Kreuter arrived at Middleton College (not its real name) to serve as its interim President after a racial brawl had brought national media attention and precipitated the retirement of its long-serving president. The intent of the mid-nineteenth century founders of the small Midwest college had been to establish an institution of higher learning open to all races and women and men alike. By the 1990's, however, that promise had been long forgotten.
We see Kreuter--under the relentless scrutiny of television cameras and newspaper reporters, agencies of state and federal government, elected officials and a variety of organizations-- dealing with unhappy students and an apprehensive faculty. Amid rising levels of anger, distrust, provocation, and piety, she tries to separate fact from fiction, maintain her sense of fairness and humor, and accomplish three main tasks: curricular change, strategic planning, and responsible management procedures. Racial climate surveys, sensitivity-training sessions, sexual bias complaints, efforts at multiculturalism and diversity, and --always-- damage control are part of the daily routine. Threatened disorder and disruption on the eve of commencement, following a show-down over speakers, indicates how far apart all sides of the debate are and how hard it is to heal campus divisions.
There are no miracles or rosy endings to Kreuter's tale-- just some honest and illuminating insight on the state of education and multiculturalism in America today. Yet her story is important because it reveals what happens when the old campus world meets the new head on; it shows too that tensions can be ameliorated and that campuses, with good faith and constructive engagement, can sometimes even move towards the ideals treasured by the founders of Middleton-- justice and equality.
About Gretchen Von LoEwe Kreuter
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Published August 27, 1996