The University of the Incarnate Word fired longtime President Louis J. Agnese Jr. Monday, ending the three-decade tenure of the president days after it was revealed that he'd been accused of making offensive remarks about African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Mormons and a student with low test scores.
“The board voted unanimously today to remove Dr. Agnese from the office of president, permanently, effective immediately,” university board President Charles Lutz said, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The board made its decision in a closed-door afternoon meeting. The decision was unanimous.
Agnese, known as a colorful and even blunt character, oversaw the Roman Catholic university in San Antonio since 1985, steering it through significant growth from 1,300 students in 1985 to nearly 11,000 in 2015.
Two students at Ithaca College were stabbed -- one of them fatally -- at Cornell University early Sunday morning. Officials from the Ithaca Police Department arrived on the Cornell campus just before 2 a.m. and responding to reports of "a large fight" and found the two men who had been stabbed. The fight followed a student-organized event at Cornell. The injured student was hospitalized, treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released. A statement from Ithaca College identified the student who was killed as Anthony Nazaire. The statement said: "Anthony was a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in business administration from Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Brooklyn Theater Arts High School, and at IC he was a member of the executive board of Brothers4Brothers, a student organization dedicated to empowering men of color on our campus."
The University of New Mexico wants to terminate a professor accused of sexual harassment whom it previously had decided to censure instead, The Albuquerque Journal reported. Cristobal Valencia, an assistant professor anthropology, was due to return to the classroom this fall, following a paid suspension last semester and a note of censure. But the university changed course after media reports about the case and, according to New Mexico officials, new allegations of harassment emerged. The university said it was reopening its investigation into Valencia earlier this month, and soon moved to suspend him anew.
“The anthropology chair, along with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will continue to work with faculty and students in the department as part of their ongoing efforts to provide academic support and counseling to students requesting it, and to increase education and prevention efforts in future,” Dianne Anderson, spokesperson, said in a statement to the Journal. Neither Valencia nor his attorney returned the newspaper’s requests for comment.
Texas Woman's University announced Saturday that Shelly Barberee has resigned as head volleyball coach "to focus on personal matters." A statement from Barberee said that her resignation had no relationship to the recent hospitalization of eight of her players, and that since August 12, she has been on leave and not playing a role in the workouts.
The resignation was announced the day after the university said that the hospitalizations were due to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that involves breakdown of muscle tissue. “Although the investigation remains underway, Texas Woman’s University’s initial belief is that overexertion coupled with dehydration during practices last week caused these student-athletes to experience rhabdomyolysis,” said a statement from Monica Mendez-Grant, vice president for student life.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has taken note of turmoil at the University of Louisville, saying in a recent letter a Board of Trustees overhaul appears to put the university out of compliance with standards.
A move this summer by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin to abolish and replace Louisville's Board of Trustees raised evidence of significant accreditation issues, SACS President Belle S. Wheelan wrote in an Aug. 18 letter. The letter said it appears Louisville is out of compliance with standards concerning external influence, due process for dismissing board members, and evaluation and selection of a university president, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. The letter also said it appears there is the potential for undue political influence in institutional governance.
The letter was disclosed Friday during a court hearing in a lawsuit challenging Bevin's board overhaul. Bevin announced the board changes in June as part of a deal that led to Louisville's embattled president, James Ramey, stepping down from the university. Both Louisville's old and new boards have met since then, with the old board meeting and approving a budget for the university Thursday.
I teach at an elite Ivy League university, where, for several years now, debates over free speech, racial justice and diversification have been explosive. Last year was, in a word, rough. Following several high profile police shootings, there were protests and hunger strikes and sit-ins nationally, and our own campus was turned upside down by two incendiary opinion pieces in the student newspaper and a disturbing, physical encounter between a visiting student and the campus police. As an institution, we struggled, worked hard, changed some things right away, and made some big claims and promises about our future.
In just a few days, our students will return to the classrooms. They will expect an engaged faculty and will want new classes addressing contemporary social and political issues. Together, we will be looking to solve problems. At times, too, they will be hoping for some kind genuflection to their humanity, their youth and the dark, merciless world in which we live. In short, they will be looking for exactly the sort of “safe space” that other faculty members at other universities -- like the dean of students at the University of Chicago -- have closed off as merely self-serving “retreats” for the weak-kneed.
