U student leaders on Wednesday called for University of Minnesota regent Steve Sviggum to resign for comments suggesting racial and ethnic diversity on the Morris campus was hurting marketing efforts. Credit: Tom Webber | MPR News

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After University of Minnesota regent Steve Sviggum apologized in October for remarks suggesting that growing racial and ethnic diversity on the University of Minnesota Morris campus might be a marketing problem, he accepted an invitation from students to come to Morris, break bread, and learn how diversity is a campus strength.

That lunch gathering reportedly did not go well.

Student leaders representing the Morris, Duluth, and Twin Cities campuses on Wednesday called for Sviggum to resign from the University’s board of regents, saying Sviggum used his time at the Morris meeting last month to “justify” his prior remarks, leaving students convinced his prior apology was not sincere.

“Regent Sviggum didn’t seem to internalize anything we told him during that meeting. He had an opportunity to learn from, or at least directly apologize for his mistakes, and he didn’t do either,“ Hal Johnson, a Morris student representative to the board of regents, said in a statement Wednesday after the Sviggum meeting. Johnson said he attended the lunch.

Sviggum, he added, repeatedly misquoted prior comments on diversity from Dylan Young, president of the Morris Campus Student Association. “It was frustrating, and left us feeling his apology wasn’t sincere at all.”

Young said Sviggum “fell short of admitting he made a mistake” while emphasizing his financial responsibility to the university.

There was no immediate response from Sviggum. 

Sviggum triggered a firestorm when during an October meeting with regents and the Morris campus chancellor he wondered aloud: “Is it possible that at Morris, we’ve become too diverse? Is that possible, all from a marketing standpoint?”

Sviggum didn’t provide any facts to support the assertion, saying only that he’d received a couple of letters from friends whose children chose not to go to Morris because they considered it “too diverse…they just didn’t feel comfortable there.” 

His remarks got immediate pushback from students and some regents, including Ken Powell, chair of the University’s regents board.

After defending his comments as needing to ask tough questions about enrollment decline, Sviggum apologized. He then stepped down as vice chair of the board of regents adding that he would stay on the board until his term expires next year.