Questioning Colby’s True North

David A. Greene has been here as long as I have been here, and he and his administration have continuously and thoughtfully announced initiative after initiative that will fundamentally change what occurs on Mayflower Hill. Most recently, Dare Northward made local news headlines as the largest campaign fund in the history of liberal arts institutions. Are students upset by this? Of course not. Fundraising is a necessary evil in today’s college landscape, and I am proud to see my future alma mater taking such bold steps towards the top of next year’s Forbes rankings.

What is troubling about the College’s current administration, especially recently, however, is their misguided expectations for students during this “exciting” time, as well as their obvious insecurities about our reaction to the campaign and other initiatives.  

Greene is an excellent businessman with major ambitions and a clear plan. The majority of his first years at Colby have been spent fundraising with major donors to build infrastructure on campus and downtown. Updated athletic facilities, improved art centers, and DavisConnects on campus will attract more students to apply. Pumping money into downtown with a dormitory, boutique hotel, and more renovations will lead to greater investment in Waterville itself. And the Dare Northward campaign will bring much-needed diversity in wealth, race, ethnicity, and geography of faculty and students to the College, finally putting it into the stratosphere of our greatest liberal arts competitors in the NESCAC. I have been told numerous times directly and indirectly by members of the administration how “lucky” I am and how “grateful” I should be for this plan.

But why exactly should I be so grateful or feel so lucky? While I am excited to be a part of a trending school, I will not reap the benefits of any initiatives currently being announced while I attend Colby, and most people currently on campus will not either. Am I supposed to be so excited that “no liberal arts school has ever asked for this much money before,” as a friend of mine put it? Why should I, especially considering I will be asked to pay into it from the moment I leave?

Why should I be excited for a campaign when the price for my education has gone up every year? Should I be excited about DavisConnects when its creation, while fantastic for our futures, hurts student’s present situation by taking away a nice dormitory and cramming us into forced triples in damaged dorms? Why would I post an Instagram picture about downtown revitalization when no stores have entered vacant spaces (supposed to come summer 2017) and the boutique hotel remains nonexistent? Should I be happy that, in my interview with Vice President for College Advancement Daniel Lugo, he mentioned how the College gained monetary “breathing room” when 50 extra students were accidentally admitted? Who gained breathing room? Certainly not the students in classrooms nearly at capacity and scheduled tightly every day.

Yet Colby expects students to be excited, and has been vocally upset that there is a lack of student support for the new campaign. While I am in no way upset that this campaign is occurring, I am mostly apathetic about it. The bulk of the excitement from students is either sarcastic or faked for administration members, who are clearly nervous. Some evidence of this is their constant questioning of Phonathon members and student development office workers, who repeatedly report that they are emphatically asked, “are students excited about Dare Northward?”  

This insecurity and abrasiveness towards merited student and faculty criticism continues with their treatment of the Echo. Three recent interviews have been recorded by the administration, for seemingly no reason other than to have their own take on any criticism or mistake we may or may not publish. In one, our interview questions had to be sent to and approved by our interviewees beforehand. Our own advisor is married to the director of communications, which is an obvious conflict of interest. Moreover, inquiries to administration members about potentially interesting articles have been met with responses from the communications department, as if they are trying to censor actual dialogue.

This controlling nature extends beyond the Echo and into student dialogue. The Civil Discourse, once a valuable forum for student and faculty dialogue on campus, has been replaced by the confusing and unnecessary application ColbyNow. Members of administration may wonder why students are not receptive to “new technologies to improve the community,” and yet I wonder why the administration was not receptive to effective discourse. Was it too hard to control? More than 50 percent of faculty, staff, and students here answered “disagree” or “strongly disagree” to the statement “I feel that if I offered feedback it would influence decisions at Colby” on the first ever campus climate survey released on Nov. 2.

These survey answers are indicative of the fact that the College needs more dialogue between students, and not in forums the administration forces on people or approves beforehand. The surprise members of the College show towards the lack of excitement for Dare Northward shows an ignorance towards students’ needs in the present, as well as a clear miscommunication between students and the administration.

Another example of this was the launch of Dare Northward, where a lavish celebration in Castonguay Square overshadowed a celebration on campus “open to all students.” Only a few students received an invitation to the downtown festivities, yet all students knew it was occurring due to rampant publicity on campus. Why would we want to attend a lesser one, which was a failure and not attended well? What went into choosing which students were able to attend the more lavish event? Why are so many intellectual events, such as the Lovejoy Convocation, so poorly attended by students and why are they the only ones who take the blame? It is certainly partially a fault of the students, who should be expected to challenge and improve themselves by seeking out and attending events that interest them intellectually, but often do not. However, a continuous trend of low attendance also demonstrates poor planning, advertising, and attention to student interests.

Which brings me back to Dare Northward, where the administration has truly remained oblivious to student mentality. It is routinely shoved in student’s faces how much the College will change with complete disregard for the present and what it should focus on for current students, which is providing an intellectual environment for student learning, dialogue, and relationships. The school should not be forcing Dare Northward down our throats, especially when it will never even fully apply to us. It should not be pretending like the campaign is something we are motivated to root for, post on Instagram about, or cheer on. The cost of our education is only going up, and despite necessary fundraising, it will continue to go up, but for how long? At the very least, we should be able to question the campaign.

These are critiques the administration should be welcoming and considering as it forcefully changes a College many are already happy with and gentrifies a downtown many people want to remain isolated from. $750 million dollars, a new arts center, and a new athletic center is fantastic. I am so grateful to be at a school headed in a global and influential direction, but the College should be open to conversation against changes being made, and unsurprised when students are unreceptive when they do not take us into account. Right now, it is doing the opposite.