President Akande’s Responsiveness to Students Discussed at SGA Meeting
BY ROBERTA BURNS
Some say that off-campus fundraising is more crucial than Akande’s on-campus presence.
Westminster President Benjamin Akande’s ability to connect with students was discussed at the SGA meeting on Jan. 24. During officer reports, SGA President Carson Pope, ’18, voiced concerns about the president’s presence on campus.
Pope said that frustration has been growing in the student body because of the lack of personal relationships between students and Akande. He said he had attempted to coordinate a meeting with the president at the beginning of the semester to discuss campus climate but that the president’s assistant scheduled the meeting for Feb. 7, nearly three weeks after the first day of classes. In prior years, SGA representatives and the president of Westminster have met as often as once a week.
During the open dialogue portion of the SGA meeting, Senator Cris Hurtado, ’19, noted that Akande is often busy off campus, especially with ongoing fundraising efforts.
When asked to comment on his campus presence, Akande affirmed his commitment to fundraising, which he said is critical.
“In the past couple of weeks, I have been on the road traveling all over the country meeting with alums to raise awareness and much needed funds for the institution,” he responded in an email. “I recognize the importance of this kind of engagement for the College to remain functional and relevant into the future.”
Several students agreed that the financial state of Westminster is more important for the president to be handling.
“I would rather him devote his time to coordinating with alumni for donations, raising funds and exploring new ways to expand the financial capacity of Westminster,” Mason Evers, ’19, said. “However, I think [Pope] has a point when he says President Akande should be more accessible to him. It’s important that Dr. Akande is in touch with students and student life, and meeting with Carson is the first step in doing so.”
Senior Vice President of the College and Dean of Faculty Carolyn Perry said that from an administrative perspective, there was no need for concern: “He [President Akande] was hired to be a president who was out more to establish our name nationwide. He is working to connect us to people who will pull us up.”
Perry said there is a balance between off-campus projects and on-campus relationships that Akande is aiming for, and that the president was hired first and foremost to raise money and secure financial stability for Westminster. However, he is not off limits to hearing student concerns, she said.
“He expects students to take initiative,” Perry said. “Because of the ways he has reached out, he is striving to find that balance.”
“He [Akande] was hired to be a president who was out more to establish our name nationwide. He is working to connect us to people who will pull us up.” -Carolyn Perry
Some students who have taken that initiative to connect with Akande say they have found him to be extremely responsive and that he has made great strides to be there for students who need him.
Kaely Fitterling, ’18, said that she emailed Akande at 6 p.m. one night and received a phone call an hour later from one of his assistants to schedule a meeting for the next morning.
“I didn’t make the email sound like an emergency,” Fitterling said. “I just wanted to talk about some concerns I had about the transfer student experience.”
Basketball player Ali Perry, ’19, said that President Akande was quick to act when she contacted him about her uncle being able to attend her games.
“I sent Dr. Akande an email on Aug. 29, voicing my concerns about the Historic Gymnasium not being wheelchair accessible,” she said. “I never got a response from the president, but he did forward my email to Dean Dan [Haslag], who contacted me the very next day. Obviously, we came up with a quick temporary fix that suited everyone.”
The ramp that is now attached to Historic Gymnasium was constructed over Thanksgiving break in preparation for the home basketball games.
At the SGA meeting, Senator Gordon Allison, ‘17, attempted to put into perspective student expectations of their connection to the president by highlighting former Westminster President Dr. Barney Forsythe’s relationship to students.
“Former President Barney Forsythe had a demeanor that made people feel appreciated,” Allison said. “That kind of personable nature is good for retention. Students considering transferring could think back to a time they had a talk with Barney and he remembered their name.”
While Pope acknowledged that Akande has a full schedule, he said that he would like him to be more available to the students in some way.
“I’d like to see him holding office hours again,” Pope said. “I think town hall meetings are also very important. One was scheduled for November, then rescheduled for December, then cancelled completely once finals started.”
Senior Class President Mahima Poudel, ’17, agreed that more frequent town hall meetings would enhance Akande’s relations with students.
“There is a greater need for town hall meetings because he isn’t around as much,” Poudel said. “There needs to be something, and a lot of campus feels like there is nothing [in terms of communication].”
Senior Class Vice President Jeremy Hill echoed Poudel’s sentiment.
“I think it would be a good way to get student opinions heard and get a feel for the pulse of campus,” he said. “This would be an easy meeting that wouldn’t inhibit his fundraising efforts, but would garner lots of support from students.”
The town hall meeting held by Akande on Tuesday was an example of student interest in this type of event. The president called the meeting in response to President Trump’s recent executive order restricting entry into the United States for nationals of seven countries in northeastern Africa and southwestern Asia.
Akande first announced the event to the campus community Monday afternoon, three days after the legislation went into effect and a day before the meeting was set to take place. Despite the short notice, more than 100 students, faculty and staff members attended.
Going forward, Pope said that his concerns will be readdressed at an SGA meeting after he has the opportunity to meet with President Akande. He said he hopes to return with feedback about potential town halls and the chance for students to visit with the president during office hours.