40 Students storm faculty meeting in protest of commencement speaker

Posted by Julia Martin/News Editor

For video of the protest filmed by the protesters go to: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=P_sChG4_v_4

The Protest

On Friday, April 5 at 3:30 p.m., the College's monthly faculty meeting was scheduled to begin in Gannett Auditorium. Minutes into the meeting, a group of 40 students entered the auditorium, with Jovany Andujar '13 seizing one of the two empty microphones positioned in the aisles.

"I'm sorry to interrupt this faculty meeting, but-" Andujar began.

"Excuse me, you're out of order sir. You may sit and if you want to say something I will recognize you," President Glotzbach said.

Andujar continued speaking.

The accompanying students began handing out fliers to the faculty, detailing their issues with the choice of commencement speaker, former CEO of the Anglo-American mining corporation, Cynthia Carroll. The fliers were created by the United Minds club on campus.

At this time, a small group of faculty members chose to exit the auditorium, including Professor of government Natalie Taylor. Taylor told The Skidmore News she left after the students told the President Glotzbach they would not allow him to continue speaking. "By disregarding the procedures that govern our meetings, the students betrayed values- openness to differing opinions, deliberation, and civility- that are essential to liberal education and to community," Taylor said.

Andujar read a prepared speech detailing his frustration with the administration's approach to the Cynthia Carroll controversy. "The voices of students are not being properly heard. I've been in talks with the students involved in [discussions with the administration] and that is the only reason why I know about any of the limited progress that has been occurring," he said.

Andujar described the administration's response to the controversy as an act of appeasement rather than serious consideration. He continued, "We are calling and demanding for actual action and change." Andujar said personally he wanted Carroll to be disinvited from the ceremony or stripped of her speaking privilege.

Andujar expressed dissatisfaction that the administration had not released a public statement regarding the controversy over the choice of Carroll, and mentioned that he felt his opinion was being ignored.

"It's my commencement. Not hers. Not yours. It is my day. Not yours," Andujar said.

Daniel Pforte '13 spoke after Andujar. Pforte described the decision of Carroll as commencement speaker as contradictory to the sense of social responsibility and ability to think critically that students are expected to obtain after four years at the College.

"We [the group of students] believe this decision misrepresents us as Skidmore students, and highlights the lack of power students hold," Pforte said.

Pforte stated that the students wanted faculty to help organize an event that invites the administration responsible for the choice to explain their motives and justifications for the decision.

When asked if he had attempted to contact the administration before the protest, Pforte told The Skidmore News, "I do not believe the administration is a place to start any sort of effort to change decisions of the power structure or the power structure itself."

President Glotzbach then asked the students, "What would you like to happen today?"

Andujar responded, "I'm not playing that game with you this time, Glotzbach."

The response invoked a contemptuous buzz from the faculty members in the audience.

Chair of the Classics Department Michael Arnush then spoke to Andujar, "You've asked for respect from him. He deserves the same respect. His name is President Glotzbach."

Andujar continued, "I'm not playing that game, President Glotzbach."

Andujar said the moment for an open forum had passed, and that the students were not asking for an open forum. "We want change," Andujar said.

Kali Block-Steele '13 then spoke. Block-Steele called for true collaboration and communication between the administration and students. She mentioned frustration at the "political jargon" used by members of the administration, concluding her speech with, "I want to see change, President Glotzbach. That is what I want."

Professor of Studio Art John Cunningham then rose and spoke, stating that graduation was a prideful moment for the faculty members as well. "We've been with you guys for four years. This has been a wonderful, creative, exciting experience for us. Please bring this dialogue back to something a little more civilized, because we are with you guys and we back you guys up a hundred percent," Cunningham said.

The group left the auditorium after Kelsey Nichols '13 mentioned that at least some of the students present would be interested in engaging in an open forum with the administration.

Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Professor of Sociology David Karp left the auditorium at the same time as the students. Karp said he left not out of protest, but desire to speak further with the students and learn more about their perspectives.

Professor Karp added, "I was excited to see the passion, courage, and conviction of the students who went to the faculty meeting."

Behind the Scenes

Professor Karp, Dean of Students Rochelle Calhoun, President of Speakers Bureau Alexandra "Z" Steinhauer '13, SGA President Matt Walsh '13, Senior Class President Emilee Bell '13, Sustainability Coordinator Riley Nuegebauer and Professor of Environmental Studies Karen Kellogg are all members of a group that developed earlier in the semester to discuss the controversy over the choice of commencement speaker. The group developed after Steinhauer contacted members of the administration with concerns over the choice of Carroll.

These group discussions have led to a commitment by the administration to alter the structure of choosing future commencement speakers as well as the planning of a teleconference with Cynthia Carroll.

Steinhauer also gathered 18 testimonials from students expressing dissatisfaction with the decision and the lack of administrative transparency. The testimonials were emailed to administrators and presented to the discussion group. The testimonials ranged from several paragraphs to a few sentences in length.

"My conversations with administrators were not necessarily making the college notice how urgent this issue is and now it's important that we really kick it up a notch. Students took a serious risk when they protested the faculty meeting and while definite progress has been made, I still think it is imperative for the school to take a risk when thinking about further solutions." Steinhauer said.

Block-Steele mentioned that she felt student voices were not being taken seriously.

Outside of submitting a testimonial, Block-Steele had not contacted members of the administration before the protest.

The specific goal of the protest is unclear. Students involved have asked that Carroll be uninvited to commencement, while others have asked for community dialogue. Others still have asked for an "act of love" from the administration.

The monthly faculty meeting has not served as the stage for a student demonstration in two decades. Twenty years ago, a group of students entered the meeting and called upon the administration and then president of the College, David Porter, to admit more students of color and employ more faculty of color.

Pforte said the meeting was chosen as the sight of protest because he believes faculty members hold great power in the community.

"They [the students] were asking us to join and stand with them," said Arnush, "though I'm not quite sure how and where we were to join them." He continued, "It wouldn't be realistic to disinvite a speaker at the request of 40 students. These are passionate students, but we don't know if this is the majority view. And how do we even find out the majority view? How do you reach an entire student body to find out what the student body thinks?"

Arnush added, "At some level I respect [the choice of the faculty meeting as the protest location] enormously. It caught the attention of everybody. It was the tone that I think was wrong."

Members of the protest mentioned they believed the choice of Carroll was a symptom of a larger problem of Skidmore not holding itself to higher standards of civic engagement. Students expressed sentiments that the administration should have responded to the testimonials submitted with greater urgency. Students who participated in the protest voiced frustration that faculty members and members of the administration had not contacted them after the protest.

The community dialogue with Cynthia Carroll is scheduled to take place on Thursday April 18, between 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. in Gannett Auditorium. 

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