements of the academic community and to inhibit free expression of ideas.”
That last sentence might qualify as a run-on in grammar class. But the entire section was reduced to “honors academic,” a fragment of a sentence but hardly even that. Why cut the section entirely? And why now? The revision also cut: “Our values provide a frame of reference for making decisions.”
With all past values condensed into a single sentence, the revised mission gives little reassurance that UNM will continue to uphold them. How will they serve as a frame of reference once they’re superseded? How will we know our rights when someone erases them?
Submitted by Victoriano Cárdenas
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