Category: News

Behind the scenes of St. Olaf’s grounds crew

St. Olaf College has five miles of roads, 11 miles of sidewalks, 100 feet of elevation change and 300 acres of groomed campus. St. Olaf’s grounds crew tends to these massive swaths of land, caring for natural tracts and concrete thoroughfares alike.

Broadly speaking, the grounds crew takes care of everything outdoors, from sidewalks and parking lots, to trees, shrubs and flower beds. The grounds crew is also responsible for composting, maintaining the athletic fields and natural lands, storm-water drainage and moving equipment across campus. 

With winter on its way, the grounds crew’s work becomes more critical by the day. Many students will soon appreciate plowed sidewalks and salted roads on their way to class. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy groomed ski trails winding through the natural lands. The grounds crew has also taken part in recent preparations for Christmas Fest, moving equipment down to Skoglund and transforming grass fields into overflow parking space.

With a veteran staff of nine employees, some who have been at St. Olaf for over 20 years, the grounds crew possesses unique insights into the College’s past and future. 

Some of this knowledge arises from odd, chance encounters with the College’s history. For instance, during the construction of Regents Hall, the builders and grounds crew uncovered timbers from an old chapel that had previously burned down and been buried. 

“That’s one thing I’ve put together over the years, as we discover the hilltop of the campus has been modified by man for quite a while,” Assistant Director of Facilities Jim Fisher said.

Over the years, Fisher and the grounds crew have had to repeatedly accommodate sweeping overhauls of the campus’s buildings and layout. For example, the predecessor to the Center for Art and Dance (CAD) used to exist where Regents Hall currently stands. CAD used to be the Student Center – before Buntrock Commons was built – complete with a bowling alley, Cage and dining area. Tomson Hall was the science building, and parts of Christiansen Hall of Music housed administrative offices. 

“The Buntrock parking lot was not a sheet, it was actually tiered down the hill,” Fisher said. “All the excavation from Buntrock Commons was pushed out to make a level parking lot rather than a tiered parking lot. What we see right now on St. Olaf campus has changed a lot in 25 years, let alone 150.”

There used to be a ski jump on the hill by Thorson Hall. Although it was taken down several decades ago, the footings remained and the hill stayed open for sledding, leading to some grisly accidents. One of Fisher’s first actions at St. Olaf was to close this hill to sledding by planting trees and foliage. 

“It was just too tempting and too many trips to the emergency room with broken arms and broken noses, with students sliding down where the ski jump used to be. It was not very wide, but it was very steep,” Fisher said.

Grounds crew also has unique background knowledge regarding the renovation of Holland Hall. 

“For the first 20-some-odd years here, I kept getting complaints that water was getting into the basement of the building, and when we started excavating we discovered that sometime in the 60s they bermed dirt up against the wall of Holland Hall,” Fisher said. This led to groundwater leaking into the building. 

“That’s why there’s more, what appears to be more building exposed now, but it’s actually taken back more to the original flavor of what was there,” Fisher said. Reverting Holland Hall to its original design presented some logistical challenges. For instance, the original Holland Hall was not accessible, leading to the need for the long, drawbridge-esque pathway on the north side of the building.

According to Fisher, proper maintenance of the outdoor facilities has dramatically extended their lifespan. 

“Doing proper maintenance on some of these things, the track for instance, the outdoor running track is 28 years old right now, and just by doing proper maintenance on it, that’s probably two to three times longer lived than most outdoor artificial running tracks,” Fisher said.

Fisher and the grounds crew foresee a number of renovations happening in the future. Most immediately, a number of dormitories need remodelling, although more drastic projects may be on the horizon. 

“Buntrock is coming up on it’s 20th birthday sometime not too far down the road, just a couple more years here. It’s going to need some remodelling,” Fisher said.

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Former professors accused of sexual misconduct

St. Olaf is renowned for its music program, and Paula Swanson ’68 serves as an example of the talent the department attracts. She played flute in the St. Olaf Band, majored in piano performance and briefly sang in the St. Olaf Choir.

Throughout her time in the program, band director Miles Johnson, now deceased, allegedly groomed, sexually exploited and assaulted Swanson. Her life was irreversibly affected.

“To this day, my husband calls me ‘the startled woman’ … I put that to the years of fearfulness that [Johnson] would walk in abruptly while I was concentrating on certain passages of my practice,” she said.

Johnson left letters in Swanson’s P.O. box calling her his “golden girl” and summoning her to his office. Occasionally, he would drive her out to the country where he would kiss and fondle her.

“When I was with him, I was a statue,” Swanson said. “He did all the talking, mostly, and his physical aggression toward me was met by stony, cold silence … I went somewhere else mentally, like a zombie.”

Once, during her senior year, Johnson entered a practice room where she was rehearsing, turned off the lights, pushed her against a wall and kissed her. He fled when Swanson screamed.

