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Observer Editorial: Belles deserve better

| Friday, November 2, 2018

On Friday, Oct. 5, Jan Cervelli’s office was suddenly dark and vacant, as her resignation from her position as College President was announced and in effect on the same day.

That afternoon, Chair of the Board of Trustees Mary Burke sent an email to all students on behalf of Saint Mary’s, announcing President Cervelli’s resignation and Provost Nancy Nekvasil’s appointment as interim president “for as long as needed.” Burke thanked Cervelli for her time and commitment to Saint Mary’s and gave no more information about the abrupt change to students.

The first announcement of this change was made at the College Assembly at 3 p.m. that day, an hour-and-a-half before students received Burke’s email. The email itself had a vague subject line: “Communication from Board of Trustees Chair Mary Burke.”

From the beginning of this process, the College has not been forthcoming with information surrounding this sudden change in leadership. While we recognize that a college is complicated, and students cannot be privy to every single thing that goes on within the Saint Mary’s administration, students deserve more information about this abrupt departure and transition, especially considering that it will have an enormous impact on the future of the College.

Four weeks after Cervelli’s resignation, students are left with about as much information as the administration gave when the announcement was first made. The Observer Editorial Board believes that Saint Mary’s should provide its student body with more knowledge of the situation, including the reason for Cervelli’s departure and the current state of the administration.

The administration has attempted to demonstrate its commitment to listening to the student body. After the announcement of Cervelli’s departure at the College Assembly, the first meeting Burke, Nekvasil and vice president of student affairs Karen Johnson attended was with student leaders. This step was important and one students appreciated. However, it alone is not enough to demonstrate transparency.

A town-hall style meeting for students took place Tuesday, Oct. 9, in an attempt to provide students with answers about Cervelli’s unexpected resignation and where the College stood in the aftermath. At this event, Nekvasil made it clear that the details surrounding the abrupt departure would not be discussed in depth, and subsequently many questions from students went 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 at the meeting. “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.”

Nekvasil emphasized her commitment to being open with students, saying at the meeting that her “intent is to be as transparent as possible,” but administrative transparency has not been achieved.

Rather than offer explanations to students, the meeting was instead vague and at times condescending. “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 at the meeting. “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.”

Are students not expected to have questions when a change as drastic as a college president’s mid-semester resignation occurs?

Students, such as senior Abigail Parsons, were quoted in a Monday, Oct. 8, Observer article about Cervelli’s resignation stating their concerns going forward with the school.

“[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.”

The assembly did not give one. And now, almost a month later, the administration seems poised to move forward as if nothing has happened. Students deserve answers.

While Cervelli deserves privacy regarding her personal decisions, there is a degree of publicity that comes with the position of College President. Due to her role, it follows that some sort of explanation for a sudden departure is owed to the Saint Mary’s community. We are not asking for an in-depth explanation — we just want to know who made the decision for her to resign and what the trajectory of the school is following this incident.

Saint Mary’s invited a flurry of rumors after Cervelli’s resignation by not addressing its cause. Plausible rumors from a dispute between Cervelli and the Board of Trustees or a health crisis, to more far-fetched rumors such as illegal activity as absurd as Cervelli conspiring with LimeBike, have been flying across the campus. If students had more information about Cervelli’s resignation, these rumors would not be gaining traction.

As members of the tri-campus community, we care about the future of Saint Mary’s. We want to be able to evaluate which things are falsified rumors, and also understand the full scope of the challenges ahead for the College in the process of a difficult transition. It is out of this care for Saint Mary’s that we hold the administration accountable for its lack of transparency in this sudden change.

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