Some students and faculty contest results
January 10, 2019
A law firm hired by the university to investigate accusations that two trustees on the Presidential Search Committee (PSC) used sexist and demeaning language in an Oct. 12 meeting with students has issued a report finding that the allegations were unsubstantiated. The report was quickly challenged by some students and faculty.
“Yet again, our concerns are not validated,” said Diana Servin, president of the Undocumented Students and Allies Association and one of the students interviewed for the investigation. “Administration shows the voices of students don’t matter. I don’t think anyone in that position of power should say anything that has that kind of negative impact, see it has that impact and then not apologize.”
The investigation was announced to campus on Nov. 8, prompted by student allegations that the trustees in the meeting made offensive comments related to gender, race and immigration status.
The student complaints were then widely shared among faculty via email and led to a “message of support” signed by more than 100 faculty members who asked for “an apology and remedial action.”
In the letter, the four female students noted various insinuations made about women’s abilities to handle the responsibilities of being university president.
But the investigation was unable to substantiate any gender-based comments said during the meeting by trustees Bob Finocchio or Art Liebscher, S.J.
“The point of us sending the complaint email was to share our experiences, not to validate or invalidate our experiences,” said Annalicia Anaya, director of the Multicultural Center. “We felt it was sexist and hurtful, and it doesn’t help to bridge the gap to say it didn’t happen.”
The report also states that Finocchio and Liebscher did not make race-based comments implying that immigrant candidates or men of color would be excluded from the presidential search.
“The implications and the impact their words had was what made it hurtful and inappropriate,” Servin said. “I don’t think that was something that was taken into consideration during the interview.”
Both students and the two trustees contributed to the contentiousness of the meeting, the report concluded.
But Laura Ellingson, a co-author of the letter of faculty support, thought it important to consider the power differential between the two sides involved when deciding who is or isn’t at fault for the contentiousness.
“In inviting the students to provide feedback, the Trustees had the primary responsibility to lead the meeting with respect and compassion for our students,” she said.
Ellingson also questioned how the investigators could conclusively state specific comments were not said without deeming the testimony of the trustees more credible than the student accounts.
The investigation was conducted by Van Dermyden Maddux Investigations Law firm, which specializes in workplace and Title IX campus investigations.
The investigator received access to all requested witnesses, with the exception of one student and two relevant faculty members who declined to participate.
The results of the inquiry were summarized in a campus-wide email but the report itself was not shared, nor were the students involved informed about the results prior to the email being sent out.
“I think it would be beneficial for the Board of Trustees to release the full report to the faculty and students in the interests of clarity and transparency,” Faculty Senate President Sarah Kate Wilson said.
The issue of transparency has been brought up by students and faculty throughout the presidential search process, as well as by the Campus Climate Survey results, which highlighted transparency as a key campus concern.
Specifically, there is confusion over how the PSC will decide on current university President Michael Engh, S.J.’s replacement and why there is no student representative on the committee.
The Associated Student Government has been pushing for student inclusion by passing a resolution to have presidential candidate finalists meet with the student senate. The university has yet to respond to the resolution.
Faculty Senate agrees with the importance of having a student representative on the committee, passing a resolution supporting student inclusion in the committee at their Nov. 7 meeting.
“I continue to believe that there should be student representation on the presidential search committee because students are obviously key stakeholders at the university, and their input can help the committee make the best recommendations,” said William Sundstrom, who co-wrote the resolution with Daniel Ostrov. “This was a view I held prior to the meeting between the students and the search committee members.”
Ostrov agreed, saying that “Adding a student to the Presidential Search Committee could be a healing step in the direction of valuing voices from all parts of our SCU community.”
The PSC co-chairs, as well as two other members of the committee, will meet with the students Jan. 11 to restart the conversation that began Oct. 12.
They will discuss the attributes students believe the next university president should possess.
But—according to the timeline posted on committee website—preliminary screenings and candidate interviews should currently be underway so it is unclear what the purpose of gathering more student input of this kind is.
“It is unfortunate that there were misunderstandings on both sides,” Committee Co-Chair John M. Sobrato said in the report email. “We apologize that the prior meeting was contentious, difficult and unproductive. Appropriate discussions by the Executive Committee have been held with the two trustees regarding the meeting. We look forward to the next meeting with the students and are confident that it will be respectful, productive and collaborative.”
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.