Did you vote in the student Executive Council elections? Or did you offer your input regarding the administrative decisions on the weapons policy on campus? Have you been reading this newspaper?
If so, then you’ve probably heard someone talk about the power of students to influence the University of Dallas.
But how loud is the voice of the student body really? Very loud, as it turns out.
This simple fact was recently demonstrated by Mount St. Mary’s University, a small Catholic liberal arts university faced with serious threats to its Catholic identity.
A few weeks ago, The University News published an article detailing the actions of the university’s then-president, Simon Newman, who some members of the Mount St. Mary’s community felt degraded the primary mission of the school. Newman caused concern among members of the community by his use of harsh language, controversial changes and a business-minded approach that undermined the foundational character of the school.
But when his actions were brought to wider attention by their student newspaper, The Mountain Echo, Newman gained national criticism and pressure from students and faculty asking for his resignation. After unsuccessful attempts to quell the growing tensions, Mr. Newman announced his decision to step down as president of the school.
In a letter sent to students and faculty, Newman cited the publicity surrounding his leadership as the primary factor in his decision to resign. As a direct result of student efforts to speak out against actions seen as contrary to the Catholic identity of the university, it demonstrates the massive power of the student body to voice their concerns.
But the first article in The Mountain Echo speaking out against the leadership of Newman was initially met with denunciation and resistance from the administration, leading ultimately to the firing of the faculty advisor to the newspaper.
Other students followed a quieter yet equally influential course of action. Alyse Spiehler, a junior at Mount St. Mary’s majoring in Philosophy and English, worked to give a voice to students within the community, spearheading the creation of a petition calling for greater transparency on behalf of the administration and the board of trustees regarding the issues causing tension in the student body.
“My goal was to gather students who, like me, were concerned by those actions [of the administration] in a way in which we would be heard and understood,” Spiehler said.
But despite her resistance to the methods of Newman, Spiehler embraced the announcement from Acting President Karl Einolf that aspects of Newman’s “Mount 2.0” agenda would be advanced, explaining that change and development is needed at the school, as long as the core principles of the community are maintained.
“As the Mount community continues to grow and change, we must be attentive to the needs and dignity of all the people involved,” Spiehler said. “Moving forward, we need to emphasize what it is that we value so that as a collective community we will make decisions that uphold and don’t compromise those values.”
Not only do the examples of The Mountain Echo and Spiehler demonstrate the power of students to bring about real change in a community, but they also show the importance of an emphasis on the liberal arts that seek to uphold truth.
In this respect, UD shares an unbreakable bond with Mount St. Mary’s that calls on each member of our own community to work toward the constant integration of truth, justice and virtue in everything that takes place on this campus and in the world.
“I love being a part of this community,” Spiehler said. “One important thing about the Catholic liberal arts is that it values the truth so that when there’s injustice you can respond to it because of this tradition you’ve inherited. There’s a real need for universities like mine.”