Last week, a group of student organizers, operating under the name “Vassar Student Organizers,” reached out to the Vassar community, asking students and alumnae/i to sign their name to a letter addressed to Chairman of the Board of Trustees William Plapinger. This letter called for the replacement of President Catharine Hill and Dean of the College Christopher Roellke, and outlined a number of concerns, most notably the, “Incompetence, lack of imagination and a profound absence of care on the behalf of the senior administration.”
We at The Miscellany News have equal concerns about the efforts of “senior-level administrators” over instances of racism on campus and their ability to foster a safe and open campus. However, while we are in agreement with many issues brought forward in this letter, we do not feel the solution lies in asking the Board of Trustees to fire President Hill and Dean Roellke, but instead lies with a better, more constructive dialogues with senior administration and the trustees, as well as the speedy efforts of President Hill to accomplish her Campus Action Plan.
First, we are in full agreement with those who drafted and signed their names to this letter that there ought to be open, honest dialogue with not just the senior administration, but also with the Board of Trustees. We also want to emphasize that as a student organization, we are in full support of any efforts that will help create, as the student organizers write, a “healthy and safe environment.” An important starting point for such efforts begins with a dialogue that gives students an opportunity to speak to trustees and administrators and have the intention to carry out positive change on our campus.
We believe, just like the organizers, that this dialogue ought to occur with not just senior administrators, but with the Board of Trustees. This space must foster voices for all identities, rather than a collective sense that you are to support students or support administrators. By creating a binary, an “us versus them dichotomy,” these student organizers are closing down avenues by which dialogues can be started.
We also feel that the perceived swift call for the firing of these two administrators serves to shut down serious discussions with the Board of Trustees. While we acknowledge that both administrators have expressed their awareness of their failures to address systemic issues that have plagued the campus for years, we also believe that the Board of Trustees will fail to earnestly consider the automatic termination of two highly placed individuals. It seems highly unlikely that the Board of Trustees would carefully weigh the benefits and detriments of the organizers’ proposal as it would not only mark a very public acknowledgement of the College’s shortcomings, something students have often noted as a major issue by those responsible for running this institution, but also plunge the College into a protracted and unplanned search for two important positions simultaneously.
Given these concerns, we feel that such a request will do little to cause change and may in fact work to discredit the voices of other student activists as they make appeals to the Board. While we encourage students to advocate for actions that push the College to live up to the pledges of equity and diversity in its mission statement, we must also consider the most effective methods of bringing about such critical changes.
Due to these concerns about the letter’s perceived effect on other student organizers, we also question the degree to which the individuals responsible for the letter should be considered representative of the student body. While presented as a letter that students could opt to send to the Board of Trustees, the email reads “Vassar Student Organizers.” This is a title used by many more individuals than those included in this letter and fosters the sense that those who drafted the letter are representative of students. This is not entirely correct, as only a select group of students participated in this process and the group was self-selecting. We feel that this limits the diversity of opinions considered in the letter, preventing it from being a letter that truly represents the will of Vassar students.
It is also clear that President Hill, since her Dec. 10 letter to the campus, has been making efforts to implement changes that she states are intended, “to make Vassar the supportive, compassionate community we all want.” Hill’s new website, “Strengthening Vassar,” outlines the core changes proposed, and whether they have been accomplished. Over the last two months three of the eight changes proposed have been implemented, though many more—including the addition of a senior-level officer for inclusion and diversity—have yet to be completed. We feel a dialogue with administrations and the Board of Trustees over these goals, their expected date of completion, and whether they are satisfactory changes is a necessary conversation that should take place as soon as possible.
As Vassar’s President, Catharine Hill is a representative of the College, a fundraiser, and an executive officer. Hill is nonetheless responsible for the actions of staff and administrators on this campus, especially when they harm the quality of life for other students. We do, however, question whether the optimal solution to affecting change on this campus begins with the removal of two senior administrators who expressed a commitment to change this campus. The problems that have been on the forefront of the campus consciousness in the last semester are systemic issues that pervade more than just the offices of the President and the Dean of the College. We encourage critical analysis of their actions in the coming weeks, and ask them to demonstrate their commitment in actions now that they’ve expressed it in words.
President Hill also ought to be more transparent about what recommendations she has received from appointed advisers, and what actions she is considering to take in order to improve this campus. This effort begins with a show of trust on the part of President Hill in order to demonstrate to concerned student groups of her continued commitment. We also feel this effort will be further demonstrated by how quickly President Hill carries out her remaining goals in “Strengthening Vassar.”
Ultimately, we are in favor of what creates a better campus for the community members that create it. We understand the frustration and anger that spurred the creation of the Vassar Student Organizer’s letter, but feel that there is a more constructive way to call for change. Calling for the replacement of two senior level administrators won’t solve anything. Instead, we would like to call for more dialogues between the students, faculty, staff, administrators and Board of Trustees. We believe that President Hill and Dean Roellke are working to make change on campus, but we know that more can be done. We want to urge students to continue to push for more campus dialogues, but to also be receptive to the steps that are currently being made by members of the administration, as that does show progress in the long run.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.