U of M presidential finalist Laura Bloomberg visits Twin Cities campus

Students walk on a bridge
Students cross the Washington Avenue bridge on the University of Minnesota campus between classes.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

The University of Minnesota hosted public forums Friday in the Twin Cities and Rochester with a presidential finalist.

Laura Bloomberg is a U of M alum and the current president of Cleveland State University in Ohio. Before she headed to Cleveland, Bloomberg was a dean and an associate dean at the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in the Twin Cities.

Her discussion with Michael Rodriguez, dean and professor at the College of Education and Human Development was interrupted by Pro-Palestinian protestors with chants of “Free, free Palestine.”

The small group of students walked out after their chants, but later met with Bloomberg. The group and Bloomberg talked at a table during the post-event open house. 

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Bloomberg discussed a number of issues during the forum. These included free speech on campus, labor unions, and the dismantling of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives around the country.

“Fundamentally, as a learning community, we fail ourselves, if we do not strive to hold up diversity as a fundamental value,” she said. “And we can’t do that well, if we don’t think about inclusion, and we’ll never have inclusion, if we don’t center equity. I just believe it.”

She added when such issues are “challenged in our courts, or in our halls of legislatures and Congress, I believe we have an imperative to try to understand what's causing that pushback.” 

Bloomberg said doing that shouldn’t compromise a school’s fundamental beliefs.

One of the first questions of the event was about free speech and academic freedom.

“What a university is at its finest is like a Petri dish of ideas and ideas at their best often comes at comment, the friction points where we are talking to each other about ideas where we may or may not disagree,” she said. “But we elevate our collective knowledge by sharing our full ideas. And sometimes that becomes contested space.”

There are First Amendment rights as well as passion for free speech and academic freedom, Bloomberg said.

“We also have things like codes of conduct within our university. And, we have to protect those as well."

Finalists for the top job at the U began visiting the university’s five campuses on Monday. James Holloway visited the Twin Cities campus for media interviews, a public forum and an open house. He’s currently the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Mexico.

Finalist Rebecca Cunningham will visit the campuses next week. She’s the vice president for research and innovation at the University of Michigan. Cunningham has been a faculty member in the U-M Schools of Public Health and Medicine since 1999.