On May 2, there was a reception for K.P. Hong, the Associate Chaplain at the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, who will be departing at the end of this semester. The reception was a final opportunity for students and community members to come together to celebrate the work that Hong has contributed to Macalester over the years. While Hong will be with the college until the end of May, his position could not be continued due to budgetary restrictions and a campus-wide freeze on new hiring until 2018.
There are now discussions within the CRSL and in the Student Affairs office about ways to sustain the programming at the CRSL in order to best serve students’ needs. Because Hong’s position continues through the end of May, there are still last-minute efforts to try to find other funding sources outside of Macalester for the position. If those efforts fall short, both offices want to make sure that the CRSL can continue to operate.
Though there are budgetary restrictions and a freeze on new hiring, Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre stressed that this should not impact other staffing positions at the college. The budgetary problems stem from a “perfect storm” of the strains that the 2008 financial collapse have placed on the college. But in discussions on how best to address these issues, Hamre said that “we’ve never talked about laying staff off or reducing positions.”
The funding for Hong’s position was provided by outside sources such as a grant from the Lilly Foundation, and the Associate Chaplain’s position was never a permanent full-time staff position. As the college enters its strategic planning phase and because of the work that the student group, “Mac needs a K.P.” has done to raise awareness on campus, there is hope that the Associate Chaplain’s position will be created and fully funded in the future.
Within the Student Affairs office, there have also been attempts to reposition Hong.
“We do have more pressure to make sure that every staff position that we have is in the right place. So when someone might leave a position, we ask the question even more strongly now, should we leave the position as it is, or should we move it around campus?” Hamre said. “And we’ve done that several times, trying to make the Associate Chaplain be a full-time permanent position, but it never really meshed.”
And despite the hiring freeze, the Student Affairs office already runs on a tight operation. “We’re not overly staffed and there aren’t a lot of folks sitting around having a full-time job that isn’t necessary,” Hamre said.
Official news of Hong’s departure was a setback for the students who worked to keep the Associate Chaplain’s position at the college for the coming years. The “Mac needs a K.P.” group was formed after students who regularly participated in “Sitting at Mac” were told that Hong would be leaving after this semester. Hong had helped to organize and mentor students who were involved with that program in the past.
Students who had worked with Hong and students who knew of him came together to come up with possible solutions for keeping his position at Macalester. After the first few initial meetings, a working group of students was organized into different committees such as a fundraising group, liaisons to the administration and a campus awareness-raising group. The student groupings turned out to be too small, however, and had difficulty moving forward.
Following spring break, the organization became a smaller core group of students who were involved with speaking to and working with different groups on campus. “Mac needs a K.P.” met with the student representatives on the Strategic Planning Committee, Vice President for Advancement Tommy Bonner, Chaplain of the College and Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Lucy Forster-Smith, Hamre and President Brian Rosenberg.
Sophie Glickman ’13 was one of the students who met with Rosenberg on behalf of “Mac needs a K.P.” In the meeting, Glickman said that Rosenberg mentioned that he had not anticipated how much of a reaction there would be to the news about the Associate Chaplain’s position, or how persistent and well-organized it would be. But throughout, Glickman said he has been very open to the work that the organization has done and has acknowledged their efforts.
In addition to trying to retain the Associate Chaplain’s position, the group has worked to highlight the importance of the CRSL. The group recently sent out a survey about the CRSL and analyzed the results. They first examined the responses from students actively involved with the CRSL and then the general student population. The goal of the survey was to gauge how the rest of campus viewed the CRSL and the programs available.
“I was amazed by the results from [the general student population],” Glickman said. “They had overwhelmingly positive things to say, so that was really validating and hopefully useful to the future of the conversation.”
Hamre praised the work that “Mac needs a K.P.” has done. “They’ve just been a fabulous group,” she said. “I’m so respectful of not just what they’ve done but the way that they’ve tried to move forward.”
Reflecting on the experience, Glickman said, “For most of us involved it has been really time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. Ultimately, I think it’s really exciting what will happen with the CRSL but a little disenchanting because of what we could actually get done.”
There have also been small successes, she said. “When I think about how little time we’ve had since we’ve learned this, overall I feel pretty good and am really impressed by how people came together. I’ve connected with people who knew K.P. in a totally different capacity than I did. And it has expanded the general awareness of what the CRSL means for various and overlapping communities.”