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Friday, February 24, 2012

Occupy Blake A?

Dear Readers, 

This week there has been a lot of activity on campus. I'm not entirely sure I know exactly what's going on, so I asked my information guy (who will remain unnamed) to give me the scoop. Along with the emails that I will include here, he had this to say about the matter:

Me: "What exactly would you say the problem is here?"
Informer: "There are two. They both share the problem that the Dean of Students went around the processes outlined in The Key and Employee Handout, which are approved by the Board of Trustees. Problem one: with the students, they abused their power by making empty threats which included expelling students that revealed information about the meeting and expelling students that did not vote [The Dean of Student's] way. The Dean of Student's threatened these students so he could cut corners to get a policy approved before it could get passed by the board. Problem two: With the faculty, it is a part of the employee contract to have faculty approval for certain policy changes. The Dean of Students is using "Project Hercules" to revamp the Greek Life program, but is avoiding correct process by going straight to the Board of Trustees for approval. By doing this, the Dean of Students has broken contracts, and destroyed faculty governance."
 This being said, the students have been in quite an uproar. The following is a statement that a group of students collaborated on, and seems to express the general sentiment of the student body:
"The administration tried to shaft the student government and violated a crap load of power constraints. Overstepped boundaries.

Deans in Blake A met with the Student Court recently in a secret meeting, instructing them not to tell anyone, even the Student Senate, about the meeting; in this meeting they were bound to the Honor Code not to spill the beans.

Next day, the Deans take the proposed drug policy to the Student Senate and tell them that they have one hour to deliberate and that they had no choice but to vote it in. They threatened that the Board of Trustees or other powers-that-be would dissolve student government and impose a stricter policy without their "blessing" if they voted it down. This was an empty threat as the Board had no knowledge of this policy.

You see, the President and the Administration needed to get this policy through with the students' mark of approval and then PRESENT it to the Board so that they would go along with it.

The Senate was also bound to the Honor Code and instructed not to say a word and that the policy would be advertised as a "student led initiative."

All three branches of the Student Government, some members risking threats of suspension from the Administration, called a town hall meeting today (2/23/12) at noon to inform the students what had happened. There was a massive turnout. Additionally, much (if not all) of the faculty are supporting us. A few, in a meeting inside Venable 30 minutes before the protest started, called out members of the Administration on issues such as the shrouded "Project Hercules" and this violation of college regulations. Many were on the steps of Venable right beside the students.

Other allegations were made that the Admin. had repeatedly abused their power by putting themselves above the Honor Code when interrogating--sorry, "investigating"--students in possible behavioral and honor violations. An international student got up to the bull horn and told a pretty moving story about how the Admin. had yanked him around the bureaucracy and repeatedly shafted him.

All of the students were advised by the student government to send in their stories of manipulation and abuse and pledge them.

An investigation on Blake A is either underway or may be underway soon and hopefully this will extend to President Chris B. Howard. The Admin. and President are probably gonna attempt to hide things and lie to everyone. I'm not trusting a dang thing that either comes out of the office halls of Blake A or comes from the lavish Camelot that is Middlecourt.

Everyone has to know about this. Alumni must know about this. They're trying to suppress the government and the student body of Hampden-Sydney College, Howard urging students at college events last night to not attend the rally today.

The student body of H-SC needs all the help it can get right now. Whatever help we can get."

A story like this, of course, has two sides. I've also included a statement made by President Howard's assistant, Drew Prehmus:
"Due to the tragic passing of one of our students this fall, President Howard, the Board of Trustees, and the Senior Staff agreed that something had to be done about our drug abuse policy.

Several months were spent researching best practices at other colleges. It was agreed that Hampden-Sydney needed more prescriptive punishments for drug abuse offenders.

The Dean of Students wrote a draft policy that prescribes drug testing as one consequence for recorded drug abuse offenders, in addition to codifying many discipline practices that have been followed for years. The Dean of Students presented the draft to Dr. Howard. Dr. Howard suggested the draft be brought to the Board for consultation and their opinions on the draft document.

The Dean of Students suggested that if the Student Court were presented the draft and approved of it, then it could be presented to the Board with the additional backing of a blessing from the Student Court. President Howard agreed with this idea, and the Dean of Students set out to get the thoughts of the Student Court on the draft document.

The Student Court did not approve of the draft, so the draft was presented to the Board of Trustees as a draft policy that the College was thinking about and continuing to work on. After a brief discussion, no action was taken on it. The document remains in draft form in the hands of the Student Court.

The primary conflict has arisen over how the draft proposal was presented to the Student Court. The students do not feel like they were given the opportunity to contribute to the draft, that they were forced to approve it, and that they were forced to keep it a secret. They also expressed frustrations that the manner in which the draft proposal was presented to them did not respect them or College policy properly and that this is a recurring problem."

This next email comes from one of the members of the Faculty-Student Affairs Committee (F-SAC). I'm leaving his name out of it for privacy reasons:
"In response to concerns raised to me and other members of the Student Affairs Committee of the Faculty (F-SAC) as well as those raised at the discussion of the Good Man Plan today, let me briefly provide the information that I had hoped to give you at Faculty Meeting last week.

Five proposals from Project Hercules were approved by the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees (T-SAC); These proposals were: 1) to allow fraternities to begin rush the same day that clubs and other social organizations recruit new members (generally at "Pig on the Point" during orientation) with Rush now ending in mid-November instead of in January and with fraternities brought under the same rules (or lack thereof) that now apply to organizations like Tiger Athletic Club; 2) pledging will be reduced from six weeks to four; 3) active alumni councils will be organized for each fraternity to work in close coordination with faculty/staff fraternity advisors and to provide additional adult guidance to the fraternities; 4) a ban on all hazing (as defined in the pledge sent to you by Dean Cvijanovic); and 5) reduction of restrictions on Fraternity events as defined in Article VII of the IFC Statutes (in the Key). Other changes are still in discussion in Project Hercules, but to my knowledge, these are the only ones that have been formally approved and implemented by the T-SAC and I’ve been assured that none will be approved in the future without direct F-SAC involvement.