A pattern

Swanson is not alone in her experience. The Manitou Messenger found that several former professors allegedly sexually abused students. In one case, the college administration at the time allowed the alleged perpetrator to continue teaching even after receiving a complaint. 

Last March, St. Olaf renamed the building formerly known as the Dittmann Center, the Center for Art and Dance. This was announced after multiple alumni accused former art and Norwegian professor Reidar Dittmann ’47, now deceased, of sexual assault and misconduct.

One of those students, Karen, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, spoke to the Manitou Messenger about enduring Dittmann’s abuse while attending St. Olaf in the 1980s. The two met during Karen’s senior year while she was studying abroad on a month-long art history interim program led by Dittmann.

“The abuse began during that interim,” Karen said. “His attention started somewhere at least halfway through the trip … He started with the typical grooming process. [He asked] me to go with him on his daily prep walks, sometimes just me and sometimes with other students.”

He also asked her to dinner and afternoon coffee.

“On one such occasion after [a group] dinner, and after I had consumed enough wine to be intoxicated, Reidar Dittmann brought me up to his room where [he] then raped me,” Karen said.

When she returned to campus in the spring, Karen said Dittmann would place notes in her P.O. box, asking her to meet him in his office in Steensland Hall where they would sometimes have sex.

“When I did not show up he … made me feel like I had somehow failed,” Karen said. “I had been brought up to do what my teachers told me and to respect authority figures. This was the culture, you have to understand this.”

Communication between the two continued through Karen’s final semester and into the months following her graduation. Dittmann contacted her until she repeatedly asked him to stop. Like Swanson, the experience has stayed with her ever since. 

Bruce Jensen ’77 approached the Manitou Messenger about former St. Olaf physics professor Harry Keller, who passed away in 2000. In 1975, Jensen was enrolled in Keller’s environmental studies interim class. After Jensen expressed interest in further discussion about the course, Keller invited Jensen to his office, where they talked about their personal lives and Keller kissed Jensen.

“There was nothing as far as physical abuse that happened, but there was all kinds of mental turmoil,” Jensen said. “And so the dynamics of the sexual abuse mentally were very much at play with me. I was very conflicted, because … I respected his intellect very much, I loved his class, I thought he taught it well.”

Jensen visited Keller’s office two more times over that interim. During the last visit, Keller asked Jensen to fondle his penis. When Jensen refused, the two had a physical struggle until Keller gave up and Jensen left the office.

“I had no idea what to think or do. I couldn’t make it all fit in my head to make any kind of sense,” Jensen said.

Reporting was ineffective

In February 1975, Jensen approached the St. Olaf administration and Northfield Police Department about Keller. He later met with members of the administration and recounted his experience in detail. Jensen said he did not receive any follow-up from either the administration or police, and that Keller continued to work at the College. 

“About two-thirds of the way through second semester I’m walking through the student center … and coming down the way was Harry Keller with another male student, walking side by side. And I knew what was behind that, and I just felt that I had lost,” Jensen said.

St. Olaf does not have any record of Jensen’s report or of any resulting action by the College.

“[Jensen’s] complaint involves an allegation of sexual assault, so there’s no grey area there,” St. Olaf General Counsel Carl Lehmann ’91 said. “That would have violated college policy in addition to criminal law. What little I know about that instance was that, as is frequently the case with sexual predators, multiple individuals came forward after [Jensen] told of his experience.”

Keller continued to work at St. Olaf until December 1981. Shortly before his departure, two students filed complaints against Keller, and the College acted to end his employment. He left just months before a civil lawsuit was filed against him and St. Olaf by Northfield resident Anthony Williams, who also accused Keller of sexual abuse. According to a Manitou Messenger article from 1982, Jensen was called to give a deposition and Keller “did not deny the charges made by Jensen and agreed to the student’s factual version of the incident.”

Today, any romantic or sexual relationship between a professor and a student – consensual or otherwise – would be forbidden by the College’s consensual relations policy, which prohibits “Consensual Relationships between a faculty or staff member and any student enrolled at the College.” If a faculty or staff member is found in violation of this policy, they are “subject to discipline up to and including dismissal.” 

No such policy existed while any of the survivors were enrolled at St. Olaf; sexual exploitation was wrapped into a clause in the faculty manual that stated, “[a professor] avoids any exploitation of students for his private advantage and acknowledges significant assistance from them.”

Neither Swanson nor Karen reported the abuse during their time at St. Olaf. 

Confronting the past

According to Lehmann, St. Olaf was unaware of any allegations against Dittmann or Johnson until survivors approached the College in the spring of 2016. Since then, St. Olaf has made several attempts to acknowledge the effects of the abuse and misconduct on survivors. The name of the arts building was changed, and the Miles Johnson Endowment was renamed the St. Olaf Band Endowment.

