MCSG, K.P. Hong supporters call for greater transparency on staff cuts
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MCSG, K.P. Hong supporters call for greater transparency on staff cuts

MCSG made its position on staffing cuts official during the most recent Legislative Body meeting on March 12. The resolution, “In Opposition to Staffing Cuts in Critical Areas on Campus,” states, “MCSG calls on Macalester College to consider fundraising for crucial student needs commensurate with increasing demand.”

The resolution was approved in response to the administration’s decision to retire the Associate Chaplain’s position currently held by K.P. Hong. Authored by senior class representative Jonas Buck ’13, the document has been a work in progress since its introduction at an earlier MCSG meeting.

“Over the course of this week I tried to make as many changes as possible given that feedback so that it could be friendly to everyone here that’s voting on it,” Buck said at the MCSG meeting.

He also stressed that the scope of the resolution goes beyond the Associate Chaplain’s position.

“K.P. Hong is part of a larger problem about the ability of our professional staff to meet critical student needs,” he said. “I wanted us to begin a conversation about that and take a stand on that.”

The Institute for Global Citizenship Student Council (IGCSC) has also issued a strong letter in support of K.P. Hong.

“The IGCSC maintains a close relationship with the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL), and can testify to the impact the CRSL and Chaplain Hong have on students within the IGC,” they wrote in the letter.

They stressed the importance of the role the CRSL plays in promoting the mission of the IGC.

“All the CRSL staff, and Chaplain Hong in particular, have been incredible partners in this mission by helping students engage in self-reflection and promoting exploration and embodiment of the ideals of global citizenship,” the council wrote.

They also stated that the position of Assistant Director for Religious and Spiritual Life was important for all Macalester students.

“We hope that future generations of Macalester students will continue to have the chance to learn from these dedicated staff members, and strongly support continued funding for this position,” they wrote.

Resolution as Roadmap

At the MCSG meeting, several students from the Mac needs a K.P. organization were present and able to witness the unanimous decision in favor of the resolution. During the discussion prior to the vote, several of the students stressed the importance of the resolution and expressed gratitude to MCSG for taking a stand.

“Your support really matters because you are recognized by the administration, so it’s not just us voicing our concerns and making noise, but having an organized body also show support,” said Vivian Ihekoronye ’13.

As for how the resolution might impact the organizing work that Mac needs a K.P. does, Ihekoronye said that the intentionally broad scope of the resolution is to provide a guide for how students might approach future staffing cuts or budget shortfalls.

“We recognize that we need to speak to the larger issue of values at Macalester and what do we care about as a student body,” she said. “I think this resolution articulates that and sets a precedent for how we can go about navigating [the fact] that we want to keep K.P. but we also want to stand up for other issues that we care about. If we use the resolution as a map, we can really do good work, not only in the short term, but also in the long term.”

During a meeting on March 7, students from the group organized a public koan event to stimulate conversation around issues of spiritual health on campus. Drawing on a Buddhist practice of introducing questions or doubts to promote spiritual growth, the purpose of the koan event was to actively engage the campus by putting up artwork and posters that posed questions about spiritual and mental health at Macalester.

Posters appeared in a variety of spaces ranging from Olin-Rice to the Janet Wallace Fine Arts building. There were also paintings done on the sidewalks. The artwork was an effort to draw in more supporters for the cause and to demonstrate that issues of spiritual and mental health affected all students.

In order to make a strong case for the importance of spiritual and religious services on campus, the group also hopes to hear feedback from students about their concerns. When approaching the administration, they want to use the multitude of voices as evidence of “increasing demand,” a phrase cited in the MCSG resolution. Because certain actions, such as fundraising, require institutional permission, the organization hopes to first research and compile evidence and then raise awareness amongst the student body.

“Until we figure out what evidence we have, until we can articulate our needs, what we want to get out of meeting with Tommy Bonner [the Vice President for Advancement] then we can’t really meet with him,” Ihekoronye said. “We want to understand where they [students] are coming from and what they want out of this.”

No money for K.P.’s position

These efforts to gather information from students also stem from conversations with administrators such as Laurie Hamre, the Vice President of Student Affairs.

“We had a good conversation about brainstorming and ways that we could work, what was feasible, what wasn’t,” Hamre said about the meetings that she had with the Mac needs a K.P. group.

“They had some brainstorming ideas, some that I had to right away say, ‘Here’s why that’s not going to work; I don’t want you to spend your energy from the beginning on something that isn’t going to work,’ and ‘Here’s how you would go about going about that [other] idea, moving forward,’” she said.

Due to a freeze on new positions since 2008, the student affairs office made the decision to eliminate the Associate Chaplain’s position for the upcoming academic year. Though the Associate Chaplain and the Assistant Director for Religious and Spiritual Life position held by K.P. Hong existed at the college before the freeze, the position was funded through soft money in the form of grants. According to Hamre, there was not room for student input about the decision because it was a salary and personnel issue.

“There wasn’t anything students could do about it; we just didn’t have any money,” she said.

Addressing the frustrations that students felt about not being included in the budgeting process, Hamre stressed that the outlet for student input was not available in this case.

“I’m not sure how we could have included students in any process because there wasn’t any process,” Hamre said. “There is no role for students when you run out of money for a position.”

Hamre added that the student efforts have raised awareness on campus and amongst staff members and could result in conversations during institutional meetings, such as at the strategic planning sessions that are now taking place.

“As the college goes through this strategic planning, I’m sure that we will reconsider values and where we need staff, and I’m confident that we will be able to determine that a second Chaplain or diversity in the Chaplain’s office is really important,” Hamre said. “That doesn’t really help K.P. because we’re just starting strategic planning [and] that will go all of next year. I’m quite sure we’ll have more folks in the Chapel, but I’m not so sure what that means for K.P.”

Hamre referenced the students’ proposal to fundraise for the position in order to endow it at the college, which will mean raising $1.5 million in order to secure the position for the next ten years. In the meantime, the Student Affairs office has, Hamre said, “encouraged K.P. to look for other things, to make sure that he takes care of himself because the chances are quite slim.”

“If we aren’t able to figure out in the next three months how to keep K.P., we’ll have a going away party, we’ll do lots of things,” she said.

Students hope for contract renewal

Students have a clear vision of their best case scenario.

“Either K.P.’s contract is renewed, or that they renew that position, at the very least, so that another qualified person who can reach across faith traditions and to non-faiths, into mental health, into general well-being and into multicultural life,” said Brianna Morseth ’13. “Someone who could fill that position because there will be a huge vacancy.”

“I think that the group wants to raise awareness and also to get as much input from the student body as possible because we do want to see things change,” Ihekoronye said. “We want to see our priorities and needs considered by the administration. Not that they haven’t considered them, but I think we’re in a different time than we were even five or ten years ago, so I think there’s a revisioning (sic) process that is taking place with the strategic planning that is happening too.”

“I applaud the students; they’re really doing a nice job conveying their thoughts and their hopes,” Hamre said.

March 15, 2013

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