Murray first sitting president to attend ASWC meeting in over a decade

Ellen Ivens-Duran

President Murray visited ASWC’s Senate meeting to discuss her work this semester and her plans for next semester on Sunday, December 7. Her presence made that Senate meeting the first attended by a sitting president in over a decade.

Murray discussed several important issues, including those of diversity, strategic planning, transparency and potential changes in the College’s mascot. Her prepared remarks were similar to those presented at an open forum for staff and faculty on November 12th, but she took impromptu questions from Senate members for about a half hour.

One of Murray’s biggest priorities was to begin the strategic planning process this summer.

“What’s important is that we, A. get a new Provost here, and B. by the summer be launching a strategic planning process that allows us, in a collaborative fashion, to answer…questions of where we should focus our attention…but those are not for me to decide. Those [answers] are for the community to decide together,” Murray said.

Murray emphasized that this strategic planning process would include considerations of both diversity and inclusion. That work has already begun with Whitman Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (WIDE) working on a strategic plan solely concerned with diversity. The upcoming campus climate survey will be another important step in this process. Senate members share Murray’s interest in beginning the strategic planning process.

“Certainly diversity in the strategic plan was a big one,” senior ASWC President Jack Percival said, “The strategic plan broadly was a big one and I think that is clearly crucial because that will determine the direction of the college for the next…ten [or] fifteen years.”

Murray also touched upon student concerns about transparency in administrative decision-making processes, a topic that is being considered at this week’s Town Hall and in a survey sent out by the Transparency at Whitman Working Group.

“This is probably one of the most inclusive places I’ve ever been in terms of student engagement in the budgeting process,” Murray said. “There are students on the budget advisory committee. [Chief Financial Officer] Peter Harvey shares the budget planning documents on the website…anybody in the Whitman community can watch that process evolve. And so I’m not sure what transparency would look like beyond what’s already there.”

One other issue addressed was Whitman’s mascot, which is currently the Fighting Missionaries. Students and faculty have made the mascot a topic of conversation on campus, and Murray is working to address concerns. She informed the Senate of her plan to create a working group with at least three student representatives who will research the issue over break and present a recommendation next semester.

Student guests asked the President whether she had plans to address other issues related to Whitman’s colonial past, to which she responded that focusing on the mascot in isolation would increase the chances of progress being made. Percival cautiously agreed with Murray.

“In terms of the mascot, I think we need to have a broader conversation about the relationship we want to have with our past,” Percival said. “And I agree that the mascot is the place to start, but I think that it can expand into a larger conversation about what role the Whitmans played in Western expansion in the United States and how we can come to terms with that as 21st century Whitties.”

Murray’s overall emphasis was on the role that ASWC played on campus as a representative of student opinion. Deepraj Pawar, a sophomore senator, commented that Murray’s presence alone was important to ASWC.

“It was really, really nice to know that she’s listening….She said she wanted to use us as [a] sounding board, and that just makes it even more significant—what we do and that we represent students–because she is going to be there to bounce ideas off of us,” Pawar said.

There is much work to be done, by the administration as well as by ASWC. Murray believes that all of that work is best done together.

“I think…we do our best work when we are able to sit face-to-face and talk through something,” Murray said. “Step up and ask about [issues important to you] and let us either say, ‘This is why this is the way it is,’ or ‘Oh, gosh, I guess we could do something to make that better.’ But that’s the only way change happens. It won’t happen if we’re kind of sitting quietly in a room stewing about it.”

Editor’s Note: This article has updated to reflect that budget information can be found online without a password. A previous version contained a quotation stating that budget information used password protection.