Manchester University
Oak Leaves

May 10, 2019

discussions with dave Destinee

Manchester students and staff gather in the Toyota Round for a “Discussion with Dave” in response to university reductions in employment and programs.

Photo provided by Destinee Boutwell

Mock Funeral Encourages Students to Fight for Liberal Arts

Marcus Zwiebel


Students are mourning what they see as the death of the liberal arts at Manchester with a funeral scheduled for Friday, May 10. This event was precipitated by an April 29 email from university president Dave McFadden that informed of reductions in faculty and staff members, academic programs and a sports team, that will occur either at semester’s end or over the next few years.

To address student concerns, McFadden held two Discussions with Dave, public forums where students and others could ask him questions and share their reactions. These two discussions, as well as the change-introducing email, have contributed greatly to student dissent and a subsequent student-organized protest in response: a funeral for the liberal arts this afternoon.

Planned by an interdisciplinary coalition of students consisting of a range of backgrounds, attitudes, experiences and ages, the funeral will begin promptly at 3:30 p.m. at Petersime Chapel and will have music, an event officiator, as well as several eulogies provided by students.

A funeral procession will begin at 4:30 and make its way from Petersime Chapel to the president’s residence, Tall Oaks, where Manchester University’s Board of Trustees will meet at 5 p.m. with the president. The procession will gather outside the residence until the board members enter and then will return to the chapel for food and community.

Every individual planning on attending the funeral is encouraged to wear black, as well as review the multiple stories and experiences on the Manchester Advocate, which is an online forum collection of student, faculty and staff  experiences across the university. For those unable to attend the funeral, the event will be livestreamed and accessible via Facebook after its completion.

The funeral is inspired by similar events at other universities, such as the University of Tulsa. This experience, however, is unique to Manchester, as an individualized response to administrative change.

Prior to the funeral for the liberal arts on Friday, there will opportunities for students, staff  and faculty to become involved and extend their perspectives on the recent university changes through a variety of social media platforms, such as the Manchester Advocate forum and the variety of social media groups for alumni and current students (such as those on Facebook). Students may also receive Buttons of Solidarity later this week to show support for the liberal arts identity at Manchester.

The coalition of students also has written a mock obituary for the liberal arts education, which includes elements such as the date and location of death of the 130-year educational model as well as survivors (academic programs). This mock obituary, inspired by Manchester’s recent situation, is laid out beneath the headline “Respecting the Infinite Worth of Most Individuals.”

Caraline Feairheller, senior political science and peace studies double-major and president of the Kenapocomoco Peace Coalition, is one of the organizers. She explained that the largest roadblock was organizing the funeral quickly while maintaining its effectiveness, considering the campus received McFadden’s email directly before the last week of classes.

Although this time crunch could affect attendance at the funeral for the liberal arts, student reaction to the announcements and support for the funeral has been strong. “The Discussions with Dave helped students begin to step in the right direction,” said senior psychology major and orientation assistant Connor Eichenauer. “The answers and non-answers that were provided at these events sparked and advanced student interest, as well as opportunities for student involvement on campus.”

The coalition of students that organized the funeral does anticipate pushback from administration as well as from students—primarily those that are not directly affected by the institutional changes. “We are hopeful students will become more attentive to smaller changes, not just monumental changes,” Eichenauer said. “Mainly because these smaller changes do either directly or indirectly affect everyone—student, staff  or faculty—on this campus.”

The students involved in the May 10 demonstration intend to continue advancing their cause for a defined liberal arts identity through thought-provoking and peaceful demonstrations. “When I visited Manchester’s campus, I was impressed by the evidence of students’ political and civic engagement and the ways in which I witnessed community members putting their values into practice,” says Dr. Tara Smithson, assistant professor of French. “It struck me as a place where there was the potential to both learn and contribute.”

The funeral seeks to uphold and contribute to the liberal arts identity, and faculty intend to provide students with an engaged learning opportunity, despite the trying time. “My priority is making sure that the students have the best possible experience while they’re here,” Smithson said. “We have a lot of exciting activities in the works for next year and, while I am disappointed by this decision [to discontinue the French major], I remain enthusiastic about the possibilities for working with students and colleagues in the next two years.”

The response to the university changes has transcended North Manchester’s boundaries. University alumni have been strategic and active in their musings on social media platforms considering the reduction of Manchester’s liberal arts identity, and have been forced to contemplate their positions as alumni of an institution that boasts the liberal arts identity yet also succumbs to budget cuts which reduce programs that contribute to this identity.

The coalition hopes that the recent changes, and the subsequent student-organized demonstrations, give administration—primarily the Board of Trustees—the opportunity to reconsider and re-embrace Manchester’s commitment to the liberal arts.