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Saint Mary’s students react to Cervelli’s resignation

| Monday, October 8, 2018

The news broke with a whirlwind of texts, Facebook posts and confusion.

Janice Cervelli resigned from her post as Saint Mary’s president on Friday. Students received confirmation of Cervelli’s decision through a letter in an email attachment written by Mary Burke, the chair of the Board of Trustees.

Observer File Photo

Students found out about the resignation of Jan Cervelli on Friday in a letter written by chair of the Board of Trustees Mary Burke. Students reacted to the news with a range of emotions.

“I was just in my room watching Netflix, and then I got a text from my friend who was referencing the Facebook post, and she said, ‘Did you see Cervelli resigned?’ I was looking through the post and the comments, and I was like, ‘Well, this is crazy,’” senior Sarah Wehby said.

Wehby said she was confused by Cervelli’s choice due to the sudden nature of the statement.

“It felt like it came out of nowhere,” she said. “Like, what is going on here? We had the whole [vice president of student affairs] Karen Johnson retiring thing, now Jan Cervelli — where did this come from?”

Wehby said she is curious as to why Cervelli chose to resign in the middle of the semester and is hoping to find out more at the all-student assembly being held Tuesday night.

Senior Annie Clare said she heard the news through friends while she was at work.

“I had like a million messages from different people, and I was like, ‘What? I wonder what’s going on?’” Clare said. “They all texted me that she resigned. I was shocked that she actually resigned. I almost felt like it was fake, but obviously not.”

Clare said she is still shocked by the news but is understanding of Cervelli’s decision.

“I’m still surprised — I guess I didn’t really understand why she resigned,” Clare said. “I guess once you looked at it a little more, maybe it’s best for her. If that’s what she needed to do, it’s what she needed to do.”

It’s the desire for answers, senior Summer Aikin said, that has left some in a state of confusion.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing.’ It’s another thing not to tell people why you’re doing it,” Aikin said. “People are wondering if there’s some sort of scandal. Is it related to the lawsuit that she’s apparently involved in or is there something medical? I think we just want to know if she’s going to be healthy or not because we’re a caring community. I haven’t really thought much about it other than I’m still reeling from it.”

Sophomore Brynne Volpe said the lack of information regarding Cervelli’s resignation has given her cause for concern.

“I’m confused,” Volpe said. “It’s sketchy, and we didn’t really get any information about why. We were just told that she is resigning. The fact that it happened on a Friday is kind of strange.”

Volpe said the details regarding the decision will be crucial to Cervelli’s legacy.

“If it involves a scandal of some kind, it’s not going to be good,” Volpe said. “Maybe she’ll have a pleasant legacy, but I don’t think it will be. She was here for two years, and she resigned under dubious circumstances.”

Senior Abbey Parsons said she was surprised by the lack of information given to students. She said it seems to go against what Cervelli typically did when notifying students of the College’s affairs.

“[Cervelli] always has seemed very much like she tells us everything,” Parsons said. “I’ve always felt like she doesn’t hide anything, and if there’s the information, she sends it out in a school-wide email. You gotta do what you gotta do, and things come up. I just want to know where we’re at, especially because I am a senior. I want to know that, going forward, the school’s going to be okay. It just seemed very sudden. I want an explanation as to why. I’m hoping the assembly will give one.”

Parsons transferred to Saint Mary’s as a sophomore. Once enrolled, she said she took note of the differences in processes between her previous college’s president and Cervelli. She said Cervelli’s transparency with students is something that will contribute to a positive legacy.

“She has that air of wanting to be there for you,” Parsons said. “I think that’s something that she will have left behind, like she was there for us. … I think she will definitely leave behind that kind of friendship vibe, which is something different than other presidents at other colleges. You don’t normally know that the president is in a band or know that her dog’s name is Pearl. That was something that she shared with us because we are such a small, close school. I think she represented that kind of closeness that we all want.”

It is the closeness Cervelli promoted that made the news an even bigger surprise to first-year student Hannah Curl.

“I was really shocked because just last week, we were at the Sophia assembly, and she was talking about just how much she loved her job,” Curl said. “I was really shocked. It was really random, I felt. She was talking about how much she loved it here. It just seems random, and I hope everything is okay.”

Regardless of her confusion about the decision, Curl said she thought Cervelli promoted a positive relationship between administration and students.

“I liked her — she seemed to be really outgoing and she really cared about everyone,” Curl said. “She was not just the president, but she was kind of like a friend for everyone. She had open office hours, and I feel like at other colleges that might not be a thing.”

Senior Kerry Rose McDonald said she believes Cervelli’s interactions with students will be what she’s remembered for, but McDonald believes Cervelli’s work did not result in any lasting changes.

“I think the best part of her being president was her relationship with the students, whether it was hosting office hours, always bringing the energy to midnight breakfast, dancing on tables or walking around with Pearl, her little dog,” McDonald said. “She always had Saint Mary’s apparel on, so I liked how she brought the team spirit.

“But besides that, I never really saw any administrative or policy changes with her. The only main thing I can think of that she did with the school were petty, environmental changes. … Honestly, I don’t really know what she left behind for Saint Mary’s to strengthen the student body.”

Despite that belief, McDonald said she will hold a few fond memories of the former president — including a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Ireland study abroad program.

“[Cervelli] came to Ireland for the week, and she surprised us at Mass one day when we were getting ready,” McDonald said. “She took us out to this pub called The Roost, and we got to have a pint with her and had dinner with her. We just got to talk to her. She wanted to hear all about what we thought of Saint Mary’s. It was a really special moment for us because there were only 17 of us. … That was a really special time. I’ll always cherish that.”

The personal interactions between Cervelli and students are something Clare said will be difficult to find in another president.

“It’ll definitely be hard to fill the shoes of someone who was so open because it’s not easy to walk around the student body all the time and have to deal with situations personally,” Clare said. “I saw her leaving the dining hall the other day, and someone must have been sick from giving blood. She was literally sitting there with the girl to make sure she was fine. I’m sure she has like 800 million things to do, and it’s nice that she still comes and talks to students and stuff like that. That’s hard to fill.”

Senior Darby Horne said she recognizes Cervelli’s achievements with students but is confident in the future success of newly announced Interim College President Nancy Nekvasil.

“I felt like [Cervelli] brought a lot to the community,” Horne said. “She was very involved with students, we saw her a lot. She was very present with all of us during events and activities, and she really advocated for students. However, I am very happy that they did appoint Dr. Nancy Nekvasil as interim president because I feel like she’s super qualified, very personable. I enjoyed having her as a professor … a couple years ago. I feel like she brings a lot to the Saint Mary’s community. She’s very dedicated to the women here.”

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