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Saint Mary’s hosts All Student Assembly regarding transition

| Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Since the news broke Friday of former College President Jan Cervelli’s resignation, students have been left with many unanswered questions. Interim President Nancy Nekvasil and the chair of the Board of Trustees Mary Burke addressed the student body in a town-hall style “All Student Assembly” on Tuesday evening in an attempt to provide some answers.

While some concerns were resolved, many questions remain unanswered.

“I do want you to understand that there is a lot that we cannot say — either because we don’t know, or out of respect for President Cervelli’s privacy,” Nekvasil said. “You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And I know this is hard, really, really hard, because we want answers and it hurts in some ways to have something like this happen. … We’re here because we care about how you feel and we want you to get through this change well and grow stronger as we all will as we go through this together. Because we are. We’re in this together.”

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Saint Mary’s College Interim President Nancy Nekvasil spoke with students Tuesday at a town hall meeting regarding the recent departure of former College President Jan Cervelli.

Burke discussed the timeline of events in more depth. She said four or five days before the announcement was made, Cervelli called her and signaled her intention to resign. While the Board was determining next steps, Nekvasil came to mind as the immediate choice as interim president.

“[Nekvasil is] passionate about students, that was No. 1; she’s passionate about education, which is No. 2; and No. 3 she’s been here for 33 years, so she knows Saint Mary’s,” Burke said. “She knows the heart and soul of us, she knows what it is to be a Belle. I think she is really a Belle even though she didn’t go here.”

When asked about the path moving forward, Burke said change is “hard” but inevitable.

“At the end of the day ladies — and I hate to say this — but change is the only thing that’s constant in all of our lives,” Burke said. “You may not have experienced a lot of it so far, but this growing up thing has some challenges to it and change is one of them. So, what you experience day-to-day does not change and we move forward.”

Burke said that Cervelli could have made a statement about her resignation but has decided to refrain from doing so for the time being.

“To date, [Cervelli] has chosen not to make a statement,” Burke said. “She has been offered the opportunity and has not done it to date.”

In response to a question regarding more information being shared in the future, Burke said that there is not one singular reason for Cervelli’s departure.

“I think you’re looking for the reason, and I’m not sure there is a reason,” Burke said. “I think lots of things come into the decision that she made.”

Burke also said that Cervelli was not under contract for a certain period of time, and she feels that an individual should not be forced to stay in a job they do not want.

“If someone gets to the point where they want to resign, you probably should let them resign,” Burke said. “Because talking people into staying in jobs that they don’t want to be in usually does not make for a great employee.”

The Board of Trustees was not aware of Cervelli’s decision to cancel her office hours on Oct. 2. However, Burke said that Cervelli was recovering from a case of the flu, which may have contributed to the cancellation.

“The Board of Trustees, like any boss, doesn’t keep exact tabs on exactly what their employee does every day, hour to hour,” Burke said. “So the Board of Trustees did not know she canceled office hours.”

Junior Katherine Wankelman asked about the reputation of the College, saying that it was concerning to see the amount of turnover recently. Burke said that Saint Mary’s has “gone up or stayed flat” in Wall Street Journal and U.S. News and World Report rankings of schools.

“I don’t think that these changes will decrease [the rankings], if anything it opens up new opportunities for us and moves us forward,” Burke said.

Wankelman said after the assembly that she is frustrated due to the lack of clarity surrounding the recent events.

“They’ve been fairly nontransparent to students, and I think that we are the primary stakeholders in this institution and that without students the College doesn’t exist,” Wankelman said. “And we have a right to know. And I understand respecting her privacy, but I also think when you take on a leadership role you give up a little bit of that privacy and she needs to understand that by taking the role as president of this College we deserve answers.”

Nekvasil emphasized the importance of transparency as the campus community sorts through Cervelli’s resignation.

“I do want to assure you that my intent is to be as transparent as possible,” Nekvasil said. “That’s one of the things that’s just so important, not only as you grow and learn to have your voice and contribute to the work of wherever you are, even before you get out of here.”

Burke expressed the importance of communicating with students directly about the transition.

“We came here tonight, and we’re talking about it,” Burke said. “We’re answering questions. We’re not hiding behind a piece of paper.”

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a senior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies. She currently serves as Saint Mary's Editor.

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