Student Movements, Clark’s Finances, and the Director of ISSO: Takeaways from the Open Forum with President Angel

Gari De Ramos, Scarlet Staff

On Tuesday, November 11, 2019, the Clark Undergraduate Student Council hosted an Open Forum with President David Angel in Tilton Hall. The forum served as a venue for students to voice their concerns and advocate for change. Concerns ranged from a lack of support from administration for student movements, the poor quality of Clark’s Center for Counseling and Personal Growth, and concerns over how Patricia Doherty, the Director of the International Student Support Office, is leaving at the end of the semester with no notice to students.

Comments from those in attendance and those who wrote in questions via a Google form highlighted an admirable Clarkie quality: we are invested in and take agency over our own education. 

At the beginning of the forum, Student Council President Emma Dinnerstein (’20) asked students to “promote solutions and be constructive and intentional” with their questions. Clarkies delivered just that. 

Students asked constructive questions ranging from how the school communicates important information to students, how faculty are not trained to teach diverse classrooms, financial aid, student support services, and more. 

One underlying theme was present in all of these questions. Clarkies feel burdened by the workload of student movements. Whether it be movements for menstrual equity from this year, the Real Food Challenge from 2013, or the student protests from five or six years ago that lead to more diversity initiatives on campus, Clarkies have a history of spearheading student movements to affect change on campus. 

President Angel said he admires this model because it allows the students to be stakeholders in their education, while also serving as an educational tool. 

“I acknowledge that momentum [for student movements] can wax and wane,” said President Angel. 

The Real Food Challenge, for example, was active in 2013 with students doing unpaid work to keep track of the University’s progress. Those students have since graduated, leaving the work unfinished. 

“It is difficult to be a student and spearhead movements,” said Alexandria Ross (’21). 

“You’ve hit the nail on the head with that comment,” responded President Angel. “We are in a moment where we need to re-engineer how we support students to take some of the burden off.”

In the past two years, many students have also advocated for more mental health support on campus. At the forum, several students spoke about their difficulty seeing an on-campus counselor and other negative experiences with the Center for Counseling and Personal Growth. According to President Angel, the Board of Trustees acknowledges a need for increased funding for student support. 

“There is no issue that has seen as much worry among the administration,” said President Angel. “It’s an issue of money. We do one-dollar work on an eighty-cent budget.”

The issue of lacking funds is a worry felt by all the administration. In the President’s Emeriti Faculty Luncheon on October 19, 2019, President Angel told faculty and students that the most pressing concern for Clark’s next president will be finances, since the number of high school graduates in New England is expected to go down drastically in 2025. 

Of course, these were not the only concerns raised by students and President Angel in the forum. Students also expressed concerns over what the Office of Financial Aid considers to be an extenuating circumstance, such as students who pay for college by themselves. Students also asked President Angel for more transparency about how tuition money is being spent, to which he said “yes.”

When asked about why faculty are not mandated to be trained to teach diverse classrooms, President Angel pointed out how there was almost no professional training for diversity before his time. During his tenure, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning was established as a way for faculty to improve their teaching skills if they so choose. 

According to President Angel, mandatory trainings are “not a part of faculty culture in academia.” He went on to say that such trainings would be an “alien” concept to faculty. 

Students expressed disappointment in how administration communicated slowly about the first and second power outages of the semester, as well as September’s payroll mishap that left many student workers without their income on payday. 

“I would give us a C,” said President Angel about the administration’s communication during the power outages. 

“I would give us a D,” he said, this time about communication over the payroll mishap.

The Open Forum with President Angel was the first of its kind in several years and was recorded and saved by the Clark Undergraduate Student Council.