April Ryles / Sun File Photo

September 19, 2016

Willard Straight Hall Student Union Directors Express Concerns About Leadership Changes

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Correction appended

The Willard Straight Hall Student Union Board of Directors released a letter on Sept. 9 voicing grievances about recent abrupt changes in administrative leadership. Subsequent meetings between the WSH Student Union Board of Directors and members of the administration have raised questions about the necessity for transparency between student leaders and administrators.

Specifically, the letter raised concerns about changes implemented by Joseph Burke, who was appointed this summer to the newly created position of executive director of campus and community engagement.

In the letter, the Student Union Board Executive Board criticized the lack of communication and transparency in recent administrative decisions, including the replacement of WSH advisors David Bell and Denice Cassaro with Brandi Smith, assistant director of community center operations, and Joe Scaffido, assistant dean of students for student activities.

Burke defended the administration’s decisions, saying the board’s advisors lie under the University’s jurisdiction.

“Unlike independent student organizations that choose their own volunteer advisors, the SUB is a University organization that works through the office of campus and community engagement,” he said. “As part of that relationship, advisors of the SUB are staff in campus and community engagement and are appointed by the administration.”

In the letter, the SUB asserted that the decision had been made without their notification or consultation, and said they were only informed of the changes the day before classes started.

Students secured a meeting with Burke to discuss these changes on Aug. 31 after “great difficulty and several emails,” they said. The SUB also discussed the abrupt replacements with Vice President Ryan Lombardi on Sept. 13.

Both Burke and the SUB said they felt the meetings were “productive.”

“The outcome of those two meetings was a very positive feeling of shared commitment to the partnership between the SUB and CCE in the current campus shared governance model,” Burke said.

Shikha Patel ’17, executive director of board of directors, agreed with Burke’s assessment, saying the meetings between administrators and students were productive and augmented understanding between the two groups.

“We had a positive reaction to the statement and a very productive meeting with Vice President Lombardi,” Patel said. “We will be happy to share more information as we have it, but this is an ongoing process.”

Speaking of the change in advisors, Burke said the straight’s former advisors will still work closely with the SUB to ease the transition.

“The SUB has had a strong relationship with their former advisors, and in the meeting with VP Lombardi it was noted that such a transition can be difficult,” he said. “The transition [should] have no direct impact on the SUB’s ability to operate as a successful student organization and perform their daily functions and services to the student body.”

Burke maintained that his goal was to continue supporting the SUB and their efforts in upholding the values of Willard Straight Hall.

“[Lombardi and the CCE] share mutual goals of helping the student union remain a vibrant and exciting place ‘by students, for students,’” he said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly called Willard Straight Hall advisors leaders of the board. In fact, they do not have board positions.