Current St. Olaf Band conductor Timothy Mahr ’78 said that the allegations against Johnson have spurred some changes in the music department. A book about the history of the St. Olaf Band is in the works, and it will now include an epilogue addressing these allegations and related issues. The College is also questioning the display of Johnson’s portrait in Christiansen Hall of Music.

“We are frustrated and disappointed and concerned, so I’m hopeful that maybe this epilogue might provide a way for us to learn from the experience and grow from it,” Mahr said.

Lehmann said that the College has responded to the allegations in a number of additional ways, but has not publicly shared those changes “because of [the] expressed wishes of victims involved.”

Lehmann stressed the College’s desire to assist any survivors of assault or misconduct – past or present. 

In regards to the College’s ongoing investigation of sexual abuse, Lehmann said, “I don’t think it will ever be wrapped up. We continue to hear of allegations, sometimes involving the same professors that we had heard about or are aware of already, and other times people come forward with new allegations involving new faculty.”

For Swanson, healing remains an ongoing process.

“I believe that Miles Johnson’s actions and words helped to create a different Paula than I was in 1964, as a freshman,” Swanson said. “In the past, I’ve worked with therapists and psychiatrists ever since to find the old, true Paula.”

This report is part of a series detailing sexual misconduct by professors at St. Olaf College. To send information or tips to the news team please email Conlan Campbell (, Anders Mattson ( and Becca Carcaterra ( contributed reporting.

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Online courses now available to fulfill GEs

As a member of the Council of Independent Colleges’ (CIC) Online Humanities project, St. Olaf is now offering online courses to students for enrollment this spring. The CIC includes seven different colleges throughout the country which offered select online courses to on-campus students the first semester, and expanded access to students at all colleges in the CIC consortium during the second semester. 

Through CIC, students at member colleges will gain access to 14 new online courses, two of which are taught by St. Olaf professors. In these online courses, professors from the seven consortium colleges integrate brief lectures and activities which involve asynchronous participation and forums. St. Olaf Associate Professor of Religion James Hanson is offering a course entitled “Jesus and the Moral Life,” and Associate Professor of Chinese Ka Wong is offering “Digital Asia in America.”

“Last year, Jim Hanson and Ka Wong offered their courses to St. Olaf students online, just to see how that would work,” St. Olaf Associate Dean of Humanities Margaret O’Leary said. “They also offered their courses to the wider consortium this fall, and they actually got some students enrolling from the consortium …  they’ve had an experience now with what it’s like having these students from other campuses as a part of [their] online community.” 

The project includes courses that cover a wide variety of topics, some of which will allow St. Olaf students to fulfill their EIN, HWC, ALS-A, ALS-L and MCD general education (GE) requirements. Grades received in the courses will be included on St. Olaf transcripts but will not be calculated into students’ cumulative GPA.

“We’re using the same model as other off -campus courses” O’leary said. “If you go to Germany and take a course, the course grade appears on the transcript but is not calculated in the GPA. They’re not taught by St. Olaf instructors, and that’s just the general policy.”

O’Leary emphasized the purpose of St. Olaf’s participation in the project, distinguishing it from that of other colleges who offer online courses more frequently. 

“Some of the CIC Colleges are [participating in the project] probably with the hope of saving money or not having to hire someone … that’s not why we’re doing it at St. Olaf,” O’Leary said. “We’re doing it to see what we can learn about learning.”

As a one year pilot program at an institution which highly values the classroom experience, O’Leary does not anticipate St. Olaf developing many online courses for students in the future. She did, however, present the possibility of integrating aspects of online learning into classroom- based courses. This could include the creation of hybrid courses which utilize online forums to facilitate the learning experience. 

The project has been especially exciting for St. Olaf faculty who know or have worked with consortium professors in the past. O’Leary expressed the potential benefits that could accompany students having the opportunity to learn from faculty at institutions across the country. 

“I think it does offer the chance [for students to access] professors that you don’t have access to otherwise, but secondly, a different community of learners,” O’Leary said. “They will survey the students afterwards to find out what their experience was. I think the opportunity to get off campus without going off campus is kind of cool.”

The registration period for most of the courses extends into January, and enrollment is available to students at no additional cost beyond the tuition and fees paid to St. Olaf. To register, students must complete a Registration Request Form and bring it to the St. Olaf Registrar’s Office before the registration period opens for the college offering that course.

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Archeologist Patrick Hunt traces Hannibal’s path

A historian who looks at the human effect on climate change over the course of time. An author who wrote a book on Hannibal Barca, the ancient Carthaginian leader and enemy of Rome. An environmentalist who asks tough questions about our planet. Meet Dr. Patrick Hunt of Stanford University. Bringing his suitcase packed with experience and expertise from his many expeditions, Hunt paid a visit to St. Olaf College last Friday, Nov. 3 and talked about his new book “Hannibal” in Regents Hall of Natural Science. 

