ASWU president resigns in protest

Apr 21st, 2016 | By | Category: 2015-2016, Opinions

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By Shamir Cervantes
Guest Writer

Our school’s administrative leadership cares more about your money and demographic statistics than you as a person. I think we are all aware of this on some level, but we go about our days without giving it the full attention it should command—mainly because of the many great faculty and staff who do the best they can to make Willamette as great a place as it is.

By the end of the year we are usually frustrated with the flawed decisions that have been made regarding our school’s programs and policies but just happy enough that we allow ourselves to believe the next semester might bring corrections, or improved conditions.This term has been different. We just witnessed a major demonstration of general student discontent in Jackson Plaza, staff aren’t willing to let the treatment of Cynthia Stinson pass unnoticed and faculty are determined to address the lack of consideration in the resolution passed by the Board of Trustees that set limits on position allocations, without input.

For my part, I am done with being handed down decisions that affect students made without consultation, being told I am misinformed when I attempt to address faults or inaccuracies, being lied to when promises are made to me in the plain view of others, and otherwise being treated as a minor nuisance to be dealt with as administrative plans move forward regardless of how clearly students – the people most affected by changes to our campus – object or ask to be engaged. As if the dismissive treatment I’ve received is not concerning enough, it has become clear that many staff and faculty have had very similar experiences to mine when “working with” some of Willamette’s administrative leadership.

CLA Students are dissatisfied with Willamette’s current policies, space allocation and program management. I cannot effectively advocate on our behalf because our administrative leadership does not allow for meaningful dialogue to occur or result in changes to their plans, no matter how flawed. Nor have they responded substantively to the student and community activism related to Willamette Academy. At the point where staff and faculty are not being listened to and often feel deceived when given an audience, I, a student, should not pretend to be an effective advocate for my constituents.

So I won’t. In recognition of the fact that I cannot effectively do my job because of the conditions of Willamette’s governance, I choose to resign from my position as ASWU President in protest, rather than remaining complacent. At the same time, I call for Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Marlene Moore and University President Stephen Thorsett’s resignations.

Thorsett and Marlene Moore ought to resign, if not out of a sense of basic decency and shame, because to the judgment of many segments of our campus they are not making the right decisions for our school and they have arrived at many of their decisions in ways that have neglected or trivialized the concerns of affected individuals.

I have witnessed and experienced many problematic tendencies in Marlene Moore and Thorsett’s leadership styles, and based on conversations I have recently had with several faculty and staff, I feel confident in saying these trends have been major factors in the present state of discontent that can be felt throughout Willamette. Because of our top administrators’ lack of transparency, these trends have often manifested as rumors and insinuations in our campus discourse, but I can illustrate them by reference to specific events. The broadest, most frequently referenced fault they both share is insularity that ranges in severity from a hesitance to share information to utter disregard for informed opinions from distressed individuals.

The first troubling situation came during the last days of summer 2015 when Dean of Campus Life David Douglass asked me to gather students to evaluate the space currently utilized by the Center for Equity and Empowerment (E&E) as a possible replacement for the space in Matthews, where it had been prior to the current school year. Soon after students determined the new space was less suitable to their needs, Douglass and I both learned that the decision to relocate had already been made by Marlene Moore.

She chose to relocate a profoundly significant student center without notifying relevant students, ASWU or even her fellow Dean. To this day I have not heard Marlene Moore apologize, or in some other way acknowledge fault or responsibility for that situation. After I told Marlene Moore and Douglass that they ought to at least inform students of this decision prior to the beginning of the fall term, which was not in Marlene Moore’s plans, it was Douglass who sent out a campus wide email announcing the change, without referencing Marlene Moore’s role. I no longer hold Douglass responsible for any of these events, for reasons that will become clear.

First I will point out one can very rarely know how involved Thorsett is in decision-making processes because he is not forthcoming with this information, and he has at least occasionally talked behind my back. I have brought many student concerns to him, none of which he has addressed. He would often explain how concerns were already being addressed, were misinformed, or beyond his powers to alleviate. Thorsett told me early in the school year his role on campus is unrelated to tasks that fall under other administrators; his role is to hire and fire people. However, following the silent demonstration students held to call the attention of the Board of Trustees to student and community concerns regarding the changes to Willamette Academy, he, along with Marlene Moore and Interim Academy Director Rushing, actively worked to delegitimize these concerns.

