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Faculty representative for Naming Principles Commission calls for resignation of Board member

<p>Ryland hall under construction in September 2020</p>

Ryland hall under construction in September 2020

Editor's Note: Corrections were made to Thad Williamson's quotes. 

The faculty representative for the Naming Principles Commission called for the resignation of trustee and Commission member John Roush at the Nov. 29 University Faculty Meeting in light of comments Roush made to a student at a Nov. 18 Commission meeting.

The faculty representative on the Commission -- English Professor Julietta Singh -- said in her opening remarks that she had written directly to Roush after the Nov. 18 meeting requesting that he resign. Roush is currently the co-chair of the Commission. 

Faculty Senate members said the comments at the Nov. 18 meeting were inappropriate and did not align with the values of the University of Richmond. 

“I don’t really know if this is a school I’m really proud about any longer,” Political Science Professor Monti Datta said. “We’re one of the wealthiest schools in the nation for our size, but again and again, I see this poverty of spirit. I see this lack of accountability.

“I see us not modeling the grace and inclusivity and diversity and belonging that we establish on our websites.” 

The Faculty Senate held a special session on Nov. 29 at 3 p.m. to address community concerns, according to a message sent by Mary Kelly Tate, Faculty Senate President and law professor, on Nov. 22 to all faculty.

Singh also said she had written to the administration and the Commission before the Thanksgiving holiday about the clear imbalance of the power in the Commission. 

“[The Commission] is comprised of one representative per constituent group, a co-chair from outside the university community and four Board of Trustees members,” she said. “In the public eye, this imbalance makes the Commission indistinguishable from the Board of Trustees. 

“As the community has continued to make clear, it makes [the Commission’s] work moving forward seem predetermined.” 

Thad Williamson, former Faculty Senate president and professor of leadership, said the comments made by Roush in reaction to first-year Christian Herald’s question on Nov. 18 about the nonparticipation and listening sessions had been handled inappropriately and inadequately. 

“For a white trustee, who is not here day-to-day on campus, to say to Black students, who are here every day, [that they] are thinking and feeling about the events this year as ‘wrong’...it is heard of as offensive, and frankly, I can understand why,” Williamson said. 

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Williamson also spoke about a meeting between the Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees meeting in March, where he said Jessica Washington, the previous assistant director of student engagement and the Bonner Scholars Program, was repeatedly interrupted and spoken to in a condescending manner. 

After speaking about how he did not appreciate how the situation was dealt with in her account, Williamson paused. For almost a minute, he was silent in an attempt to collect himself. 

He began to talk about Herald, but he became emotional and was unable to speak. Tate came up to the podium and spoke for him. 

“Christian is a Black Richmond Scholar and an extremely promising student we should be proud of to have at this university,” Tate said, reading off Williamson’s notes. 

Williamson thanked Tate and began speaking again, this time about his experience working at Richmond City Hall from 2013 to 2018. He mentioned that while he worked there, he reported to two higher-ranking Black women: first the deputy chief administrative officer for human services and then the city’s chief administrative officer.

“I have seen a professional context in which Black women regularly as a matter of course, exercise power, skill, effectiveness and receive professional and personal respect from everyone, including very powerful white men,” he said.

He mentioned that he was distressed when he witnessed two times this calendar year Black women at UR not being treated with respect in interactions with the Board.

“There is an immediate need for diversity on the Board and at the highest level of the administration,” he said, which was a concern echoed by other faculty members throughout the meeting, including Mary Finley-Brook, professor of geography and environment, and Jonathan Whitaker, professor of management. 

After Williamson’s remarks, Tate opened the session for those attending the meeting in-person and on Zoom to speak. 

Datta mentioned his appreciation for Williamson’s vulnerability during his remarks, something he said is not common at UR anymore. 

“We need to get into resetting the tone of the campus to be for our students,” he said. “If anything, I need to feel better about being here. I feel so critical about being part of a structure that I don’t think honors what we really are. This is no longer a space to feel vulnerable.” 

Datta said that there needed to be more opportunities for dialogue and proposed a possible listening session where students, faculty and staff could speak in a safe space. 

Whitaker, who is a member of the Faculty Senate, said he had worked as a consultant for companies and firms for over a decade, helping identifying and solving internal problems. He followed by saying that he respectfully believed that this institution has a problem.

“Respectfully, I believe that this institution has a problem in that the students and the staff and the faculty and administrators are all reasonably aligned with each other but my boss’s boss’s boss is not so consistent with everybody in the community,” he said, in regard to the board. 

He proposed three phases of action for the Commission and UR to consider, ranking from short term to long term. 

The first phase calls for the Commission to listen to and prioritize students and their concerns. The second calls for more diversity on the Board, which he thought could be achievable by 2023. The third phase calls for a cultural change at UR within the next 10 to 20 years, as Whitaker said that UR was currently a Board-centric university.

When Tate asked Whitaker to give an example of how UR is Board-centric, Whitaker mentioned the 2014 incident in which a New York Times reporter recorded Rector Paul Queally making homophobic and misogynistic comments. Whitaker said the tension created by this situation ushered out former president Edward Ayers from his position at UR. 

“Ed reached the limits of what he could do,” Whitaker said. “And then, of course, this Board member got promoted to rector.” 

He said the comments made in the spring by Queally also ushered out former president Ronald Crutcher, again showing the limits of the president’s powers. 

“The Board continues to look out very well for themselves, but not for the rest of the community,” Whitaker said. 

Whitaker then said he predicted that based on the history of the Board, and based on the comments made by Roush, he would be promoted. 

“[Roush] will be our next rector because this is what we do,” he said. “We take Board members who offend and we put them in higher positions.” 

Stephen Long, vice president of the Faculty Senate and political science professor, suggested a possible voluntary anti-bias training for trustees to participate in in order to help them learn how to better interact with students. 

Finley-Brook, who is also a Faculty Senate member, agreed with Long’s proposal and added that she recommended a university-wide anti-bias training when she first joined the Faculty Senate two years ago. 

She also said she hoped for more action to come out of these meetings, including a more formal recognition of Roush’s comments being inappropriate and not representative of UR’s institutional mission. 

After the comment period ended, Singh encouraged students to reach out to their faculty representative directly.

Tate said the Faculty Senate would meet after the Nov. 29 meeting to collect their thoughts on the points brought up at the session. The next Faculty Senate meeting will be held on Dec. 17. 

Contact news co-editor Westen Doran at westen.doran@richmond.edu.  

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