Thursday, September 24, 2020

Student group representatives voice concerns during presidential search input session

September 29, 2018
Members of the Presidential Search Committee gather with members of the Board of Trustees at the meeting on the update of the presidential search process at the Hannah Administration Building on Aug. 22, 2018.
Members of the Presidential Search Committee gather with members of the Board of Trustees at the meeting on the update of the presidential search process at the Hannah Administration Building on Aug. 22, 2018. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Editor's note: The State News did not include the names of those who spoke during the input sessions in an effort to ensure students, faculty, staff and others who attended this session, as well as members of the community who will attend future sessions, feel comfortable with sharing their thoughts on the sessions and the future president of the university.

With the aim of listening to what students, faculty and staff hope to see in MSU's future president, as well as what challenges the university faces, the presidential search committee held an input session for representatives from the Council of Racial and Ethnic Students, or CORES, and the Council of Progressive Students, or COPS. 

CORES and COPS are organizations comprised of multiple student groups that represent marginalized groups on campus. 

At the session on Thursday, student representatives from these groups voiced their concerns to the presidential search committee. A few expressed that the concerns being brought up were the same concerns CORES has discussed for decades, dating back to when the council was formed in the 1990s. 

"We shouldn't have to sit at this meeting," a student representative said. "We should be at home doing homework, but instead we are here having to continuously fight, over and over and over again. ... This is an opportunity to actually listen, after we've been talking for so long."

Students were asked to limit their comments to two minutes. The moderator also said that the input session was exempt from the university’s mandatory reporting policy. 

Recording at these sessions is “strongly discouraged", according to the moderator, in order to ensure that members of the public feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. 

Though the conversation wasn't recorded by the committee, they were accompanied by someone who took handwritten notes of the student input. The co-chair of the presidential search committee, MSU Trustee Melanie Foster, said that the committee will compile all of the notes from all of the input sessions together after they're over. 

Here are some highlights from the input session and the concerns student representatives expressed about not only the future president of MSU, but the search process as well.  

"Actually having solutions to racism"

One representative from CORES and COPS brought up an incident from last year, where the university banned whiteboards from dorms in response to racist bullying. They said that the university's decision did not provide an actual solution to racism on campus, and told the presidential search committee that this is a challenge that faces the university. 

Other representatives expressed that they wanted a president who prioritized diversity inclusion, and one suggested the committee should choose a president who is a minority, stating that only "17 percent of college presidents are minorities." 

"There's so many different people who come from so many different places ... understanding each other is very difficult," a CORES and COPS representative said. "There is no current mandatory bias or diversity training that is currently in place for faculty or students. ... I think that in itself could do a lot in understanding and getting to know one another." 

Another challenge that was mentioned is making sure resources available for students are easier to get to, as well as making sure racial incidents on campus are better addressed. 

"Things go unsaid," another student representative said. "It gets pushed under the rug. ... There's not enough being done to try and address what happens to students if they are discriminated against." 

"There’s not enough being done for the students"

Many other issues were addressed at the session, including the drop in freshman international student enrollment, the increase in tuition, making campus accessible for all students and accountability in the administration. 

"It's not a great campus for students with disabilities," one representative said. 

They said there are still a lot of buildings on campus that are inaccessible for students in wheelchairs. 

Another CORES and COPS representative said there are not enough gender neutral bathrooms on campus, and that trying to locate and get to these bathrooms has negatively impacted their ability to be comfortable on campus. 

Another student said MSU's Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, is still understaffed. 

"It's really important to make sure the students are physically and mentally well to attend class and to be as productive as they can," they said. 

Transparency and accountability in the administration in the light of the university's handling of the ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar sexual abuse cases was also discussed. A representative said that statements released by MSU in response to controversial issues should not be "bland statements."

"For us students, when we read those things, it just sounds like things are coming out just to talk the talk and not walk the walk," they said. "It's really disheartening to see that nothing has changed. It's not a matter of transparency, but actually being able to prove that things are happening." 

“How do we know that what we say is actually going to be implemented in the search?”

A representative said that the presidential search process and the input sessions could be more transparent. 

Many representatives addressed their concerns about the presidential search input sessions to the committee. Although these sessions do not include a question-and-answer period, a few asked the committee about the rest of the process.  

"I just want to know, is this process going to be completely closed off? I know we have input sessions, but this process will obviously drag on longer than these input sessions," a student representative said. "Will this be a closed process, will there be a report at the end of the search, what happened with candidates who were considered or anything of that nature? Will we have tangible evidence that our ideas were taken into account?" 

Other representatives offered suggestions for the process as well, including providing the public with updates and a full explanation on why the final candidate was chosen. 

Another student told the committee that they're hoping the input sessions will be "more than just us talking to you." They said they have concerns about the make-up of the presidential search committee, and said there's still time to add more student and faculty voices onto it. 

"It is one thing to have these input sessions, but it's another thing to actually implement what we're talking about," they said. "From what I've seen during my time here, a lot of the time we sit here, we have these discussions, we give input, and it's not listened to."

When the CORES and COPS input session came to a close, Foster said the committee values the comments of the student representatives. 

Students, faculty, staff and other members of the MSU community can fill out input forms on the presidential search website if they were unable to attend any sessions or have any further comments.  

The presidential search committee will hold public open forums for the campus community on Oct. 10 and Oct. 11 at the Kellogg Center.  

The Associated Students of MSU, or ASMSU, will also be holding upcoming forums where students can provide their input on the presidential search.  

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