Thorsett was quick to characterize the efforts of the #BringBackOurWA movement as a misinformation campaign prior to the discovery of errors in the audit commissioned by Marlene Moore, which is still being utilized to plan Willamette Academy’s re-development. Both in private conversations involving Thorsett, and through official interviews with the media, the university administration has accused outraged students and community members of running a misinformation campaign. It was only after I confronted Thorsett with this information that he admitted to doing so.

I recently had a conversation with Thorsett where I finally sensed true honesty from his part; at that meeting he told me: Although there were errors in the audit of Willamette Academy made by Dr. Rita Moore and commissioned by Marlene Moore, Rushing would likely stay on as Permanent Director of Willamette Academy by transitioning from her interim position, without going through a hiring committee. The changes Rushing proposed for Willamette Academy, supported by Marlene Moore and Thorsett, were at least in part motivated by a desire for Willamette Academy to reach more non-Latino students, and for Willamette Academy to become a pipeline to the University, even though kids could choose other colleges. Finally, Thorsett stated the downsizing of the program was in fact financially motivated.

Up until errors were uncovered in Willamette Academy’s audit, the changes to the program were justified by referencing the now-debunked statistics that supposedly showed the low success rate of the program’s graduates, for example as stated in the Statesman Journal article entitled “Clarifying Willamette Academy Concerns” where University Spokesman Adam Torgerson recites the information given to him by administrators.

Now Willamette Academy is still being changed because its current managers want more brown kids that aren’t Latinos to go through the program and come to Willamette. Additionally, they would rather downsize the program than try to properly fundraise for it (which they were originally willing to do by dropping students from the program), despite the fact that the previous permanent director was able to leave enough funding to pay for more than a year of the program’s operations and the fact that new donors have recently come forth.

I disagree with this course of action for multiple reasons, but the people fighting for Willamette Academy’s restoration and I would have handled things differently had we at least been treated with complete honesty from the beginning of our efforts. Nobody that I have spoken to is opposed to diversifying Willamette Academy; the pipeline model is flawed but not unacceptable; and we would have gladly helped in fundraising or even alternative budget-cutting efforts if we had not previously been told that, as Mr. Torgerson says in the Statesman Journal article referenced above, “this isn’t a cost-saving measure.”

Thorsett only held the meeting referenced above because he had become aware that ASWU was about to issue him and Marlene Moore an ultimatum that would stipulate conditions to be met for Willamette Academy’s restoration, with a failure to comply resulting in student protests led by ASWU. It’s a damn shame that our University President has to be backed into a corner before he is willing to be forthcoming with information; Willamette’s students, faculty, and staff deserve better.

I don’t want to leave this University that I so dearly love in the hands of a president who is likely much more involved than he is willing to let on. I suspect the Board did not suddenly think up the idea for the 80/20 faculty decision (written about a few weeks ago in the Collegian 4/7 “Adjunct”). Whether or not Thorsett, or anyone else, was involved in that decision is not something I can comment on with certainty.

What I can say with certainty is that Marlene Moore outright lied to me and two other students on at least one occasion. Before Spring Break, we, students, had a meeting with Marlene Moore moderated by Douglass, following Thorsett’s public apology for utilizing flawed data, where she agreed to meet with us in a series of goal-driven meetings before the school year was out. The purpose of these promised meetings was to determine aspects of Willamette Academy’s re-development, possibly with the aid of relevant community members. She was supposed to contact us to set the schedule and final member make-up for those meetings, but she never did.

When I emailed her asking about that arrangement, she replied: “we agreed that Dean Douglass would host future meetings. Since that time, he has met with our students, Willamette Academy students, and representatives from the community. He has been listening to concerns and conveying ideas to both me and the president.” When I told Dean Douglass about this, he was too much of a gentleman to call bullshit, but he certainly did not indicate he thought that was the arrangement. When I explained to Thorsett what was going on and asked for his opinion, he–and I really wish I were joking–tilted his head, raised his hands, pointed both of his palms towards the ceiling, and shrugged.

There is a lot Marlene Moore has done that she has not been held accountable for. Willamette Academy has been mainly self-funded through the efforts of its executive directors, and this model worked prior to its management falling to Marlene Moore. The hole in Willamette Academy’s budget did not develop until it fell under her leadership. Marlene Moore is at fault for Willamette Academy’s decline over the last two years. She did not seriously attempt to fundraise for it, hire a permanent Executive Director with fundraising experience, or delegate these tasks in a responsible way.

