I am writing to you today not only as a Gustavus student, but as a concerned member of the broader Gustavus community for which we all care deeply. Wednesday, March 18, 2009, I attended a faculty meeting at which Chairman of the Board of Trustees James H. Gale spoke to the changing Provost position and the role of the President and the Board in that change. While the administrative change may not have a profound effect on my daily life as a student, there was a larger issue at play in that meeting, one that affects every member of our community—from our first-year students to our Market Place cashiers, Physical Plant staff and our most senior faculty members.
Those of us present at the faculty meeting learned a little more information about the circumstances surrounding Provost Morton’s resignation. We learned that her position description changed to one she was no longer comfortable with or willing to carry out, and we learned that neither the faculty nor the college’s other constituencies were notified of this change.
We also learned that rules in Article VIII, Section 2 of the bylaws, our institution’s governing document, were not followed and that the “duties, responsibilities, relationships and authority” bestowed upon Dr. Morton in her capacity as Provost were never set forth in writing. These rules were again disregarded when, according to an e-mail sent by President Ohle to the Gustavus community, the “role and scope” of that position changed. Furthermore, given that the changes were never written to begin with, they were consequently never available to students, faculty and administrators upon request, as the bylaws mandate.
Herein lies the essence of the problem and why this issue is relevant to each and every member of the community: past, present and future. The Board of Trustees is the highest governing organization at Gustavus Adolphus College. It is the College’s highest authority, under which all other constituencies and organizations receive direction. What does it mean, then, when the Board of Trustees disregards its own governing documents? What message does it send to the Student Senate which, as a result of constitutional violations, recalled its co-presidents and administration and rewrote its own Constitution? Or students who end up in a Judicial Board case for violating Gustavus’ Honor Code? It sends a confusing message to current stakeholders—and anyone looking to join this fine community in the future—that college policy is optional and need only be followed when convenient.
While I was in China this fall, I asked one of my professors what he thought about other foreign faculty members who “dumb down” their lessons to accommodate for the language barrier their students face in the classroom. He told me that students have certain expectations and assume the challenge of earning their degree at an institution where English, instead of Mandarin, is the language of instruction. Dumbing down lessons would cheat the students in the same way that they are expected not to cheat in class. There is an important parallel to be drawn here with the current controversy to which the Board of Trustees finds itself party.
People come to Gustavus for many reasons, but one of the most prominent is our sense of community and the shared set of values we accept upon admission. It is an expectation we have of each other, and it is a source of pride. It does not make us elitist, but it does make us unique and distinctive, and it is something we should not sacrifice under any circumstance.
As a member of last year’s Presidential Search Committee, I felt a renewed appreciation for this institution and its commitment to making decisions as a community. The search was unique in that it included representatives from all of the College’s constituencies, including two students: a fact our search consultant was quick to point out when evaluating the institution.
Let us continue to honor the input of our diverse community and the gifts and talents we all contribute to make this institution distinctive. More importantly, we need to begin honoring our bylaws at the College’s highest levels. I hope that the examinations and reviews called for by the faculty, Faculty Senate and Student Senate will result in positive action that will put this institution on the path to continued success and prosperity.
Thank you for taking time to read this letter; I look forward to hearing from the Board regarding this important and challenging situation.
Class of 2009