The Collegian
Friday, August 07, 2020

Alumna criticizes, laments on recent changes at the university

During the past six months, there have been some changes at Richmond. Have you been paying attention? I really hope so, because these changes are bound to affect you or someone you know.

Let's recap the four most controversial decisions:

1. Cutting Track and Field and Soccer.

I had to start with this one -- it was by far the biggest decision of the four. Uncharacteristically for the president and his administration, the school cut these two sports without any kind of serious student or alum input. The arbitrary cuts that they imposed were met with outrage by a significant number of students.

The defining moment of the controversy came with Dr. Ayers' performance at the Save Our Sports forum. I would argue that his performance was most unbecoming of a university president, especially one as respected as Dr. Ayers. For the critics, the forum served as proof that there was more to the cuts than the administration wanted to admit. To this day, they have not received satisfactory answers because the administration has refused to be transparent.

2. Changes to Ring Dance.

Ah, yes. Ring Dance -- that special tradition for junior Westhampton students. As Mr. Neale's recent opinion piece (and the subsequent comment debate) points out, the issue is a polarizing one. Undoubtedly, any change to a cherished tradition is going to upset some people.

In my view, the best way to handle that discontent would be to include as many people in the decision-making process as possible. That way, you give each person a stake.

Oddly, Dean Landphair and her staff appeared to include very few community members in the decision. Particularly, they didn't really consult many students. Given that this is a tradition for students, by students, wouldn't it make sense to include students?

3. Firing of a librarian.

The suspicious termination of librarian Joanita Senoga is still unclear. Although this decision (and the controversy surrounding it) faded into the background with the sports decisions, it is still unresolved to my knowledge.

What is clear is that a well-liked librarian who went above and beyond her duties to Richmond was fired without proper publicity or explanation. It didn't matter how much students appreciated her or her work, she was still fired for "misuse of university resources and insubordination."

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These claims have not been substantiated, at least not to the students. What troubles me about this decision is that the administration refuses to have a frank and open discussion about the termination -- again, another transparency issue.

4. Revocation of Kappa Sigma's charter.

Yes, I know--Kappa Sigma's charter was revoked by the national organization. There's something that's still not quite right, though, about the circumstances of Kappa Sigma's demise.

Admittedly, I'm an outsider looking in, but I have to wonder what role the administration played. How did the national organization gather the evidence necessary to shut down the fraternity? The national organization cited a "deteriorating relationship with the administration" as one of the reasons Kappa Sigma was shut down.

Yet, all the guys in the frat who I knew were nice, genial people. They are not the sort to go picking a fight with the university. I think there's more to this story, but certainly Mrs. Bartel-Keller and her staff don't want to talk about it.

What do these four things have in common? That's right--they are all disturbing examples of arbitrary decision-making by the university.

All four decisions remain shrouded in controversy. None of the decisions involved students, the most important constituency at this school. That scares me.

UR is not the personal fiefdom of a few individuals. It is home and alma mater to thousands--including every current student. Don't we deserve a place at the table?

Admittedly, members of the administration must occasionally make tough decisions. That's an inevitable part of running an institution like UR. But they should only make those decisions after carefully consulting students and alumni. The decision won't always be what we all want--but at least our voices will have been heard.

We all have a right to free expression and an obligation to make it heard. Yet, if we don't use that right, the administration and the board will feel like they can make any decision "in the best interests of the university."

It doesn't matter if it's cutting a beloved sport, a popular club, or even an entire academic subject--the administration will feel entitled to dump it if we don't speak up. We each have a voice--let's use it.

Ask the tough question. Stand-up for what you want. If we each add our voices to the conversation, UR will be better because of it. Be a proud Spider and SPEAK UP!

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