As the (only) faculty representative to Project Hercules, I fully participated in discussing and debating each of these proposals, supporting some and questioning others, as did each member of the Project. I will admit that when these proposals went before the November Board of Trustees meeting I assumed—incorrectly—that it was for discussion not implementation since the issues had not yet been brought officially to F-SAC. When I became aware that my assumption was wrong, I raised the issues of faculty governance which are found in Article 2 of the “Statement of Philosophy of Fraternities at Hampden-Sydney College” (in the Key) and Article XI of the “Interfraternity Council Constitution” (also in the Key). The issue was examined at the highest administrative levels and the answer I received from the Chair of T-SAC was that a system in crisis required the emergency intervention of the Board of Trustees and was justifiable within the statutes of the college. I hasten to say that he also immediately made clear that he wanted to draw the F-SAC directly into the Project Hercules discussions which had not been the case to that point.

On a final, personal note, I just want to say that while issues of faculty governance are crucial, the speed at which this process occurred probably unnecessary and justifiably arousing suspicion, and the precedents set are dangerous; this is not a sneak attack on faculty governance nor is it a slippery slope into loss of faculty oversight over the things that most matter to us. I say this with confidence, though with less naïveté than I might have said it 4 months ago. I think it has raised our (my) awareness of why correct procedure matters and why short-circuiting those procedures may be neither as efficient nor as efficacious as it might seem. F-SAC will be working with the administration and with the Faculty Affairs Committee of the faculty to re-clarify future procedures and the role of faculty and the F-SAC in the regulation of fraternities.

There is talk of a Town Meeting and if there are questions, F-SAC will again be on the agenda of the next faculty meeting. In the meantime, feel free to send questions or concerns to me or the other members of F-SAC."

The meeting was, in fact, the same one talked about in that first email. This last email was sent to everyone on the Faculty-Staff mailing list by Shirley Kagan, one of our Fine-Arts professors:

"At the core of the Hampden-Sydeny experience, more so than any other single element, is honor. And while the student honor system is codified, there is a larger sense in which this principle governs us all at this institution. Honor is valuable but delicate. It is built upon the notion that we all buy into and play by a set of common rules. Sometimes these rules are inexpedient, often they are difficult, but we all commit to them for the sake of the health of the community.

What is so distressing about the action taken by our trustees in this case, well intentioned though it may have been, is that it ignores a set of rules which was composed, institutionally ratified and adhered to in good faith by all members of this community. To get around this set of rules is certainly convenient and might be in the purview of the trustees' power, but I fear using that power will win a battle but lose a war. Once the idea of honor has once been compromised, why should any of us trust any assurances that it won't be again? And how can we, in good faith, say to a group of students "you are on your honor" when we have not been treated with the honor that we as their teachers, mentors and guides deserve?

If hope is a thing with feathers, then honor is the thing in its shell, and once that shell is crushed, there is no putting it back together. No future promise is meaningful. It is for this reason that I beseech Dr. Howard, Dean Klein and the Student Affairs Committee of the Faculty to request our trustees to treat the recent actions not as a "done deal" but as a step taken in well-meaning but over-eager haste, and walk this decision back. I fear not doing so will have a corrosive and disillusioning effect on our entire community.

Most respectfully,


Obviously there are a lot of feelings about all of this. There have also been a couple of other interesting emails sent out, including this one:

And this one, from the College Chaplain, David Keck:

"Dear friends,

I can’t speak for everyone, but my heart is aching for all the anger on campus. For many reasons, there is a great deal of frustration and bitterness, and for some, even a sense of betrayal.
I’m paraphrasing, but the Bible offers this advice: go ahead and be angry, but don’t let the anger get the better of you – and don’t go to bed angry and just stew in your wrath. (Ephesians 4:26)
I’m trusting that with help, the better parts of ourselves can win out. I think that’s what we all want, but we are not sure how to get there.
I’d like to invite everyone to one step in that direction:
There will be a silent prayer service this afternoon in College Church from 3:30-4:30.
No spoken words. No agenda.
Just prayerful listening, sustained reflection, silent prayers from the depths, and candles to remind us of light and hope.
You are invited to arrive and depart at any time.
Peace and best wishes,

I'm not particularly religious myself, but if it weren't for my work schedule, I'd be there.
It might be important to note, by the way, that this is partially about a new Drug Policy that "Project Hercules" is working on. The following is an email from Dr. Chris Howard, President of HSC, addressing the rumors:
Clearly there is serious concern about the draft drug policy that has been circulated during the past few weeks. I would like to invite all students, faculty and staff concerned with this matter to join me at 6:15 PM this evening in Snyder Hall to discuss the facts of the situation and make sure we all work together as a community to resolve the problem at hand.
To clarify one rumor that I have heard repeated several times, please know that there has never been any intention to do campus-wide random drug testing at Hampden-Sydney. The draft that is under consideration by the Student Court recommends drug testing only for students who have returned to our student body after serving a suspension for drug abuse.
I look forward to your attendance and to your participation as our community works through this issue."

This is about all of the information that I currently have on the matter. I've heard dozens of different rumors flying around but as always, I refuse to put anything up without some form of documentation--I'd hate to help spread false rumors after all.

Please feel free to leave comments, and voice your opinions on the matter! Your voice is strong, but it is ineffective unless it is heard!

--- Editor.

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