By Kiana Lei Yap | Opinion Columnist

President Donahue addressed the Saint Mary’s community in a general address and interactive Q&A. (Courtesy of Saint Mary’s College)

As a follow-up to President Donahue’s community address on Nov. 1, he invited the Saint Mary’s College community to a Q&A session where community members were encouraged to submit questions for the President to respond to. Topics covered in the discussion included: transparency across administration, faculty, and staff, financial sustainability and enrollment, how Saint Mary’s can be a competitive force in higher education institutions without compromising its mission as a Lasallian liberal arts institution, and the creation of the Business and Academic Review Committee (BARC).

Professor Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo did not waste time in getting straight to the point. She asked what steps the President will be taking to ensure that Saint Mary’s faculty and staff are informed and engaged in the decisions that the College makes. This question was broadened to inquire as to how the Board of Trustees or higher administration will be more transparent on governing actions that directly affect individual schools, departments, and academic organizations within the College. This topic took up a majority of the 60 minutes. 

President Donahue answered the questions on how he and the administrative board will seek to be more transparent in very non-transparent and roundabout ways. He repeatedly brought up how BARC is one of the “many mechanisms” that will seek to engage and inform faculty and staff on decisions regarding financial sustainability, revenue-generation strategies, enrollment, salary/benefit changes, and individual, departmental (e.g. History, Math, Business Administration) matters. The answers that President Donahue provided were nebulous, indirect, and repetitive. It seemed like many of the faculty and staff members were dissatisfied with his answers, especially on the topic of transparency from administration to faculty.

One exceptionally striking moment during this discussion was when Donahue elaborated on how transparency means sharing appropriate information, figuring out what “appropriate” means, and understanding how to go about sharing this “appropriate information.” However, it was unclear as to what this “appropriate information” was exactly. He noted that determining the appropriateness of the information that will be shared with faculty does not necessarily mean that the College is trying to withhold information. However, it also doesn’t mean that the solution is to do a “data dump” of everything that Donahue and the Trustees discusses. Donahue continually stated how he was implementing “strategies” that will “increase transparency” and address issues of holistic faculty and staff involvement. One of these strategies is the formation of BARC; however, there is no timeline as to when it will be formed, who will be on the committee, and precisely what the committee’s mission is.

On the topic of the College’s financial state, Donahue was able to provide more concrete answers as to how the College can be a competitive force amongst “peer institutions” in the increasingly competitive higher education field. It is through the uniqueness of the College that they can boost enrollment levels, increase revenue, and attract regular donors. The College prides itself on the personalization of its education through small class sizes, variety of programs of study, and students’ abilities to form meaningful relationships with their professors. Additionally, programs such as Jan Term and Collegiate Seminar are vital to the College’s identity as a liberal arts institution. According to Donahue, all of these characteristics of the College will set it apart from fellow higher education institutions as Saint Mary’s seeks to boost enrollment, generate revenue from public support and donors, and maintain financial sustainability.

However, this moment of appreciative reflection on positive aspects of the College failed to overshadow internal tensions between Donahue and faculty and staff. I made three inferences during this tension-filled session. Firstly, the Board of Trustees’ desire to increase the College’s culture of deliberation and shared governance with faculty and staff that Donahue hammered on in his Nov. 1 address shows no clear signs of being actualized. Secondly, the President truly does not know what is and is not effectively working in terms of ensuring that faculty and staff are informed and actively involved in knowing what’s going on in the President’s meetings with the College’s governing board. Thirdly, BARC will be another ineffective hierarchical committee that will fail to increase communicative transparency between administration and faculty and staff.

Nothing new was introduced in light of the President’s address earlier this month. Professors and other staff members that were present appeared disappointed and irked with how cryptic the President’s responses were to questions of communicative transparency on administrative decisions, the financial state of the College (including salaries and benefits), and how the Trustees and President intend to promote a culture of shared governance and collaboration in decision-making. Donahue’s remarks on new “strategies” and “mechanisms” that will be implemented to engage faculty and staff on the College’s governing decisions sound like an effort to buy time.

The Board’s effort to create a so-called “culture of deliberation and shared governance” sounds like an idealized slogan full of hot air. The session was a grand facade to pacify faculty members who are exhausted by the President’s “all talk, no action” approach to their genuine concerns on the internal well-being of the College.

This article has 2 comments

  1. We need to get back to the true Lasallian mission. Once we return to our founders mission, all other issues will star to fall into place for SMC. The alumni speaks with their wallets and it’s clear they have not been happy for quite some time.

  2. Start to fall into place. Big fingers, small keys 🙂

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