Students, administrators review diversity workshops at open forum
By: Nilo Exar, Assistant News Editor
A Dec. 9 open forum on diversity issues at Towson left students and faculty at odds with the administration over the urgency put on advocating for the demands made by #OccupyTowson activists and agreed to by Interim President Tim Chandler on Nov. 19.
“One of the things that always frustrates me is that their answers are so politically correct,” sophomore Bria Johnson said. “Talk to us. If you want to have a dialogue, have real dialogue. Stop giving me political answers. Tell me the truth.”
The President’s Deputy Chief of Staff Marina Cooper said administration shares activists’ sense of urgency, but that larger changes take time.
“While leadership will continue to lead the way this semester, making cultural and climate shifts take time and will require the commitment and urgency of every member of our campus community,” Cooper said.
Towson alum and former vice president of the Black Student Union Vernon Marrow, who attended the university in the 1980s, spoke to the history of movements like #OccupyTowson.
Marrow said student activist groups in the past were given the same types of answers, and told that meetings were underway and that the demands would be met. He said they, too, had a sit-in on campus during Hoke Smith’s presidency.
Marrow cited a specific argument between a student and a professor had after the two got into a fender bender. The student was allegedly “automatically suspended and expelled from the University without any conversation, any consideration, for what the student [had] to say about the incident,” while the professor returned to class and made derogatory comments about the student, according to Marrow.
Marrow said he and a group of other students then petitioned the university to have that professor removed from her position.
“History repeats itself because there has been no accountability… There was no accountability then, there’s no accountability now,” Marrow said.
Interim Provost Maggie Reitz said that the administration is currently working with HBCUs to increase the recruitment of black professors to the university.
During the workshops, members of the LGBTQIA+ community brought up issues in the classroom surrounding transgender students and some professors’ denial to use preferred pronouns and names.
Cooper said that a “greater understanding of gender pronouns” for all members of the Towson University community will be promoted.
Chandler stressed that student course evaluations are important in starting the “long, drawn out, difficult process” to remove professors.
“It’s very difficult to fire faculty members with tenure,” Chandler said. “Please take really seriously your opportunity to give feedback.”
Reitz said that for faculty to achieve tenure, “they must have a record of excellence in teaching, a record of sustained scholarship, and demonstration of service to the university.”
“Scholarship cannot be substituted for a record of unsatisfactory teaching,” Reitz said.
Some departments use an “impact score,” which ranks the journals that professors publish in to in a hierarchy based on how many subscribers they have. Some forum attendees thought this problematic, because some faculty of color might want to pursue topics that those white-dominated journals with higher subscription numbers do not want to publish.
“If you go to another publication that focuses on disparate change within a cultural set, what value is the university placing on that publication? That’s a structural problem,” Marrow said. “There’s no accountability to ensure that there is equal value placed on that publication that speaks to a specific group in society.”
Not all departments use the impact factors. The College of Fine Arts does not rank professors’ work on any sort of impact factor.
“Our department recognizes that faculty are involved in a wide range of musical, artistic and scholarly pursuits,” Music Department Chair Eileen Hayes said. “It’s the idea that a violin professor can’t be evaluated in the same as a music history professor.”
Hayes said that, even in absence of systemic processes like impact factors, departments can still lean toward a more Euro-centric focus.
Members of university administration said they will improve the campus climate by enhancing the visibility of the hate/bias incident report system and look into classes and trainings about race, gender and cultural competency for both students and faculty.
At a workshop in November, students noted that that a student can go their entire college career without taking a class on race at Towson.
At a January conference with faculty members, the administration will pursue the topic of having a core about diversity in the curriculum at Towson, according to Reitz. Reitz said the administration is also looking to develop “diversity training videos.”
On Dec. 15, the President’s Office released an email that expanded the roles of Dan Leonard, the current Fair Practices officer, to also have Title IX and ADA oversight responsibilities in his job.
According to the email, Leonard will “handle disability-related compliance and access requirements for the campus” for ADA. For Title IX, he will “help to ensure compliance with equal opportunity law and investigate discrimination and sexual harassment complaints regarding Title IX for students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors,” according to the email.
Students at these workshops said they feel their issues could be better heard if there was more representation in the administration for their identity.
“You can’t talk about what the LGBT community faces if you don’t have some knowledge about the community,” junior mass communication major Ryan Levine said.
“I’m going to oversimplify this, but there has to be willingness to listen and understand multiple points of view,” Marrow said.