In continuation of her semesterly tradition, President Kathy Murray spoke to Senate at a recent meeting on the sixteenth of October. ASWC President Arthur Shemitz commented on the visit, saying, “Last year when President Murray first visited Senate, it was the first time in over a decade that the college president had visited an ASWC Senate, and so we’re very grateful to have her continuing to speak with us.”
President Murray began her presentation by commemorating the student lost earlier on in the semester, describing the event as a “rough start to the year”, but she continued to say that she was reassured by how the Whitman community “came together in a powerful way”.
She then moved on to talk about the Strategic Planning Committee, which has been hard at work determining the school’s goals for the future. By the end of the Strategic Planning process, President Murray anticipates having “between 4 and 6 high-level strategic goals for the college for the next five years”. The committee and President Murray continue to seek input from students about what they hope to see in the college’s future; preceding the fall meetings of the governing boards, President Murray will be holding joint office hours with Brad McMurchie, the Board of Trustees Chair, in Memorial Building 304, from 1:00-3:00pm, on Tuesday, November 1. Beyond these goals, President Murray hopes to address the issue of increasing the diversity of both the faculty and the student body. Still more, she intends to address the “climate of discourse” which generally plagues discussions today. She wants everyone at Whitman to work on better listening to each other and having hard, controversial conversations. Though it will be a challenge, it is also our “responsibility” to do so.
After concluding her presentation, she engaged in a question and answer session with Senate members. Highlights of the session include:
- She addressed concerns about tenure at Whitman, saying that it is “not going away”, because “it serves us here very well and keeps people engaged”.
- Regarding a question about progress on the new residence hall being built, she told the Senate that around $7.6 million in funds have been raised, though she would like to get to $10 million. They plan to “break ground” in February of 2017, with the hall will hopefully becoming available for use in Fall of 2018. When asked about whether the function of North Hall would change following the construction of the residence hall, she answered that it would no longer be used as a residence hall, though its new function has not yet been determined.
- To a question about increasing financial aid in the future, President Murray answered that the school will be doing more fundraising overall and will be raising financial aid by a quarter of a million dollars by next year. She also stated that the school is thinking carefully about how it will be raising tuition in the future.
- When asked about reestablishing the debate team (the team was suspended a year a half ago (for two years) because of “problematic behavior”) at Whitman, she responded by saying that a committee had been assembled to research a safer way for the school to reengage in debate. The committee will produce a report by the first of December detailing its findings, and President Murray will ensure that it is made publicly available. She will decide whether to reestablish the debate team at that juncture.
- She was then asked about conversations that have been happening at the administrative level regarding the sexual assault banners put up during Fall Visitors Day as well as the letter distributed by the so-called “Indies” which discouraged first-years from rushing. To this, she answered that she does not yet know much about the banners and that she did not approve them to be put up. Regarding the letter, she said that she did not have a problem with such ideas being expressed, but also that she thought that “the timing could have been better” (the letter was distributed during Rush Week). Due to this and other factors, she was “disappointed” by the letter and its writers.
- Finally, she expressed her desire to better distinguish Whitman from other, similar liberal arts colleges. To accomplish this, she wants to highlight the virtues of Walla Walla as well as how specific programs set Whitman apart. She hopes that the latter will be “the tide that lifts all boats”, so to speak.