A couple of weeks ago, rumors of system-wide changes on campus spread like wildfire, forcing students and faculty members to wonder: what changes will be made to key programs? Who will step in for the long-time leaders in the Mount community who are no longer on campus? More importantly, in what direction is this university going?
Our article on the subject in the Echo’s last print edition yielded some answers, namely that Mr. Paul Palmieri stepped in as the interim Director of Marketing while on sabbatical from the Board of Trustees, and that Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau had become the new Vice President of Student Affairs. Both are very qualified professionals capable of taking on their new roles.
But this information had not been made known to many students or community members prior to the publication of the article. Indeed, there were no emails, newsletters or department website updates to announce that these two decisions had been finalized.
The administration made the issue one that required an exhaustive investigative effort on the Echo’s behalf in order to talk about openly. What could have been communicated by a simple update from the administration became closeted to both students and faculty members.
Agonizingly, there are a slew of other issues that are not being adequately communicated by administrative officials:
- When had it been decided that there would be a new (interim?) dean for the university’s College of Liberal Arts?
- Why is the President’s House currently vacant, and are rumors of its supposed structural instability true?
- What in the world can incoming freshman and current students expect to see from the Veritas program?
- Why are faculty retirement and health care benefits being cut as tuition increases?
On each of these very significant questions, the respective university officials have chosen to be either silent, or vague at best. The president’s office has been quick to publicize some stories, as we’ve seen with various lecture series, study abroad partnerships, firework shows and student life enhancements; not so with less-enthusiastic news.
Such policy differs from what the Mount community has come to expect from administrative leaders. When combating student alcohol and drug abuse, President Emeritus Thomas Powell and his office encouraged the Mount community to “care for each other” in a campus-wide email, which listed detailed steps to approach dangerous situations.
“Our bonds generously extend well beyond our own circle of friends to all who call this University home,” Powell wrote. “Like all families, we have responsibilities to one another.”
We ask our readers: is the Mount community not entitled to greater transparency about the bulleted topics, if for no other reason than the fact that we pride ourselves deeply on how we treat each other?
It should not be seen as a surprise that we care about the status of our professors and administrators, or of the programs we help to operate, or even of the university properties that form a part of the Mount’s history.
Granted, we understand that some of the topics we’ve highlighted are sensitive. We understand that the cuts and reorganization are typical of universities that change presidents. Discreetness may be a norm in corporate America, but is the Mount a corporation, or is it a campus?
The Mount is a place that values community as its bedrock, a place where we refer to one another as a family—is this really the type of change the university was hoping for when it selected a new president late last winter?
This is not to say that the Echo decries all efforts to restructure certain departments. We are not suggesting that President Newman’s changes to student life and infrastructure have been detrimental. We know that, inevitably, people we care for will move on from the Mount, and that others will take their place.
We also don’t want the Mount to lose its soul. We don’t want to lose the kindness and sense of warmth that led us to apply to this university as high school seniors, as transfer students, as job applicants and faculty members.
We hope that President Newman and his team will be capable of making meaningful changes while continuing to foster that same sense of community. We stated as much in our sit-down interview with him last year, and later in an op-ed article on Mar. 18.
Our suggestion is not for the administration to rapid-fire emails every time there’s a bit of bad news to announce. Please view the “letter to the editor” this week written by retired Mount professors and see for yourself the type of solution we would propose to the problems outlined in this editorial: open communication with the most affected parties, and a clear description of what direction the rest of the Mount community can expect to see, through the appropriate communication channels (including the Echo).
The Echo, as a forum for all community members, welcomes further discussion of this topic.