Editor in Chief
Within the past week, first-year Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper has officially initiated two groups to target issues that were raised earlier in the year by students, faculty and staff. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Shared Governance Task Force were formed not to idly sit back and discuss problems, but to actively search for practical solutions.
“I think the college is ready for a little bit more open conversation. I’m more than ready to have the conversations happen so that people can say what’s on their mind,” Cooper said.
The reason behind the formation of each group may be the same, but they have been charged with different tasks and timetables. Back in the fall semester, Cooper began her tenure with transparency by creating a feedback initiative for students, faculty and staff. Students were presented with the opportunity to fill out a brief survey to address what their biggest concerns were for campus, while faculty and staff had the chance to attend open forums with Cooper to discuss their thoughts, in addition to their own surveys.
At the time, Cooper told The Student that she “was anxious to get back to students.” She has lived up to her promise by quickly coming up with ways to address the issues that a majority of campus believes to be priorities.
One of those issues, diversity and inclusion, resulted in the formation of a committee comprised of students, faculty, staff and even an alumni representative. Co-chaired by Director of Spiritual Life David McMahon and Director of the School Guidance Counseling program Allison Cumming-McCann, the committee’s goals are to dive into the issue of diversity and inclusion, analyze the college’s past and present condition, and strive to enhance the college’s future direction.
“I am a firm believer that just being around a diverse population enriches one’s own development and educational experience,” McMahon said.
For McMahon, the college’s mission of teaching students to be leaders in service to humanity is not only a lofty ideal, but one that must be taken seriously. These are not just words – they are a mission to live by.
“If we are ever going to effectively live up to that mission, we have to be embracing and welcoming of humanity in all its variety,” McMahon said.
Although the committee is still just budding, they have already had two meetings to establish the basic logistics of their purpose.
The committee is comprised of members who were chosen because of their passion about the topic, and who are both practical as well as idealistic. In addition, the group represents a number of different areas and offices at the college.
Diversity is not just related to a single topic, such as race. It can also include ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief (or lack thereof), gender identity, socioeconomic class and more. One of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee’s goals is to not only better promote existing programs that address these issues, but initiate new ones as well.
This involves analyzing both the big and small picture, and recognizing weaknesses in addition to strengths.
“We are not at a point where I think everyone feels included, and we may never get to that point. That might be an inhuman ideal,” McMahon said. “But that’s what should be driving us.”
Although the committee is charged with addressing such an important topic, they are not the sole voices on campus. McMahon stressed that they will be reaching out to involve as many different groups, offices and people as possible to share their opinions.
In that way, McMahon and company are paying tribute to the task force that was officially started only several days after the formation of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
The Shared Governance Task Force is something that is near and dear to Cooper because she has promoted transparency since the start of her tenure.
“What I am trying to put in place are processes where people can come together and have a dialogue around decisions that impact their lives and their college experience,” the president said.
The task force is being led by Professor of Chemistry Julie Smist and assistant professor at the School of Scoial Work, John Habif, but just like the committee, it is comprised of a combination of faculty, staff and students. One of those students is senior Student Government Association President Becca Jacobson.
Jacobson, who is graduating in mid-May, was able to take part in the task force because their timetable is much shorter than the committee’s. While Cooper gave the Diversity and Inclusion Committee an 18-24 month estimated time window to complete their task, the Shared Governance Task Force has until the end of the academic school year.
Their goal is more defined. According to Jacobson, the task force’s purpose is to “increase and enhance communication between all aspects of the college.” Shared governance is in essence about receiving multiple lines of input to make the best decisions.
“People want to be informed, people want to know what’s going on, and people want their opinions to also be heard and valued,” Jacobson said.
By improving communication throughout the college, the task force is hoping to give as many people as possible a voice in the college’s future decisions and direction.
The shared governance model requires more time to make decisions, but Cooper is a huge proponent of its results.
“In the end, I believe you come up with better decisions, and there’s a buy-in,” she said.
Both the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Shared Governance Task Force are products of Cooper’s initial fall feedback plan, and within the year, they have been implemented and charged with a task to better the campus based on concerns raised by the campus. Although the groups are still in their infant stages, the foundation has been laid to tackle relevant issues on the campus of Springfield College.