The Gustavian Weekly

GustieLeaks raises question of student involvement in campus conflicts

By Rebecca Hare Copy Editor | December 7, 2012 | News

Students find themselves engaged in a conflict between faculty and administration with the release of the website GustieLeaks. The website, which includes links to several documents regarding dissatisfaction with President Ohle’s administration, has raised the question of what kind of involvement, if any, is appropriate for students to have in conflicts between faculty and administration.

In email correspondence with the unidentified group behind GustieLeaks, they presented their intentions for the project.

“There is a lack of transparency on this campus and a lack of awareness among students. We want information about the aforementioned issues to be organized and accessible, so we brought it all together in GustieLeaks,” the email stated.

Student opinion on the website is both supportive and critical. Senior Eric Halvorson believes the website is important, yet he sees a lack of student perspective represented in the website’s content. The documents are primarily those that touch on faculty voices over the years and neglect the legitimate concerns held by students.

“From my perspective there are real hurts from students that aren’t addressed by GustieLeaks,” Halvorson said.

Halvorson sees GustieLeaks as an important tool to connect faculty and students in their similar plight, and he disagrees with those who say students should not be engaged in this issue.

“This is an educational institution, so if the educators are concerned, this tells me it is something concerning to students as well,” Halvorson said.

Susan Crane and Kelly Dumais, both members of the Student Voice organization founded last year to promote dialogue between students and key members of Gustavus leadership, agree with this sentiment as well.

“I see a community collapsing in on itself due to a lack of respect to faculty and students,” Crane said. “Before GustieLeaks I could only perceive things happening in the community, but I had no evidence.”

The “evidence” that Crane refers to includes articles from past editions of The Weekly, letters and documents written by the faculty as well as documents from Wartburg College, where President Ohle was president before coming to Gustavus.

The documents reveal a documented history of concern and dialogue on the issue of the College’s leadership.

Both agree that a site like GustieLeaks engages everyone in the conversation and gives first-years background knowledge of a situation that began long before they applied. They see this as a benefit to growing movements that often suffer with the graduation of key members.

“Gustavus isn’t my home for just four years; it will be my home for the rest of my life,” Dumais said in regards to her ongoing concern beyond graduation for the wellbeing of the College and its students.

This commitment to remain informed and concerned about campus issues beyond graduation can be seen in a statement by recent alumna Bethany Ringdal ‘11.

“Where there is smoke, there is probably fire; in this case the smoke of fear and secrecy has smothered the Gustavus culture of shared governance and open and honest dialogue. At the very least, I want to see clearly. I applaud Gustie Leaks for bringing in a wind of transparency,” Ringdal said.

President Ohle expressed concern about the public nature of the released information, which included confidential items.

“I’m sorry that the students are brought into this, because it is difficult for all of the facts to be known and, as a result, people can only make their own assumptions,” Ohle said.

Faculty members voiced similar concerns, stressing that they do not see the website as a positive mode to promote dialogue and share information.

Faculty Senate Chair and Professor in Religion John Cha and Faculty Senate Vice Chair and Professor in Religion Mary Solberg expressed their reservations on student involvement in faculty matters of concern.

“It’s water under the bridge at this point … I hope that whoever is responsible for GustieLeaks has thought about the appropriateness of it because it really isn’t the way to an open,  friendly, egalitarian discussion,” Solberg said.

Cha addressed the distinction between student and faculty concerns and stated that students should focus on discerning which issues affect their education. For instance, budget affairs may affect students’ academic experience in lower funding or larger class sizes due to fewer faculty positions.

“In terms of faculty politics, we have legitimate concerns. Some of them may fall into the realm of student interest, but some of them don’t, so just to be clear on what issues students should be concerned about,” Cha said.

President Ohle sees a student forum as a possibility to address students directly and talk about possible solutions to the situation in response to the GustieLeaks release.

“I would rather discuss the opportunities we have to move the institution forward. I am very clear on that. It’s not about me as president trying to stifle or oppress information or ideas, it’s about giving everyone a voice,” Ohle said.

Crane and Dumais believe that the institution can move forward as well, but “the first changes need to be attitude adjustments.” They strongly believe faculty concerns cannot be separated from student concerns, and there should be respect for both student and faculty opinion in the administration.