I hope that at the end of the day, Chicago’s cold, Darwinian approach will be an outlier nationally -- and that students almost everywhere will be received this academic year more graciously, more thoughtfully and more constructively than those who imagine such things. Because, in the end, we will all need each other to do the work that must be done. And that work is not some sort of Thunderdome, in which two ideas do battle until one survives. This is a crucial moment for higher education, and the brisk response from Chicago reveals the stakes clearly. We -- faculty members, students, administrators and our publics -- are actually on the verge of making significantly more comprehensive adjustments to the mission of higher education than were made previously. We should embrace those more dynamic, more revolutionary changes and drive them home.
One of the big, challenging reforms is the notion of a “safe space” for our students, a concept that is both old and new and nearly impossible to define. It can mean a single room on a campus, the floor of a building or an entire center or department. It can refer to the presence of trained counselors, the support of friends and allies, or the absence of hurtful material. Our students deserve such spaces on a campus because the absence of such spaces is counter to the very mission of higher education.
In surveying the groundwork, however, not everyone thinks higher education is on the right track, especially when attention turns to race. The dean at the University of Chicago is not alone. Critics dismiss protesting students as spoiled, “self-infantilizing,” pampered brats, and they imagine that, by responding to their complaints and taking them seriously, universities are abrogating their mission to foster an unregulated exchange of ideas. A vocal handful of faculty members worry that their free speech -- or, on a lower frequency, their academic freedom -- is under siege. Videos of student’s screaming at white faculty members and administrators circulate on right-wing blogs and websites as proof. Some donors, as TheNew York Times reports, complain that universities are now spending too much money on diversity, leading to a noticeable downward turn in giving this past year.
In this context, “safe space” is too easily parodied – as the Onion did, with its headline from July of 2015, “Parents Dedicate Safe Space on Campus in Honor of Daughter Who Felt Weird in Class Once.” Too easily parodied -- and too easily undone, as well, as the recent decision by Michigan State University to open a “women’s only” space to men reveals. The solution to our student’s weakness, so many critics all too often suggest, is bold, direct, repeated engagement with ideas that civil society has already deemed noxious, hateful and politically dangerous.
Setting aside the parodies and the critiques, there is a sound reason to support a broader, more comprehensive notion of safety, something that might be pushed to the very boundaries of our campuses: the world is sometimes breathtakingly, violently, terrifyingly precarious for precisely the sorts of students whom we are now actively recruiting.
Colleges and universities are, pop culture tells us repeatedly, supposed to be walled off. No wonder, then, that students see higher education institutions as both a staging ground for their protests and as a possible idyll. No wonder, too, that they keenly sense the distance between what was promised in glossy brochures -- a removed experience, a free space for serious conversation -- and what was delivered in the strange environs of a new town or city far from home -- more of the same social and political pressures, more of the same violence, whether discursive or physical. Indeed, what they read in the words of those who champion “free speech” -- which almost always seems to mean the freedom to speak of things consistently defined as backward or troubling -- is that many would like a very different “safe space,” in which one can say racist or sexist things without consequence.
The insistent request for administrators and faculty members to “do something”-- to rename a building, to remove a mural, to replace a mascot, to disarm the campus police, to disinvite a speaker -- is a plea to create the conditions where this promised distance was once again possible, to clear cut a firebreak between the dystopian “real world” and the contemplative, even monkish world of study. But it is also to acknowledge a real world in which these icons have led violent charges, to recognize a physical world in which there are disenfranchised people of color for whom these things are reminders of real pain. To paraphrase one university president, students need safe spaces in order to acquire the dangerous knowledge they need.
The safety we want -- that campus-wide, reflective, self-aware distance from the grit of the everyday -- is going to be hard to manufacture. As anyone with a smartphone knows, new digital technologies and a proliferation of social media outlets have allowed the enduring, everyday violence of racism to be broadcast, to be felt by so many all at once, in ways that are powerful. Those same technologies have also fostered new social connections, creating the movements and communities that mount these critiques. Social media lets us see absence, too.
The development, in the decades since the Civil Rights Movement, of antiseptic, color-blind institutional racism means, as well, that while we see racism online -- and in person -- we see far less justice than we once did. Vigilante shooters go unpunished. Mass incarceration is further entrenched. Military technologies, distributed to the police, get ever more sophisticated and punitive. In mounting their protests, students are driven by a sober-minded concern about the conditions of everyday life because they have been living in the midst of everything, touched personally or emotionally by violence or poverty or loss or disenfranchisement. These days, it seems, one simply cannot escape the blaring headlines and vivid color photos that program algorithms put in your feed.
