BY ANNA KANE ’20
Mount Holyoke’s weekly senate meeting on Oct. 24 included presentations from a member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Committee, a statement from Doug Vanderpoel regarding laundry machines and procedures and information about the College’s financial status.
The meeting opened with Chair of Senate Liz Brown ’20 announcing a slight change in the order of the agenda before moving on to call Dean of Students Marcella Runell Hall to the stage. Dean Hall then introduced Chris Roellke, dean of Vassar College. Roellke is part of the NEASC, which evaluates Mount Holyoke for reaccreditation. He is in charge of working with students to help curate a report for the College to review and utilize.
Roellke met with the Student Government Association and other student organizations. “How can I be helpful to you in articulating what Mount Holyoke students need, to the administration and state of Massachusetts?” he asked the audience.
“I’m really impressed with Mount Holyoke. I haven’t met anyone I didn’t like … I want to hear what’s on your mind,” he said, asking the audience members to candidly name what they thought was going well in the community and what can be improved upon. All administrators, including deans that had been present at Senate left the room so that Mount Holyoke students could voice their opinions freely.
Students voiced their appreciation for the College, citing receptive professors, discussion-based classes, the rigorous curriculum, the close community, the importance of the honor code, the availability of high-profile internships and the diversity of both the student body and ideas in the classroom.
Students were also quick to voice their concerns, which included an insufficiency of Asian studies classes, difficulty connecting with professors about AccessAbility issues, the high cost of tuition, a high turnover of humanities professors and a lack of regard for students’ opinions by the Board of Trustees, especially concerning issues such as divestment.
One student also voiced a concern that mental health doesn’t receive enough attention on campus from the administration, especially for international students.
“We do collect data. You’re a little more stressed out than some institutions,” Roellke responded. “However, I’ve also learned about things like working on wellness initiatives,” he continued, noting the drop-in counseling services currently offered in Blanchard on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as a campaign for a Be Well task force, which hopes to provide services, spaces and events that promote healthy living, bodies, minds and communities on campus.
“It seems as though the institution is hearing concerns and ideas that are being floated around and trying to respond,” he said.
Roellke left the stage after thanking the audience for responding to his questions. “I have no doubt in my mind you’re all going to be changemakers,” he said.
The meeting continued with student questions and concerns, an opportunity for senators to share the concerns of their constituents with the larger community. Many senators mentioned that their constituents would like to have menstrual products available free for students to use, and more water filtration stations. Problems with bugs getting into dorm rooms, more M&Cs in dorms, and having more access to gluten-free options during M&Cs and in the dining halls were also discussed.
Next, Doug Vanderpoel director of Auxiliary Services, took the stage to address student concerns about the laundry machines.
Vanderpoel explained that Auxiliary Services has tried to take into account student concerns about old washers, poor service and energy efficiency when searching for and selecting new laundry machines this year. He noted that there have been issues with the central server
shutting down all the machines across campus at once and that Auxiliary Services has been trying to resolve issues as they arise. Vanderpoel said that the main cause for problems has been difficult to identify and that Auxiliary Services doesn’t receive notice that machines are down until three hours after the fact.
Franny Eremeeva ‘20, chair of halls, called for questions and suggestions from the audience. “We are solutions-oriented here,” she said.
Students voiced concerns about machines in Safford, Buckland and South Mandelles being down for several weeks. “If we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it,” Vanderpoel said, encouraging students to email Auxiliary Services as soon as they encounter a problem.
“We are notified by the system if all of the machines go down, but not if specific rooms go down,” Vanderpoel explained. “When the machine says it’s offline, it means the card reader, not the machine.”
Camille Gladieux ’18 said that laundry machines in Ham Hall tend to shut off during the weekends when Auxiliary Services is closed, a time when many students do their laundry. Vanderpoel suggested that students call Campus Police if machines stop working during the weekend so that they can get ahold of who is on call to fix the machines.
“Our responsibility as senators is to communicate to constituents that [students] email Aux, because otherwise they won’t get fixed,” said Brown.
The meeting continued with a presentation from Vice President for Finance and Administration Shannon D. Gurek on the financial state of the College, where she asked students for ideas on how to save money and better generate revenue for the College.
Gurek began her presentation by explaining that the College’s biggest investments are the endowment, buildings, and faculty and staff, respectively. The purpose of these assets, Gurek said, is to educate students and prepare them for life after graduation.
Gurek went on to explain that at Mount Holyoke, 35 million dollars from the endowment is allotted for student financial aid (a $2 million increase from last year), unrestricted budget support and to support the work of faculty in classrooms and labs. The endowment also diversifies revenue sources and allows the college to support the work of faculty in classrooms and labs.
The endowment grows with gifts and investments, Gurek said. In the past ten years, Mount Holyoke’s resources have grown, although not as quickly as they have at other schools such as Smith, Williams, Amherst and Bryn Mawr.
Gurek also addressed student concerns about work-study opportunities once the new community center, “Superblanch,” opens, and explained that the College is working on a study to find ways to give students the work opportunities they need to fulfill financial awards.
Gurek then opened up the floor to suggestions and questions from the audience. Many students asked how other colleges have been able to increase their endowments so much over the past decade. Gurek explained that many of the schools had a “head start” because they were once men’s or co-educational colleges, which typically receive bigger gifts than women’s colleges.
One student asked why the endowment has fluctuated so much, especially since 2013. Gurek responded that the endowment is largely based on market returns, explaining that the last 10 years have been a “roller coaster ride.”
Gurek also assured students that the College has not diverted any funds from the endowment for improvements to Superblanch, a rumor that had been circulating among some students. She went on to explain that Superblanch will not significantly raise room and board fees, and will give students a better value on food due to the unlimited swipe system.
“Clearly the cost of tuition is rising at every college and university in America, especially private colleges,” said Brown to Gurek. “Why is the cost of tuition rising so much faster than inflation, our salaries and the salaries of our parents?”
“Residential colleges require a lot of maintenance and upkeep,” explained Gurek, noting that it costs close to one million dollars to replace the roofs on just one dorm. It also takes a lot of resources and competition to have faculty come and teach here, she said, and adhering to compliance codes such as Title IX and providing healthcare to faculty and staff also requires a lot of money and resources.