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FARGO, N.D. — A University of North Dakota journalism professor said Thursday he's quitting because the school would not let him conduct seminars on the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest.
Mark Trahant said he was put in charge of a journalism lecture series and proposed two pipeline protest topics that were rejected. Last year he wanted to hear from reporters who covered the protests, and this year he suggested talking about how the protest played out on social media.
Trahant didn't say specifically who turned down his requests, other than to say "it went up to both the provost's and president's office." He said he was "disappointed and disgusted" because he doesn't believe the Grand Forks college is an institutional leader in the state.
"I have lived in other conservative states and universities tend to be kind of an institutional check and balance," Trahant said. "And you don't get that sense in North Dakota."
Trahant said he was told that "senior administration" feared the state Legislature would retaliate against the university if he went through with his plans for the lecture series.
"To be fair, I pushed," Trahant said. "I could have just said after the first one, OK, they're not going to do this, but I came back with a new proposal."
In a statement issued Thursday night, a spokesman for University President Mark Kennedy denied any role fear played into the school's decision to cancel a lecture topic.
"The University of North Dakota senior administration has never, to my knowledge ... expressed any fear of retaliation by the North Dakota Legislature," Peter Johnson said, adding that Kennedy "regrets any perception that the university would have prevented a faculty-led activity from taking place based on perceived fears of legislative response."
Trahant, 60, is in his third year as endowed professor of journalism at the school. He is the former editor of the editorial page for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also worked at The Seattle Times, Arizona Republic, The Salt Lake Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Navajo Times, Navajo Nation Today and the Sho-Ban News.
A member of Idaho's Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and former president of the Native American Journalists Association, he has written extensively about the pipeline protests and other Native American issues on his blog, TrahantReports.com.
Trahant said the university blew a good chance to put a spotlight on the protests, which resulted in 761 arrests from August 2016 to February 2017.
"The University of North Dakota is in an ideal situation of bringing everybody together and having the players have a large conversation," Trahant said of the oil protests. "There have been some panels at UND, but nothing I would consider significant."