Board Editorial: President Murray deserves cautious optimism

Lachlan Johnson and Sarah Cornett

The announcement of Whitman’s 14th President last fall was met with enthusiasm from the student body. Kathy Murray’s installment may mark the beginning of a more open, progressive administration for the college. However, while there are reasons to be hopeful, it is not time to celebrate quite yet. Murray has not yet firmly committed to any reforms, and while there has been much talk of engaging with students, it is still too early to tell whether this will truly happen.

During The Pioneer’s first meeting with President Murray, she impressed us by being open and direct. We have heard she made a similar impression on the students on the Presidential Search Committee last year and ASWC representatives who have met with her.

It will not be difficult for President Murray to exceed expectations during her first year on campus, if only because the bar for the presidency was set low last fall. At this time last year, President Bridges caused significant discontent among faculty by suggesting the censorship of speeches at commencement. Coupled with his defensive response to Whitman’s low ranking in economic diversity by The New York Times, Bridges’ actions left many students, faculty and staff frustrated with his reactive leadership.

President Bridges focused on growing the college’s endowment. While he succeeded in this task, the college has seen equally large increases in spending. Instead of paying for a greater percentage of costs, the larger endowment is merely keeping a much larger budget afloat. In fact, because students are paying for the same percentage of a much larger budget, the burden on them in the form of tuition is greater today than ever before.

Unless the college finds a way to slow increases in spending, continuing growth of the endowment will need to be on Murray’s agenda in coming years. But to be an improvement over her predecessor she will also need to demonstrate leadership in moving the college forward on issues important to students and younger alumni. From racism to sexual assault, progress at Whitman has only come after vigorous student activism, and until now the administration has more often dismissed calls for change than taken initiative on its own.

President Murray is just beginning her time at Whitman, but there are reasons to be hopeful for the future. She has pledged to learn about the campus and include students in the creation of the Strategic Action Plan next year. When asked about whether ethics should play any role in the college’s financial decisions, she revealed that administrators have had conversations about the possibility of a committee to make judgements on this matter. We have yet to see whether these words will be translated into policies, but our new President deserves the benefit of the doubt for these first months on campus while we wait to see her in action.