Adams State Trustees hear support of University mission

(08-25-2016)

A standing-room only audience attended the Aug. 25 meeting of the Adams State University Board of Trustees, which opened with public comments by 16 faculty, staff, and students. Some expressed support of the university's mission and the campus-based Standing Strong Movement that fosters inclusive excellence. Many of the comments highlighted campus programs designed to further equity, such as the Title V STEM grant to increase minority participation in science and mathematics careers, and the SLV Lifeways course and lectures, which are open to the public.

Other speakers referenced Adams State's recent settlement of a suit brought by the ACLU on behalf of Alamosa resident Danny Ledonne, voicing concerns about the negative impact of some individuals who persist in debate, despite the settlement.

Students serving on the Executive Board of Adams State's AS&F (student government) were welcomed by the ASU Board of Trustees at its first meeting of the academic year. Flanked by Board Chair Arnold Salazar (left) and ASU President Beverlee J. McClure (right) are: Alex Lopez, John Owsley, Aaron Davis, Brittney Wilson, Brenna Rivale, Patrick Cleary, and Meaghan Fischer.

Following the public comment segment, Board Chair and Adams State alumnus Arnold Salazar provided background on the settlement. "The $100,000 settlement was for legal fees paid to outside entities by the ACLU. Not one dime was paid to the plaintiff. The cost to the university was $2,500; the rest was covered by insurance. I agreed to the settlement because I did not want to spend the rest of the year with our staff in deposition, pulling up documents, and other distractions," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the issue is over with. The plaintiff agreed it had been settled. People can blab and blog; I don't care. To those bloggers, I say, don't hide behind cyberbullying. Let us have an open and honest discussion about what happened. If you want academic freedom, take academic responsibility for speaking in public."

Salazar recalled his reactions when student protests in Mexico, China, and the U.S. were met with violent responses. "At Kent State, our own militia shot and killed seven students and wounded several others. This is not right. People should not die because they protest for what they believe in. Kent State brought the entire higher education system to halt as a result of injustice on campus," he said. "Since then, college administrators and boards of trustees have worked to get students and faculty more involved on governing boards, so their voices can be heard. I look back on the recent controversy on our campus and think, 'How could this issue rise to the level of importance that a student movement is?' I don't get it. Protests should be about something more important than someone's narcissistic fantasies. The settlement was a way for us to refocus our attention on what exactly is important."

Those priorities were expressed by Antonito Mayor Aaron Abeyta, who has been a professor of English at Adams State for nearly 20 years. He said he appreciates the shift in campus culture being led by the trustees and administration. "Education is always held up as the source of enlightenment, but it has been for a select group. For others, there has also been a moat surrounding the castle of equity. The equity now being explored, sought, and advocated on campus is going to make Adams State University the institution it should be."

Dr. Beth Robison, professor and chair of the Music Department, shared the frustration among many of her colleagues who are "trying to figure out how to make our voices heard about the issue created by Danny Ledonne and the vitriol of the Watching Adams website." She said, "It involves freedom of speech, and I feel strongly about that. What are our options for rebutting and shutting down this slander and cyberbullying? How can we engage without fueling the fire? So many of us are passionate about the students we serve here. That passion should not be lost in all this noise."

Adams State graduate Dr. Christina Miller, a professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry, Computer Science, and Mathematics, echoed Robison's concerns and spoke of the need for healing. "I have just finished a three-year term as our Faculty Senate president, and there have been many great stories in that time, one of which was the hiring of our new president. Unfortunately, these stories have been marred by the saga launched by a former employee. Many us of have found our work disrupted. We have to be allowed to get back to the hard work of teaching students and preparing for the HLC visit." [HLC is the university's accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission.]

Student Trustee John Owsley said he appreciates that sentiment. "All of our students are here for an education, and faculty need to be able to focus on providing a strong education, not on slander and ridiculous rebuttal from a certain group."

Graduate student Elissa Harrington told how she decided to attend Adams State, in spite of other college offers, due to the concern and attention shown by faculty and staff. "I can't sit back and remain quiet about the greatness that is part of this institution," she said, naming several mentors and professors who "have each taken an interest me. The impact has been immeasurable."

One such staff member is Eileen Tilton, administrative assistant in the Department of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, Political Science, and Spanish. She moved to the valley 16 years ago on the recommendation of her daughter. "I came from a family of five children and lived on welfare most of the time. My daughter was a first-generation student who came here on a music scholarship," she said. "I am one of the first contacts for students here, and it is important to bring the pride of Adams State to them and make them feel they have a friend. Many changes are in the future, but the one thing we cannot change is our spirit that makes Adams State a gateway of hope for many, many diverse students."

Assistant Professor of History Nick Saenz also emphasized Adams State's focus on student success. "Any university experiences some degree of disagreement - that's in the nature of university communities. What I see at Adams State is a very healthy campus, and I have a great deal of faith in our mission and leadership," he said. "I have seen more support vocalized for our status as a Hispanic Serving Institution during the past year than in previous ones. I see the implementation of this vision. We are walking the talk."

By Julie Waechter