After a Willamette Academy donor volunteered to pay for a third-party audit, Marlene Moore instead commissioned Rita Moore, the Knowledge to Action Program Coordinator, to carry out a program review – despite the fact that Willamette has an office of institutional research. Marlene Moore then commissioned the Willamette Academy Taskforce to address the issues found in the audit, which they did through a number of recommendations. Marlene Moore rejected these, despite their creation involving around three months of work from respected members of our campus. Next, Marlene Moore appointed Rushing as Interim Director without putting together a hiring committee or providing any sort of restrictions on her powers to change the Academy, which Rushing did in ways that explicitly contradicted the Taskforce’s recommendations.

Rushing volunteered to head Willamette Academy, and Marlene Moore did not do her due diligence to assure Rushing was a good director for the program. Rushing’s first act towards current Willamette Academy families was to treat them rudely (according to many parents and students themselves) at a meeting where she and Marlene Moore explained the changes to the program, most notably its reduction from 225 students to just 40, and attempted to sign the dropped kids to school district support programs. Rushing and Marlene Moore have denied being rude and refuse to acknowledge any fault for that meeting, instead choosing to accuse a Willamette professor of “getting people all riled up,” as Rushing stated at a Board of Trustees meeting.

Following the student demonstration for the Board of Trustees, Rushing met with myself and another student of color with ties to the program. At that meeting, Rushing casually mentioned she had “cause to file for grievances,” and at one point she said it was a good thing our demonstration had been peaceful, otherwise we would have been arrested. She said, “you are so close to graduating, I would hate for anything to happen to you.”

Having a trustee run a program like Willamette Academy presents a clear conflict of interest by any reasonable standards, but Marlene Moore decided this was not the case for Rushing because she volunteered for the position. Had a hiring committee been put together or even a proper oversight panel, Rushing would likely not have been hired or allowed to make the changes she did. Independently of what happens with Thorsett and Marlene Moore, Jacqueline Rushing should not be allowed to stay on as Willamette Academy’s Director.

This is – in a very condensed summary of what I could say and will continue to say if people wish to challenge what I have written here – a very brief outline of the treatment I, in carrying out my responsibilities as the primary elected student representative, have received this year. I am entirely convinced that neither Marlene Moore nor Thorsett have a place at our university if students and faculty wish to see our campus prosper. I believe Marlene Moore is incompetent and President Thorsett has failed in his duties of oversight. Both of these facts are evident to me as I consider all that happened related to Willamette Academy.

Ultimately, though, my resignation is largely a symbolic act. I do not choose to resign out of fear, from an unwillingness to act, or even from a belief that my actions will lead to the changes I now advocate. Rather, I resign to highlight the fact that whether or not we begin the following year with Marlene Moore as our Vice President of Academic Affairs and Stephen Thorsett as our President depends entirely on you.

I have used all the means of protest against these actions available to me by the powers of ASWU President – efforts that have been, in turn, received with disregard. I have, however, exposed much of what is wrong with our university’s governance structure. Through this message I leave that information as a gift to you for allowing me the privilege of serving this year’s student body.

I resign my power and give it back to student body, of which I will continue to be a vocal member. I consider it a leader’s responsibility to step down when it is clear they are unable to carry out the job to which they are appointed or elected. I believe you all can achieve what you elected me to strive for with or without me; be bold.

It has been a great honor serving Willamette’s student body, the people that chose to take a stand not when it was their own well being at stake but the community’s. We still have time to incite change before the school year is out, and I will not pretend things are fine during the time I have left here. I hope you will not either. I hope you make yourselves heard.

Non Nobis Solum Nati Sumus,

Sincerely,
Shamir Cervantes

With a complete and deeply concerned endorsement from William E. Duvall, Part-time Visiting Assistant Professor of History

I have chosen to support publicly this angry but carefully thoughtful protest by Shamir Cervantes because I am deeply troubled about the present quality of life in the University community. I believe I have never witnessed, during my entire forty-five years here, such low morale among faculty and certain segments of the student body. And I believe the responsibility for this state of morale falls squarely in the hands of the upper University administrators who have demonstrated a penchant for making arbitrary decisions about which they have not been honest. Thus I join hands and voice with Mr. Cervantes and ask students and faculty alike to do the same.

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