Frustration abounds over search committee for next university president
Perla Luna and Erin Fox
The Santa Clara
November 1, 2018
A contentious meeting on Oct. 12 between student leaders and members of the Presidential Search Committee (PSC) prompted a letter of complaint from students alleging the use of dismissive and sexist language. The letter was widely shared via email among faculty and led to a “message of support” that has been signed by more than 90 faculty members condemning the “dismissal of student concern.”
The complaints of students and faculty reflect confusion over the selection process and a lack of input in how the replacement for outgoing University President Michael Engh, S.J., is chosen.
“I felt insulted we were asked to be there but we were not actually listened to,” Diana Servin said, president of the Undocumented Students and Allies Association. “The way the people in the room were responding to student concerns was pretty rude for it to be such a professional setting.”
The student meeting was part of the Committee’s ongoing process of gathering
Ten student representatives—ranging in their university affiliates from the Associated Student Government to the Multicultural Center to the School of Engineering—met with PSC members Arthur F. Liebscher, S.J., and Robert Finocchio. The meeting was an opportunity to voice what they wanted to see in the next Santa Clara president.
But, according to a joint statement made to The Santa Clara, Liebscher and Finocchio felt that the discussion instead centered on the Committee composition and the Board of Trustees’ preference for continuing in their rather than exploring
“At times, some of the views expressed by some students were grounded in either misinformation or innuendo,” the statement reads. “Appreciating the strong feelings in the room, we did our best to respond factually, accurately and respectfully on matters such as our university’s by-laws, established search protocols and widely accepted methods for confidentially handling executive level searches.”
The students expressed disappointment that there are no members of the student body on the Committee as well as the Committee’s decision to not open the search up to non-Jesuit candidates. The female students, in particular, felt the suggestion of having a female president was met with sexist, dismissive remarks that implied women were not up to the task.
“We regret if either of us let our frustrations show during this meeting,” the statement from Liebscher and Finocchio said. “However, we are deeply disappointed in and saddened by allegations that we somehow dismissed or denigrated anyone during this discussion. Nothing we said would ever be intended to convey such a sentiment, which is completely inconsistent with our decades of stewardship at SCU.”
In response to the testimonials written by the four female students, tenured members of the women and gender studies (WGS) department penned a message of support objecting to the “dismissal of student concerns” and “the committee members’ message to students that women cannot be considered for the position of president.” The message goes onto urge the Committee to “rethink its priorities, reach out and engage students respectfully.”
“We felt the need to respond because of the sexism and racism students faced in the meeting,” WGS associate professor Linda Garber said. “This meeting showed there is no meaningful input process, certainly not for students. The search process is too important and too jarringly out of step with what the university professes to stand for.”
Vice Provost for Student Life Jeanne Rosenberger—a committee member 10 years ago when Engh was chosen—thinks demystifying the search process will go a long way toward easing student fears that the Committee will not represent their interests. She recalls the process being both “remarkable” and “exhausting” but does acknowledge that there wasn’t an “explicit” engagement of students, especially as the process wore on.
Students have expressed wanting direct involvement in the selection process or at least more insight into the criteria the PSC will use to choose the new president. ASG has been pushing for student representation on the Committee since there currently is none, passing a resolution to have presidential candidate finalists meet with the student senate.
The hope was that senators would get the chance to conduct a question and answer session, allowing student elected officials to ask the finalists for the position their perspectives on various issues like those highlighted in the Campus Climate Survey. The proposal has yet to receive approval from
The Committee has also sought feedback through an online survey sent in a Sept. 25 campus-wide email asking for what attributes and qualifications the PSC should be looking for in Santa Clara’s 29th president. The survey yielded over 150 responses and further feedback is encouraged via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Going forward, the committee plans to continue updating the community on the interview process as much as possible while still protecting the privacy of the candidates.
The Committee plans to publish the position profile—essentially a detailed job description guiding their criteria—on the PSC website so it is visible to the entire community.
“I have every confidence that the Committee will find the person for the position,” Rosenberger said. “There are so many competing needs during this important time for Santa Clara that I have to trust they will and the right person.”
The same ten student leaders were invited to attend a second meeting on Nov. 2 with the Committee, this time with co-chairs Sobrato and Gentzkow. PSC members Kitty Murphy (Associate Director of the Graduate Program inPastoral Ministries) and Lisa Kloppenberg (Dean of the School of Law) will also be in attendance.
“As we move forward with this most important process–and indeed as we move forward with other vital university matters–our hope and prayer
The focus of the discussion, as has been the case with PSC’s other outreach meetings, will be on identifying important issues facing campus community, attributes the new university president must embody, unique characteristics of Santa Clara that might make the position appealing to presidential candidates and potentially nominating any qualified Jesuits. These were the same questions asked in the Sept. 25 campus survey.
“Student input is critically important so I’m hoping from this meeting on Friday that the search committee hears how important it is for students and they consider what it means for students,” Rosenberger said.
Contact Perla Luna at email@example.com Erin Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call(408) 554-4852.