Maybe the extraordinary penetration of digital media into our campuses requires us to work harder at being more mindful in other ways, in other forms of engagement. Maybe it puts more of a burden on us to be kind, to be gentle, to be supportive. Maybe it should force us to understand, more broadly, the lived experiences of our students before they arrive. Maybe, finally, it should mean that when we, as members of a community, invoke our right to “free speech,” we don’t do so in defense of obnoxious, cruel and broken-down ideas. At the very least, we should proactively work to create such spaces before things go awry.
“Safe space” seems like a pretty rarified concept, of course. And, to some, it reads as an expression of privilege. I admit that absolute safety is an impossible construct, because learning requires risk. But not all risks are equal, and there is a difference between a campus shuttle to get around a city and a campus commitment to the broadest possible notion of safety. My colleagues and friends teaching in Texas are strategizing, right this second, about how to teach with a gun in the classroom or how to discuss a “grade” with a student who might be packing. Mothers and fathers sending their daughters off to college are rightly concerned about rape and sexual violence. Parents of color are worried that their children might get profiled, arrested, roughed up or much, much worse. I am concerned, as a faculty member, as a parent, and as a human being about teaching a class on race and racism knowing that every single student in the room has seen Eric Garner, Alton Sterling and too many others die in vivid Technicolor. Concerned, too, that at any moment a news alert might pop up on our phones about the next disaster.
Faculty members and administrators thus have a calling to act. Without delay. To remove that racist mural and relocate it to a museum. To rename that building and historicize the old name. (If you have to raise the money to do it, there are examples where that has worked). To practice discernment in scheduling talks or speakers, so that we don’t bring that bigot, thug or provocateur to the campus just to win a news cycle or to get your think tank in the paper. To prioritize ideas and visitors who are actively, constructively engaged in solving (and not making) social problems. To recommit to the historic, ancient role of the university as a site of knowledge production and to do what must be done to build, in the age of social media, a campus that feels removed and distant, yet also grounded and aware.
It is not our job to make intellectual noise -- a raucous debate, a clashing set of ideas, a hurtful back-and-forth -- just because we can. It is our job, as stewards of the very idea of the university, to think hard, at some distance, about big problems and to provide material solutions. After all, every unread essay or delayed book has consequences, every missing word defers a social change, and every abbreviated paper or poorly-written research project stalls those solutions. The crucial thing is to get ahead of the curve: to read the campus as it presently exists, to think in explicitly utopian terms about what it might look like, and to move towards this new ideal well in advance of some dramatic event or hurtful misdeed.
Matthew Pratt Guterl is chair of American studies and professor of Africana studies, American studies and ethnic studies at Brown University.
Update: Tim Beckman has stepped down as a volunteer assistant for UNC's football team, saying Thursday that he wished to avoid being a "further distraction" to the team or university.
"When I first learned yesterday that coach Larry Fedora had invited former Illinois coach Tim Beckman to serve as a volunteer with the football program, I was surprised and disappointed," Carol Folt, North Carolina's chancellor, said in a statement Thursday. "The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw from his volunteer position was the right thing to do, and moving forward, I don't expect this situation to recur. I continue to put a great deal of trust in Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham and coach Fedora to educate and develop our student-athletes and to ensure we meet the high standards we expect at Carolina."
A former football coach who was fired from the University of Illinois last year is now working as a "volunteer assistant" at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Champaign News-Gazette reported this week. "The guy didn't win enough games," Larry Fedora, UNC's head football coach, said Wednesday in response to criticism over hiring the fired coach. "That's all it was."
But, according to the University of Illinois, wins and losses had nothing to do with the university's decision to fire Tim Beckman as head football coach.
Beckman was fired after an external review into the coach's behavior. That investigation revealed that Beckman put his players at risk by deterring them from reporting injuries and pressuring them to continue playing when hurt. He was accused of coercing concussed athletes to remain on the field and repeatedly told players that he didn't "believe" in hamstring injuries. Athletes who previously played for the coach at the University of Toledo also claimed he had been abusive. Beckman denies the charges.
Fedora, UNC's coach, defended the addition to his staff, saying, "I don't believe everything I read."