ARCHIVES: University tensions, from ‘93 to ‘23

Photo credit: Sound Ideas

By Audrey Davis, Editor-in-Chief

The accompanying article from a November 18, 1993 issue of The Trail outlines frustrations over the then-contentious sale of the University’s Law School (yes, we did have one) to Seattle University.

When I picked up this random issue several days ago and read the center quote from the front-page article, “There has been a betrayal of trust between the community and this institution,” I felt like I had been dragged back into the town hall held in November.

The sale of the Law School is one of the most notable parallels in the University’s history to the current financial turmoil and surrounding discourses. The students in ‘93 felt that no other decision besides the sale of the law school was likely viable, but the failure to include a broader body in the conversation made campus members three decades ago feel irate or, rather, “betrayed.” While many campus members today fear the cuts to departments and programs are “draconian,” the primary concern has been frustration that President Crawford did not discuss his revised plan with the steering committee before presenting it to the Board on October 28.

Perhaps a piece of the lesson from Page and Stearns’ article (above) in the context of today is that history repeats itself, especially on this campus. More specifically, when a community does not feel heard or engaged, the outcome is the same: distrust.

Betrayals of trust and resulting rifts between the administration and the larger campus community have seemingly been prevalent for decades now. Is this just the way it goes? Have these types of issues escalated into festering resentment thereby preventing any actual steps towards cooperative headway from both the administration and the campus community?

My many hours in the archives have shown me headline after headline, year after year, telling the same story of troubled relationships between campus leadership and the community. Such a division is classic in a university setting, almost to be expected, but knowing the precarious footing of our university and with the lived experience of a global pandemic, I am still disappointed by the general lack of empathy, forethought, and care all of us afford each other. 

Should then President Pierce have discussed selling the Law School more openly? Should President Crawford have discussed the financial plan changes with the steering committee? Was a town hall filled with angry and disrespectful students baring their teeth a successful approach to preventing inevitable financial cuts?

Of course, people are going to be upset if they feel left out of major decisions that ultimately impact their lives. However, as we have established, the same impotent discourse continues to occur yet still we expect different results.

Now here we are, like scolded children who couldn’t behave and so have lost our seats at the adult table. No one wants to apologize because we aren’t entirely sure what we’ve done wrong. Each step from either “side” has been a stab of a double-edged sword – with no trust gained – only initial feelings of frustrations mellowing. The larger the rift grows, the harder it becomes to broach disagreements with care. Trust is such a fickle thing and perhaps this University’s Achilles’ heel. Ironically, the views expressed here might garner a defensive response with claims that we, the University, are a united family. Yes, we are a family and families fight, as much as we want to hide that from the rest of the world. Pretending like we don’t fight and continuing on with business as usual points to the precise lack of foresight I mentioned above. When you fight with your family and then pretend like nothing happened, resentment flourishes. We need to stop being afraid that we’ll say the wrong thing, and start having truly transparent conversations.