UMN Crookston history professor weighs in on Kiehle murals

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

A University of Minnesota Crookston professor who says she's the only faculty member that teaches history on campus shared that she has not been asked to be part of the discussions about the Kiehle Auditorium murals and that she sees the murals as a "broader issue." Sharon Neet told the Times that she sent Vice Chancellor John Hoffman, who reconvened a murals committee in early 2021, and Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause her comments on the murals and the first sentence of her letter to them said that she believes they have turned to people "off campus" to find "expertise and planning" regarding the murals.

"The Campus Update item that you wrote about the murals appears to be a largely concluded decision to remove the mural from sight if not to outright destroy it," Neet wrote to the chancellors.

Neet told them she believes that WPA artwork was a style that is "specific to the Great Depression" and it represented a time in history that has "merit."

"If the past is whitewashed, then the learning opportunity disappears," she added.

"Sanitizing the mural does not remove the Treaty from the history of the area, state, or nation," Neet continued in her letter. "The impact and legacy are not wrapped up in one mural. You write that two panels reflect a “good” or “correct” version of the area’s history. This is the equivalent of taking white out to books with passages you or a group find distasteful. The delete key will make cleansing the online sources easier."

Neet provided examples from George Orwell's "1984" that used "Thought Police" to "stop individual decisions and thought" and felt "removing by committee does not make a decision less oppressive." She also spoke about the Taliban who "wreaked havoc" on ancient landmarks of Afghanistan and wondered if the removal of the mural was "any less a crime?"

"While looking at the mural message in current times you may want to consider renaming the campus because Crookston was named for William Crooks," Neet continued in her comments to the chancellors, noting that she included an excerpt from Crooks' Wikipedia page that referred to his role in the Dakota War and the execution of tribe members.

"While you have your groups gathered on the mural's future you may want to run the idea of renaming the campus a different name to remove this incident linked to the massacre," she concluded.

Neet joined the university in the late 1990s and currently teaches History 1021 - World Civ I and Politics 1001 - American Government, and has an educational background that includes a B.A. in History from Washburn University, Doctor of Arts in History from University of North Dakota, M.A. in History from Pittsburg State University and Specialist in Education from Pittsburg State University.

Kiehle Murals right side