MINNEAPOLIS -- If you drive past the University of Minnesota's main entrance you'd never guess that the state's flagship institution of higher learning is supposed to be at war with Christmas.
The pillars are wrapped in red ribbons, and the iron fences are dressed in wreaths and pinecones and other holiday decorations.
Matt Kramer, the U's vice president for university relations and government affairs, stood in front of that entrance Wednesday looking to tamp down a controversy about a policy that doesn't exist.
"If this policy were real -- which it's not, if this policy existed -- which it does not, and if it were ever to exist -- which it won't, I would presumably have to report myself," Kramer exclaimed.
"Because we've decorated every one of our signs!"
The flap started Dec. 6 on the U's Saint Paul campus, which a group discussion about religious diversity. It was part of a series of events known as Dean's Dialogues, hosted by Brian Buhr, the dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Resource Sciences.
"One of their employees, and we have said 'ill-advised,' put together what looks like on paper to be a policy," Kramer explained.
"What it should've had printed in giant, bright red font, is 'discussion only.' It's not a real policy. It has not been approved by our Office of Equity and Diversity, and it never will be."
Contrary to some reports, the memo wasn't on University letterhead. But it was chock full of suggestions that were bound to be lightning rods if aired publicly.
Among the holiday decorations the memo deemed to be inappropriate, when it comes to public view? "Santa Claus, angels, Christmas trees, star of Bethlehem, dreidels, bows, wrapped gifts, nativity scenes, menorah, red and green or blue and white decoration themes."
The paper memo was not distributed beyond the people who took part in the Ag School's discussion about religious diversity. And it was never published or posted online by the U.
But a photo of the memo made it to Bloomington blogger Jon Miltimore, who posted it to Twitter and wrote about it on his Intellectual Takeout website. He pointed out how absurd it was to place color schemes and Santa in the category of "religious iconography."
That sparked a strong reaction and generated national coverage by FOX News, the Washington Examiner and other websites.
"Why does the University of Minnesota hate Christmas and Hanukkah?" asked the headline of a Washington Examiner op-ed piece.
"Santa, Christmas trees 'not appropriate' for holidays, students told at University event," a FoxNews.com headline declared.
As a sign of protest many Facebook members posted "Merry Christmas" greetings on the U of M's official Facebook page. And it has kept the U's administrative staff on the defensive.
"Many of us have talked to donors, alumni, families, where somebody calls and says 'My son or daughter was thinking about coming here and I'm really upset,' and when we have the conversation they say, 'Okay, thank you, I understand," Kramer told KARE.
Kramer's no stranger to political controversies, having served as Governor Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff and economic development commissioner. He also logged nearly a decade with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.
"Apparently somebody was mad, and decided that they wanted this to be a story, because it fits into the narrative of political correctness run amuck," Kramer said.
"But in this case, we should've labeled this as 'discussion only, not real' because it is not real."