By Maddy Linden
More than 269 alumni recently signed a petition asking the board of trustees at St. Michael’s to “defend the foundations of social justice and community” at the college. The letter came in response to recent layoffs and other changes at the college which shifts funding away from certain areas.
In September, alumni created a group chat on Facebook to discuss the “messed up stuff happening at SMC” according to the group message. Meaghan Diffenderfer, ‘17, who helped in spreading the petition, wrote in an email that the main concerns alumni are rallying behind are “staffing and funding changes to mission-oriented centers such as the Center for Women and Gender, Center for Community Engaged Learning, and the Peace and Justice Center; direct obstacles and challenges to diversity, inclusion, and equity on campus; the Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) that was originally introduced in Fall 2016, and undue burdens for faculty seeking tenure.”
A few alumni, including Julia Berberan, who works as the safespace program coordinator at Pride Center Vermont put together some requests of the administration. There was a written response from the Faculty Executive Committee and the SA E-Board, but not the Board of Trustees itself.
“The Faculty Executive Committee responded to the alumni letter saying that we recognize some of the group’s concerns, and hope for their patience and continued support as the College makes changes and improvements over the next few years,” said Peter Harrigan, moderator of the Faculty executive Committee, in an email. “We also pointed out a number of positive initiatives on campus of which the group may not be aware. While there are things to improve on this – and any – campus, there are also many strengths. It is important that the story we tell about ourselves be balanced.”
Diffenderfer explained that the Center for Women and Gender, Center for Community Engaged Learning, and the Peace and Justice Center losing valuable employees, the school is slowly cutting out all resources for social justice in a community associated with its social justice mission.
“I don’t think they [alumni] understand what’s happening to higher education in general, and certainly small liberal arts colleges,” said President John J. Neuhauser. The school has been going through a lot of changes due to falling enrollment Neuhauser said this plan has been in the works since 2008. Nor do they understand what is happening here” said Neuhauser. The school has been going through a lot of changes due to falling enrollment. Neuhauser said this plan has been in the works since 2008.
“I would actually say that many of the things you’re interested in we are interested in and have been doing all along, and some of the things [we] you can’t be very public about in terms of what are [we] you doing with the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice. We had some pretty well developed plans for that until Fr. Mike died, and that put those on the shelf for awhile,” Neuhauser said.
One action by the alumni to bring attention to the topic was to withhold donating money until something is done. Sophia Caravella, ‘18 a worker for phonathon got two calls regarding the problems going on at St. Michael’s. “He [the caller] was unhappy with a lot of the things that Neuhauser has done, and then he mentioned specifically the two people being laid off and the professor that applied for tenure and got denied. So he was really upset about that. And I just explained to him that he is leaving and that we are getting a new president, but at that point he just said ‘Call me next year, I’ll give next year.’”
The alumni who wrote the petition did not meet with Neuhauser prior to writing the petition. Neuhauser said, “I wish we could have a meeting of the minds because I don’t think our differences are anywhere near as big as the letter might cause you to think, but I don’t know if we can.”
Diffenderfer said “We do not intend to work against the College, rather our intention is to support and fortify the people, practices, and values of the College that people care about the most.”