Hunt has been a professor at Stanford for 25 years and has led numerous archeology projects on climate and culture in the highest parts of the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Every year he heads teams across at least ten Alpine passes in search of topographical clues matching the texts of Polybius and Livy, who wrote about Hannibal nearly two millennia ago. He has worked on projects for the National Geographic and he has appeared in a number of documentaries for the BBC and the History Channel. 

Hunt directed the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project from 1994 to 2012. His research focuses on Hannibal Barca, who is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. Hunt explained the tactics Hannibal employed to pass the Romans undetected and more contemporary issues, such as his impact on current world leaders.

Over the course of 25 years trekking through the Alps, Hunt and his students took every single possible route that Hannibal could have led his troops on during the Second Punic War in 218 BC.. Hunt’s expeditions have uncovered long hidden secrets about Hannibal, and revealed how he used the environment to his advantage and fought off armies three times the size of his own.

Professor Tim Howe of the History Department shared his excitement about the lecturer.

“A person like this actually exists,” Howe said. “I hope that students can come away knowing that lifelong learning is a thing. You don’t have to specialize in one major; you can be informed by so many different disciplines to create your vocation. And more importantly, you can make being an adventure a living.”

The invitation to this lecture was extended to Carleton students and members of the Northfield community with an intimate dinner for students before the talk. The St. Olaf faculty hope that by inviting Dr. Hunt to campus, they can give St. Olaf students, Carleton students and the Northfield community the opportunity to talk to a notable professor from Stanford. The lecture also aimed to reach as many community members as possible.

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Events celebrate St. Olaf’s international students

The International Student Organization (ISO) hosted a series of educational and celebratory events for International Awareness Week from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3. The organization arranged the week’s events to “bring a greater understanding and awareness to the realities of being an international student in America.”

Kicking off the week was a lecture on immigration by Professor of Political Science Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak. In her talk, Pak gave a broad overview of the history, statistics and politics of immigration, suggesting we analyze the issue through the lense of a “three-fold sort of mismatched globalization.” According to Tegtmeyer Pak, globalization occurred in three discordant dimensions: economically, through the rise of global capitalism; politically, through the proliferation of the nation-state model; and morally, through the development of global norms of human rights.

After outlining her thesis, Tegtmeyer Pak gave an overview of humanity’s migratory history, emphasizing that humans have long been migratory beings. Tegtmeyer Pak also examined historical shifts in wealth and power fueled by immigration, particularly those from the European core towards North America. 

Tegtmeyer Pak highlighted key statistics on immigration, both to illuminate the current state of affairs and to illustrate globalization at work. 

“These sorts of statistics were created in France and in Germany in ways to try and understand who is where,” she said. “This sort of thinking catches that one form of [political] globalization. It catches the fact that we have a way of governing ourselves that works similarly in different parts of the world.” 

Throughout her lecture, Tegtmeyer Pak emphasized the various ways different forms of globalization conflict. In one slide, she displayed sobering statistics on the scope of the global refugee crisis, including the number of migrants dying en route to their destination. Later, she showed most developed countries are seeking to maintain or decrease the numbers of immigrants they admit each year, indicating an aversion among these countries to fully embrace refugee resettlement. Tegtmeyer Pak emphasized this point when she asked audience members to formulate their ‘ideal’ immigration policy, an exercise that illustrated how self-interested national policies often prioritize political and economic interests over humanitarian concerns.

In addition to Tegtmeyer Pak’s lecture, ISO hosted an “Open Heart Session” in the Pause on Nov. 1. According to ISO, this event was intended to be a “wholesome space for international students to come forth and speak about their experiences as international students in the U.S.” ISO also hosted a “Meet and Greet” in the Ytterboe lounge featuring snacks and games.

Last spring, several protesters alleged that events similar to those hosted for International Awareness Week were ‘tokenizing’ towards international students. However, many international students reject that characterization. 

“I think it’s great, as long as it’s not against, unwelcoming, uninviting to domestic students,” Måttiås Køstøv ‘20 said. “I don’t think it’s tokenizing, I think it’s fine.”

Others have more mixed feelings. 

“We are coming from 100+ different countries, and just naming us as ‘internationals,’ it is kind of interesting,” Doğukan Günaydın ‘21 said. “But I guess if the events were informative and actually understanding of the various backgrounds that we have, I think it could be useful.” 

Some students are skeptical of the amount of work an event like International Awareness Week can really acomplish. 

“It’s good that people are actually caring about informing others and raising awareness,” Zoi Triantafilidou ’20 said. “But I think that a week is not enough to raise awareness, because when you’re an international, and especially when you have an accent or look different, people dismiss you very easily, and I don’t think an International Week can bridge that gap.”

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