They report experiencing open hostility and disregard in their pattern of interaction with key members of the administration and Board.

Lastly, they believe there needs to be a reformation of how the system functions with constructive efforts to improve interaction with entities like the Board and President’s Office.

Halvorson is not so optimistic for a future under President Ohle’s continued leadership, however, and therefore believes he needs to leave his position entirely.

“Gustavus is run more like a company and less like a community,” Halvorson said. “I want to approach leadership with goodwill, but we’ve seen with his leadership a misuse and abuse of goodwill.”

In the email from GustieLeaks, the group addressed some of the concerns that prompted them to create the website originally, which validates Halvorson’s reservations.

“We are frustrated with Ohle’s habitual disregard for the concerns of faculty and students, his authoritarian style of governance, his violation of the principles of shared governance, the prioritization of Gustavus’ external image over our academic quality and our community,” the email stated.

GustieLeaks has sparked more than campus-wide dissemination of knowledge, but reflection upon the role students play and the values of the College.

Dumais sees the school’s pillars being disregarded as justice, academics and community are threatened. She noted the lack of consideration she encountered in discussions with the administration that has led her to believe this issue is extremely important to the health of the College’s community.

“I believe I can make a difference in the world. How can I expect to make a difference in the world if the [administration] doesn’t expect me to make a difference here?” Dumais said.

The group behind GustieLeaks stated that they have brought together the information for students to access and will wait for students to respond before taking further action.

“At this time we do not intend to write to the Board as GustieLeaks; our duty is to inform. Our hope is that the information will speak for itself and that students will use it well. If you find GustieLeaks compelling, we encourage you to write to President Ohle and to the Board,” GustieLeaks said in their email.

4 Comments

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  1. Danny Schmalz says:

    I liken student involvement in Campus conflicts to a rogue lynch mob. Everyone is carrying pitch forks and torches looking for anything to burn that they see fit with the ultimate goal to crucify the object of their rage, Jack Ohle. The counter productive result of this student angst is evident in the “Don’t give to Gustavus” movement. If we are to be taken seriously as students and to be considered adults we have to make a more positive and meaningful approach to discourse in conflicts, we have to drop the pitch forks, stop pouring gasoline, and stop handing out matches. It appears the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees is addressing the problem and has been addressing the problem and we can trust these groups to do so in the future. Stop setting fires.

  2. Nick Harper says:

    Danny, you seem to be severely misinformed. The Board of Trustees have refused to address the problem (unless you call inaction “addressing the problem”). The Faculty Senate, while admirably active, does not have any administrative power over Ohle. They can only lobby the Board. Thus, additional lobbying by students and alumni is appropriate.

    Furthermore, while I likewise do not agree with the tactic of the “Don’t Give to Gustavus Day,” it nonetheless was a means to provide the message.

    All other methods so far have been shot down or failed to create any positive change. Previously taken actions include: a Student Senate forum with Ohle, a meeting between a small group of concerned students and select Board members, lobbying the Board during a quarterly meeting, sending letters and emails to the Board and Ohle, and Weekly articles, op eds, and letters to the editor.

    Perhaps you have imagined some other way to “make a more meaningful approach to discourse”? Because it seems to me that students and alumni have exhausted their options.

    It’s bewildering to me that you feel the heat but still shut your eyes tightly and refuse to acknowledge the fire. Be careful, or you’ll get burned.

  3. Tom Komatz says:

    I will no longer give money if the lynch mob gets rid of Ohle.

  4. Dr. David D. Flaten, '87 says:

    I am a concerned alum ’87, and parent of a future Gustie (maybe, I have doubts growing about my alma mater). It may be worth sharing a short story. Back in 1986/7 GAC organized/sponsored a conference, part of which touched on issues of apartheid in South Africa and divestment issues. Many people from South Africa were present. Once they learned, from concerned students– no less–that GAC had made no genuine timely efforts to divest…well, the hypocrisy was obvious. If students do not voice concerns, act, or engage in all issues involving GAC, including the board and admin, then who will? Students, alumni and faculty are administrative partners, not servants. I will hold the donation check for now and read much more.