What Defines University Community?
Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 17 - January 18, 1996
To the Editor:
After attending the public forum called by Provost Peggy Meszaros on December 5 for the purpose of addressing concerns within the university about cases of sexual assault and their disposition, one came away feeling that an acute lack of "trust in the system" and how it functions underlies discussions at every point.
This situation points to the lack of a clear consensus about what values and procedures define the Virginia Tech community as well as a great deal of misunderstanding about matters on which agreement is thought to have been achieved or is taken for granted.
When Tech declared an end to the mandatory requirement of enrollment in the Corps and became co-ed in 1962, it set itself on the course of becoming a major land-grant university which was to have a College of Arts and Sciences to balance the existing colleges. This meant putting aside the image of being an institution with a predominantly male military student body enrolled primarily in non-liberal arts curricula.
The questions which arose in my mind then were: what will Tech's identity be now, what traditions will have priority, how will these be determined and how soon will the alumni and the general public understand the new vision? In short, what would the new community to be created look like, and what values and assumptions would underlie it?
To a greater degree than some would care to admit, I see the same unanswered questions arising today. My greatest concern is that Tech does not and may not recognize answers to them even when events and discussions point to solutions.
Building a meaningful community for a large group of diverse people is absolutely essential if that community is to survive the deep divisions which are inevitably present. This process does not happen via technology. The steps involved do not include referring questions to specific offices or asking people to write their suggestions and submit them to those charged with proposing solutions. Nor can its premises be set forth effectively by those who "report to" administrators at the highest level.
Rather, community building results from face-to-face dialogue with students and faculty members and shared experiences which provide a common framework through which everyone can interact. To create this environment requires leadership from those at the highest level, and this leadership must demonstrate the priority it gives to this task. If Tech's budget is truly at risk, Minnis Ridenour alone does not lobby for change-President Torgersen is engaged as well. He must contribute his presence and his time if Tech is going to be successful.
In specific terms, the students and others concerned about issues of sexual assault on this campus are asking no less. For them, the issues which surround this topic should be as important a priority for the administration as the fiscal, political, and administrative health of the university. And it is the active participation of President Torgersen as well as Provost Meszaros which communicates this importance to the rest of the university.
Virginia Tech has as distinguished and competent an administrative team as it has ever had. The faculty is obviously committed to and concerned about education. There is no reason to give up on the actors in the current scenario. What is needed is renewed vigilance and balanced judgment. The moment is not unlike that in a good game of tennis. The score is 30-40, and the "admin" team must win the next point to have a shot at the set. If they can't manage an ace, then they will need to at least prepare for a good rally.
Jean Love Hammond
University Academic Advising Center