By Desmond Homann, Variety Editor Originally published in Issue 9, Volume 33 of The University Register on March 12, 2021
Students and staff were shocked this week with the early announcement of the candidates to take over as chancellor for the University of Minnesota, Morris upon Michelle Behr’s retirement. As of this Monday, March 8, there are three potential candidates: Betty White, Steve Carell, and Sesame Street’s own Count. All three candidates have been quick to explain why they think they deserve the job, though the decision may not be publicly announced for quite some time. Michelle Behr has not made any comments at this time and has not shown significant support for any candidate over the others.
The most popular candidate among students is life-long actress Betty White. Her eagerness to fight for the job has raised some questions and concerns, however. Professor Lucas Granholm was one of the questioning voices, saying “Everybody likes Betty White, there’s no use arguing that. My worry, though, is the risk she’s taking if she gets the job. She just turned 99, right? Now, I’m not telling her what she can and can’t do, but during a pandemic a college campus may not be the right place for her. If there was a realistic way she could work from home? Maybe. But a small campus like Morris would benefit most from someone who can be there, hands-on.”
It’s hard to turn anyone down, regardless of context, but it is true that White is part of a population that is more at-risk with COVID. Would it be safe and responsible to bring Betty White to Morris at a time like this? Even if she turns out to be the right person for the job, her health should be a priority. On the other hand, she could prove to be the strongest candidate in the area of COVID response and prevention, as she is taking the health of herself and others into such great consideration.
The news of these three individuals has already spread, reaching not only students and staff, but also alumni and members of the town and community. In a recent social media post Pam Gades posted, “...Yeah, I mean, the Count and I go way back. We met back in grad school after he’d decided to take a break from the Peace Corps and go back to school for a higher degree. He’s a nice guy, and I acknowledge our history and my bias, but is he totally qualified for the job?” Gades, who recently retired from her position as the technology coordinator for UMM, did not state in her post whether she thought Carell or White to be more suitable over the Count.
Gades is not alone in making this point, either; many have shown concern that, due to his lack of experience, the Count may not be ready to jump right into this role. That being said, his humanitarian efforts, as previously mentioned, make him stand out. The Count does appear to align strongly with many of the values our campus looks for. Maybe a kind underdog could be a change of pace for Morris.
It has not always been charity events and fundraisers for the Count, however. A very recent anonymous article has been circulating about the Count’s brushes with the law during his college days. While it is not clear yet how true these accusations are, some people have readily accepted this new information. Professor Dan Demetriou was one of the first to ask, “Why is nobody investigating The Count’s troubled past? More people should be talking about this. I think it is just plain irresponsible to ignore something that could impact his approach to a leadership position as well as his role in the Morris community.”
Demetriou has been known to support others speaking their minds regardless of the popularity of their opinions, and surely hopes that people will listen and respect his acceptance of the anonymous article, however controversial. We will all see what happens as this new information is explored.
Surprisingly, one member of the Morris community very close to Behr was quick to share her opinion on the matter. Janet Schrunk Ericksen, vice chancellor and dean, shared her support for one of the candidates over a short Zoom interview, claiming, “If Shirley Temple had never been born, I’d like to think that Steve Carell would have been given the title of ‘America’s Sweetheart.’ It would be an honor to work with him and I know that he would bring plenty to the table. His proposed changes to online and blended learning could be exactly what this campus needs right now.”
While some have commented that Ericksen may be taking sides a bit too quickly, she certainly has made some good points. Carell has been the most outspoken of the three candidates, proposing a multitude of new policies and procedures. With his suggestions ranging from the topic of food insecurity all the way to whether or not the mascot should remain a cougar, it is easy to either love or hate this polarizing candidate.
It is true that all of this information is new to us, and there is likely much that has not been revealed yet. It is our duty as members of the Morris community to voice our needs and concerns. If we want this chancellor search to go well, we need to let these three candidates know what we want from them. At this point, none of us know what will be waiting for us next year.
Image on top courtesy of Fast Company