In the midst of growing student anxieties about campus life, a letter-to-the-editor published in the Dec 5 S&B acted as a lightning rod for student grievances. The letter, signed by 16 professors, condemned Dean of Students Travis Greene and Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty for the purported mishandling of the recent departure of Sheree Andrews, a popular former member of Student Affairs, who held the position of associate dean and director of Residence Life. A turbulent week culminated Thursday in a campus-wide forum to address concerns between the student body and the administration.
Following the letter’s publication, Plans–the College’s unaffiliated cyber-forum–erupted in a flurry of discussion about Andrews’ departure and general student affairs concerns, with most Plans posters condemning the College’s administration at-large. Students increasingly warned that Student Affairs was “changing” and that the future of self-governance was at risk.
In addition to the letter, students heard that members of ACE Security might be at some lounge parties. Rumors circulated that Greene had disrupted a party earlier in the year and that North East RLC Chris Bylone had instituted a more draconian enforcement of the College’s alcohol policies. And more recently, there were suspicions that the role of Student Advisors would be changing for the worse.
“These people came in out of the blue and started changing things as soon as they got here. The new administration is focused on professionalizing positions we already had,” said Charlie White ’09 in an interview with the S&B. “Interpret that as you will, but to me we don’t really need this professionalization. As students it makes the administration seem less approachable, it enforces a divide between the administration and students.”
Greg Hudson ’09 saw Andrews’ recent departure as exacerbating existing student concerns about the future of Student Affairs. “I think there’s a general feeling of anxiety about the future of self-governance at Grinnell, particularly as it regards alcohol consumption,” Hudson said. “And because Sheree was so understanding about the culture of this campus and what students do, I think it’s reasonable to be afraid that her personnel change is part of a broader agenda … and the implications that has for self-governance, obviously, can be frightening.”
In response to growing concerns, members of SGA Cabinet organized an open forum Thursday to which they invited students, faculty and administrators to dispel campus rumors and increase communication.
The forum was attended by roughly 300 community members, most of whom were students, according to S&B estimates. Also sprinkled among the audience members were various RLCs, professors and administrators, including President Russell K. Osgood, Dougharty and Greene.
According to organizers, the primary goal of the forum was to enhance communication and assuage some of the campus’s anxieties. “I think one of the big goals was just to have students get their questions answered involving a lot of rumors and changes that had been going on,” said SGA Vice President for Student Affairs John Burrows ’10.
Forum participants raised concerns over a number of issues from perceived change’s in the College’s alcohol policy to proposed revisions to responsibilities and processes policies pertaining to Student Advisors.
Students primarily directed their concerns at Dougharty and Greene, both of whom were hired within the past year.
Much of the early part of the forum focused on clarifying recent policy changes and dispelling campus rumors.
Administrators informed audience members, for instance, that the presence of ACE Security at lounge parties was entirely voluntary and that it had only occurred twice so far. The proposed changes to the Student Staff positions which had rankled many were, according to Greene, not going forward. (See Student Staff pg. 1)
The forum illustrated a general lack of communication between students and administrators.
In an especially impassioned comment, Director of Service and Social Commitment Doug Cutchins ’93 asked audience members whether they had previously voiced their concerns to the administration.
“When you walked into this room did you have a question that you were hoping that Houston or Travis or Kim or Russell or some administrator would answer,” Cutchins asked the assembly. “Then ask yourself ‘did you ever go ask them?’ Did you ever go walk into their office and ask them? Because I think if you did, you’d get an answer.”
SGA President Neo Morake ’09 said that, as of Wednesday of this week, no students had yet approached her with concerns.
Dougharty said he was dismayed by what he perceived as a general, and unfounded, lack of trust on campus. “I thought there was more trust and veracity here than perhaps there is. And perhaps that’s one thing we can work on,” a visibly shaken Dougharty said after the forum. “Obviously, there is discontent that is long-standing and I’ve just happened to walk on the stage at a particular time.”
“When people will get to know me and I think, for instances, students that have worked closely with me know me they realize that I make decisions that are in the best interest of students’ lives,” Dougharty said. “Sometimes that may be hard for people to see but, in fact, that’s my motivation. I don’t have any other motivation.”
While most students have largely been skeptical of the administration, some expressed confidence in them. “I respect [Houston and Travis] their honesty but I feel that the majority of the students had a lack of compassion,” said ACE Coordinator Celeste Larkin ’11. “Students blatantly accused them and I think that these accusations were ill-informed. The students had a very antagonistic view of things.”
Indeed, while the tone of the forum was largely respectful, it was punctuated by occasional moments of tension. In one heated exchange, two students were quieted by the moderator after interrupting one another. Osgood, in responding to a student question about how the College’s diversity policy might prohibit RLC and Assistant Director of Residence Life Kim Hinds-Brush from applying for Andrews’ former position, tersely replied, “You should read our diversity policy.”
Students were particularly vocal in their support for Hinds-Brush who is ineligible to apply for Andrews’ old position because of newly enhanced job requirements. The job posting drafted by administrators requires applicants to have five years of post-master’s experience; Hinds-Brush has just four. Students were particularly wary given that Greene’s position, which supervises Andrews’, required seven years total experience but only four post-master’s.
The waning moments of the forum were accompanied by more pointed accusations. Victoria Brown, History, one of the signatories to the controversial S&B letter-to-the-editor, suggested that administrators were, at times, less than honest. (See Faculty and Administrators, pg 1)
Dougharty, near the conclusion of the forum, defended himself against the accusations presented in the previous week’s S&B letter. “Just, from my perspective, I would want you to know that not everything in that letter is true and that there’s a lot that is not in that letter,” he said.
Delivering the final comment of the forum, Ralph Savarese, English, stood up and displaying what he said was Andrews’ personnel file, reiterated his grievances against the administration. “I don’t want to get into this because I actually want Houston and Travis to thrive here,” Savarese said. “But what happened with Sheree is outrageous.”
But in the midst of the campus’s very palpable anxiety and, at times, acrimony, some members of campus glimpsed a silver lining in the recent events. Many remarked that this was the first incident in recent memory, which had galvanized the campus. Others commented on the introspective quality of the debates as Grinnellians struggled to define themselves and their community.
“[The forum was] successful in the sense that it was great to have Grinnellians from all walks of life come together to have a discussion about what’s going on in the community,” Burrows said. “I definitely think it went well to serve as a venue for students to share their concerns and feel like something will be done to address those concerns,” he said.
A common refrain from all those interviewed was that the dialogues that began at Thursday’s forum should continue into the future. Morake said she is planning on holding regular forums in the future to continue the campus dialogue, an idea which Dougharty endorsed.
“I think that would be great. I think whether it would be an SGA community meeting or whatever, I think that would be a great idea for folks to come,” Dougharty said. “I’m always interested in hearing what people are thinking and what people are saying and so hopefully this dimension of people letting folks know what they’re thinking directly continues.”