MU
Oak Leaves

November 16, 2018



Students Fervently Seek Change at Concerns Forum


Erin Brock

 

Student Senate met for over two hours on Wednesday, November 7, when they held a concern forum, where students were invited to come and express any issues they had regarding the university. In turn, the executive board would reach out to whomever they could in order to get answers.

While President Dave McFadden had asked to attend this event, Student Senate respectfully declined, to keep the conversation among students. Student Senate also asked each person who attended the forum to address their concerns directly to the Senate rather than to other students in the room in order to prevent lengthy discussions or debates.

This event was intended to last an hour, and with the students that arrived to fill a lecture room in the Academic Center, there were enough questions and concern to double that time.

Among these students was senior Daisy Byers who kicked off the event with concerns ranging from cultural appropriation to racism on campus. “This is my fourth year on campus and I can honestly tell you I do not feel safe here,” Byers said after sharing stories of racism she has seen on campus. According to her, the university has not been addressing these incidents satisfactorily.

As the evening went on, it became apparent that multiple students shared a common distaste towards the decisions being made by the president of the university and felt as if decisions are being made to ensure the school’s financial security rather than the safety and quality of life for the students.

“I feel like Pres. Dave focuses in on a certain number of students and the rest of us go unnoticed,” said senior Baylee Swank. “He doesn’t care about students unless they’re the one percent. He only cares about money.”

To contextualize Swank’s remarks, Manchester has five strategic priorities; among the five are the need for marketing, recognition, “abundant financial resources” and resources for “maximal institutional effectiveness.” While these steps are aimed at the well-being of students and have the goal of improving the life and education of each person, lately students have been feeling as if Manchester is being run as the institution they mention in the fifth strategic priority – only to the students, this means their needs are set aside in order to run the school like the business it is.

McFadden responded to the criticism. “Our mission statement is focused on the students first and foremost,” he said passionately when asked about the school being run like a business rather than a place that prioritizes its people. “If you read the mission statement, you won’t read anything in there that says, ‘our mission is to run a school that is optimizing its financial resources.’”

Manchester University’s mission statement includes “respecting the infinite worth of every individual” along with six values: learning, faith, service, integrity, diversity, and community. To accomplish the mission, Manchester looks to the five strategic priorities. McFadden went on to explain that although these strategic priorities may look more “operational,” they are, simply because they are how Manchester achieves the goal it is after—what he describes as “serving students, serving communities, serving the world.”

But the problems do not stop at the way students see the school being run. With worry filling the minds of students due to issues occurring in first-year halls, such as the title IX incidents that have been occurring, students feel unsafe and they look to the president to remind him of the impact of his decisions. “He was the one who proposed the dorms and he was the one who knew it would be flawed but still did it for monetary reasons,” Swank argued.

However, when this concern was brought up with McFadden, he made it clear that the decision for housing changes was not made by the president and he in fact had very little say in the matter. But many students at the forum continued to turn their concerns back to McFadden, and, given that he is the one that speaks on behalf of the campus, it was only natural for the blame be put on him. However, Zander Willoughby, MU grad and peace studies intern, spoke up, informing the students that the president is an “agent” of the board of trustees. “He is in a much tighter spot than we can understand,” Willoughby said.

Indeed, President McFadden is very aware of the predicament he is often put in. “Having the blame cast in my direction is part of the job,” he said. “It’s not fun, but it comes with what I do.” However, there can often be misinterpretation of which decisions are made by the president and which are made by others. “I always try to be clear about who’s made the decision,” explains McFadden when asked about responsibility. “If the board makes a decision, I will say ‘the board has decided,’ or if the cabinet makes a decision, I will announce it that way.”

President McFadden also made it clear that while he understands students can be frustrated with the level of transparency regarding various issues, his hands are often tied. Students such as Byers and Swank made complaints about the level of safety felt on campus due to the lack of knowledge on what is being done in regard to various issues, but according to McFadden, there is only so much information that can be given to students after incidents. “In the absence of information,” McFadden explained, “speculation occurs. If there is not a clear story, people create a story and I understand that. One of the things I try to do is communicate as much as I can and give a complete narrative.”

While students may feel as if the problems they are facing are not being addressed, President McFadden states that there are programs and protocols put in place in order to take care of different issues or help shed light on some challenges the school is facing. For example, according to McFadden, the diversity rate at Manchester has increased upwards of 20% in a six-year period. Th ese new diversity levels are something the school is still trying to catch up with. “It’s not the kind of thing that can change overnight,” McFadden explained, “but it’s a really high priority for us.”

McFadden said that while he is aware some African American students have come to him with concerns of feeling unsafe, there are different programs put in place to help students feel comfortable. There are programs such as Common Ground or events put on by the Multicultural Center that are meant to raise awareness of cultural differences or even programs started by the director of East Hall to help African American students get their hair cut – each of which is dedicated to allowing students to learn and adjust to the cultural changes occurring on campus. All of these programs are made available and public to the students.

Students maintain their level of concern in being heard on campus. With the issues brought up and the lack of transparency students are experiencing, they want a say in the issues being faced by the school.

Gabby Anglin, student senate president, stated that Student Senate fought to have a student representative on the board of trustees but was shut down – a decision that was made by President McFadden and the board. According to Anglin, McFadden’s reasoning for denying a student a seat on the board was that at a conference with presidents from other schools in Indiana, it was said that nearly every school with a student representative on the board regretted that decision. This comment sent the students at the forum into a frenzy.

Multiple students spoke up, making claims that the reason boards regret having a student representative is because they will then be held accountable for not meeting the demands of the students. Students began to wonder if the board is content without a student voice because it leaves them in a state of oblivion to the requests of the students.

Discussion began about what students can do to be heard. Do students raid a board meeting? Can students hold a peaceful protest? Regardless of the ideas being offered, it was made clear that until enough students know what’s going on and are educated, there are not a lot of options. “How can we educate students about these issues?” asked junior Nick Rush, one of many who was eager for a solution to the lack of communication between the people in charge and the students. “If people aren’t coming to this forum but will still complain about their issues, how can we educate them about what’s going on?”

Junior Jesse Langdon went one step further. “I’ve been concerned with the degradation of the Manchester community,” he said, sharing an emotion that led to the snapping in agreement by students in the room. The decrease in quality of community students are seeing does not have to maintain its steady decline; so long as students fervently seek answers, justice and open communication from every party involved, Manchester has the potential to return to the thriving community students fell in love with when arriving here.

While it is still unclear exactly how students can expect answers, Willoughby, Anglin and other students mentioned solutions that are in the process of being put together such as discussion circles with the President, task forces, or the continuation of reaching out to the people in charge. Too, President McFadden advocates the idea of concern forums as well as meeting with Student Senate and other students individually to express concerns. He had, as noted above, asked to attend this very forum.

If students are truly seeking for a change, they are invited to go to Student Senate meetings which take place every other Wednesday at 8 p.m. Student Senate is currently trying to coordinate with McFadden as well as invite a member of the board to come to a meeting in hopes of them hearing the concerns of the students first-hand.