A Native-American professor at the University of North Dakota resigned after his multiple lecture series proposals about the controversial Dakota Access pipeline were shot down, stripping away exceptional educational opportunities for students.
In an Oct. 26 Facebook post, journalism professor Mark Trahant explained that he was asked by the university to coordinate a journalism lecture series for the 2016–2017 academic year. The proposal would have included journalists who covered the pipeline protests, but the university placed it on hold.
This academic year, he proposed a technology and society conference, which would lead into a conversation about the Standing Rock Sioux, the pipeline and social media’s role in the story. The university rejected that topic because senior administrators feared the state legislature might retaliate, according to Trahant’s post.
The university released a statement Oct. 27 saying the decision wasn’t influenced by fear of backlash from the state legislature, and announced it will hold an event to discuss the pipeline and news coverage of the protests about its environmental and social hazards, according to an Oct. 30 Washington Post article.
Regardless of one’s opinion on the Dakota Access pipeline’s construction, the protests or the news coverage, an open dialogue about the complex dilemma in a college classroom could generate a thoughtful discussion and encourage students to think critically. Unfortunately, for reasons we can only speculate, the University of North Dakota failed its duty to provide its students with this superb educational exercise.
The pipeline was built by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners and transports hundreds of thousands of crude oil barrels daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The nearly $4 billion project triggered anger and outcry from environmental groups and Native Americans, primarily the Standing Rock Sioux. The pipeline travels under- neath the Missouri River in North Dakota, the tribe’s primary drinking water source, which caused fear that the oil could spill and contaminate their vital resource.
After months of legal battles and pro- tests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the company the right to build the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Stories like this will be surrounded with polarizing news coverage, with conservative commentators siding with the job-creating project and liberal-leaning editorial boards calling for a halt of the environmentally dangerous venture. Students could have watched and read those news outlets’ reports and analyzed how those organizations handled the various nuances.
In journalism classes—the good ones at least—we discuss current events and surgically pick apart the news coverage’s strengths and weaknesses. Professors ask their students whether the story is balanced, fair and, most importantly, objective. They’ll ask whether reporters rightly served their audiences by giving a voice to each side, providing proper context and holding those in power accountable.
The professor will then encourage and push for those young minds to ndthe missing angles that major news outlets ignored.
A story like the Dakota Access pipe- line is perfect for journalism students to probe, testing their developing skills and pushing them to take that extra step forward.
Trahant’s departure is more than commendable because the university’s actions are a disservice to future journalists and threaten this vital industry