Seattle University’s president said that some faculty as well as students want the dean of Matteo Ricci College to step down. The student sit-in is continuing.
The students aren’t the only ones who want Jodi Kelly, the dean of Seattle University’s Matteo Ricci College, to resign.
In an interview Thursday, Seattle U. President Stephen Sundborg said eight of the college’s 17 faculty members also want her to step down.
He also said the 23-day-long student sit-in at the humanities college had inspired solidarity from faculty members across the campus.
The university’s interim provost, Bob Dullea, announced Wednesday that Kelly was placed on paid leave due to several formal complaints of discrimination filed in the past three weeks.
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“My thought and my hope is that this will lead to a better university,” Sundborg said of the protests by MRC Student Coalition and the college’s response to them.
Kelly did not respond to phone calls and emails Thursday.
Students say that as the college’s dean, Kelly failed to respond to student concerns about the narrowness of the curriculum and resisted their call for “radical change” at the college.
But they haven’t been swayed by what Kelly has promised to do. In a letter to the student newspaper, The Spectator, she said the college would conduct a comprehensive review of the curricula, assess the college’s culture, and provide racial and cultural literacy training.
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The sit-in started in mid-May with a group of students who demanded changes to a curriculum that emphasizes Western history and philosophy, and a climate they describe as hostile and condescending to students of color. They say they were influenced by alumni who graduated nearly a decade ago who told them they also tried to make changes to the school, to no effect.
After Wednesday’s announcement about Kelly’s leave, more than 200 students, faculty and staff crammed into the lobby of the Casey Building — where students have staged their sit-in — to listen to a student-run news conference, ask questions of their own, and cheer or snap their fingers in agreement.
The leaders of the sit-in have been meeting with Dullea daily. “Yesterday, he shared with us that Dean Kelly was placed on administrative leave,” Olivia Smith, a senior majoring in political science, told the crowd. “That is a win, right?”
The room erupted in cheers.
The protesting students say they are not yet ready to end the sit-in, but expect it to be over by the last day of classes on June 10. And they still want Kelly to resign.
But her supporters are fighting back.
As of Thursday, more than 550 people had signed an online petition voicing support for Kelly.
“Until today, I have been proud to be an MRC and Seattle University graduate — I am deeply saddened by this response and the support of bullying as a protest tactic,” Dana Keller, an SU alumnus who launched the petition, wrote in a post to the petition’s web page.
Sundborg said the recent complaints against Kelly aren’t the first.
He said another complaint arose about two years ago, but it was dismissed.
This time, a university employee who handles the complaints recommended that Kelly be placed on leave so the issues could be investigated.
Sundborg said he’s not surprised that tensions have grown at Matteo Ricci. “I do have regrets,” he said. “We should have been aware of it earlier on and responded to it more quickly.”
Unlike the rest of the university, Matteo Ricci College has a fairly narrow choice of courses for its core curriculum. There’s an emphasis on the classics, and on Western philosophy and history. “It hasn’t adapted as quickly as it needed to adapt,” Sundborg said of the college, which has 194 students. “Students in our country have changed; therefore, what goes on in humanities has to change significantly from what it used to be.”
The college was started in the 1970s as an experimental college, and is often described as an elite school. It offers three degree programs.
The students said the university has proposed an interim dean for Matteo Ricci, but they’ve rejected that person, whose name they did not give. Their top priority? “A woman of color would be phenomenal, and what we deserve,” said Fiza Mohammad, a Matteo Ricci student.
Sundborg said the university will make the final decision, but that officials would listen to the students’ voices. Meanwhile, the Kelly investigation will be concluded in the next several months, he said.
The students have been eating and sleeping in the Casey Building, where Kelly’s offices are located. They described the experience as empowering and educational, and urged their classmates to do the same if they believe their professors aren’t teaching them what they need to know.
“The administration is afraid there will be students all throughout the university demanding changes from their educators,” Mohammad said. “But, of course, that’s exactly what we want. We want changes all throughout Seattle University. There are first- and second-years ready to take up that fight.”
The university has also placed John Foster, the chaplain and co-founder of Matteo Ricci, on leave. Earlier in the week, The Spectator reported that a recording device that Foster owned was found in the “record” position in the occupied offices.
Foster says he simply mislaid the device while leaving the room, Sundborg said, but the university will proceed with an investigation.
Charges of racism have rocked college campuses across the nation this academic year, including at Western Washington University and the University of Washington.
Sundborg, a Jesuit priest who has led the Jesuit Catholic university for 19 years, said issues of racism and sexism are “under the surface at pretty much every university in the United States,” in part because a younger generation is “much more alert and sensitive” to issues of equity.
“They’re bringing it forward in a much more urgent kind of way,” he said.
Sundborg said he’s heard from alumni and community members who have told him that he “shouldn’t be kowtowing to these students.” But he does not agree.
“Our number-one value is we listen to students first,” Sundborg said. “I’m going to err on the side of listening.”