ASWC hosted its first-ever College Governance Forum last Thursday, where President Kathy Murray, Chair of the Board of Trustees Brad McMurchie and Faculty Chair Melissa Clearfield took student questions in a town-hall format in the Reid Coffeehouse.
Clearfield, Murray and McMurchie took questions about Whitman College’s discount rate, divestment, food service, tenure and other topics from students. They also spent time detailing the college’s structures of governance, especially the separation of powers created by the college’s constitution.
“What we’re really talking about here is the concept of shared governance,” Murray said at the meeting. “And that’s distinct to higher education, in that…on a college campus, different parts of the governance structure have responsibility for different decisions.”
The forum was proposed by ASWC president Arthur Shemitz, who included open forums with administrators and trustees as part of his platform for the presidency last spring. Shemitz contacted McMurchie, Clearfield and Murray over the summer to propose the forum, and was granted permission to use the town hall meeting as a platform for it by ASWC club director Grace Little and vice president Dana Casterella.
The forum lasted from 6 to 6:55 p.m. in an effort to avoid conflicting with a lecture by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King at 7 p.m. Shemitz said that while the short time frame constricted questions, this didn’t stop some students from asking them.
“Because of the limited amount of time, we ended with a lot of questions that people still wanted to ask, but didn’t have time for,” Shemitz said. “And I was glad to see that a lot of people went up to the administrators afterward and asked them those questions, and I hope that they’ll feel empowered to ask them over email, or when they run [into] to them on campus.”
McMurchie and Murray will also be holding open office hours together in the near future to allow students to voice their concerns, in addition to the office hours Murray holds weekly.
In McMurchie’s view, the forum and transparency efforts like it, including his planned office hours, are good for the Board’s relationship with students.
“In my time on the Board, which has been almost 10 years, I’ve seen an increased effort to find opportunities for engagement like this,” McMurchie said. “I think there’s a fair amount of mystery about who the board members are and what they do, and any way we can eliminate that mystery and put a face to the policies, I think, would be good.”
Murray adds that events like this help her shape her vision for the college.
“Everything I hear [from students] helps me sort of adjust my priorities, or maybe pushes one closer to the top in a given moment,” she said.
As of yet, there are no plans to make the forum a recurring event. Such a decision would rest on next year’s ASWC leadership. Shemitz is hopeful that those future leaders would make such an effort.
“I think that it was a really great success,” he said. “I’d love to see it continue.”