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Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

What It’s Like Being A Student In A Divided College


Charlie Feher-Peiker

I don’t know if I speak for anybody else when I say this, but I love Hartwick College.

Don’t take that to be gushier than it is. Since I started attending Hartwick last year, this odd little place up here on this hill has grown on me and now I can’t imagine who I would be without it. That isn’t to say that I don’t have my issues with it, but all in all I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. So that’s why watching the events of these last few months unfold has been so particularly strange, disorienting, and disheartening for me as a journalist (I’d like to be able to call myself that at this point) and a student.

Last Monday afternoon, after the faculty passed a vote of no confidence in the leadership of President Margaret Drugovich, it felt as if the resentments and the tensions that had been building for the past few years finally broke the surface. This isn’t the first time a vote like this has been attempted, and this isn’t the only time that members of the Hartwick faculty have been vocal about their disagreements with the President. Though leading up to this things were relatively quiet, at least as far as students were concerned. But since the beginning of 2016, things have started happening faster and faster, getting louder and louder.

Since this semester started in February, it seems that every week, something new has happened embroiling the campus in a frenzy of debate and a tizzy of argument. But what does this all mean for students? We have heard from the President, we have heard from the Board of Trustees, and we have heard from the Faculty Chair, but so far the voice of the students has been absent from this conversation.

Some students have been vocal about their feelings regarding the current state of the College since the beginning of this semester. They organized a protest outside of a Trustee committee meeting and have started a campaign called NODD (Not One Damn Dime), pledging to not donate a single dime to Hartwick while Drugovich is still the president, showing support for the faculty’s vote of no confidence.

One student, a senior and former member of Student Senate, spoke with Hilltops on the condition of anonymity because of concerns over backlash from the Hartwick administration. This student, feeling that the voices of students are not being taken seriously, and that the statements of faculty and students have been downplayed if not entirely ignored by the Board of Trustees and the President, said that it is time the students and the faculty come together to make it known that President Drugovich has reached the end of her presidency.

“We are serious. We want change. We want to be listened to.” The student said, “And we are capable of understanding the injustices around us, no matter how much sugar you throw on top of it.”

With all this in mind, is it really a surprise that students are not happy with Hartwick? According to the U.S. Department of Education’s “College Navigator”, Hartwick has a 57% graduation rate, a 78% retention rate and a 25% transfer-out rate. By contrast, Amherst College and Hamilton College have 98% and 95% retention rates respectively. So what are they doing that Hartwick isn’t? If we know what the problem is, why aren’t students being made aware of that?

“If there is so much unrest with the President, how can the students not notice?” The anonymous student asked. “The students’ future lies with constructive change.”

Drugovich recently said herself that change needs to take place. In a statement released to the student body this week, she said that it was necessary that changes be made to course offerings and that the Hartwick community come together to make that change, thereby uniting Hartwick.

In a meeting with students Tuesday afternoon, provost Michael Tannenbaum and President Drugovich informed the students in attendance that the Hartwick administration was not obligated to take any action as a result of the faculty’s vote.

“Higher ed. is not a democracy.” Tannenbaum said, “The president is in no way bound by the faculty’s vote of no confidence.”  

Following this statement from the Provost, Drugovich took the opportunity to inform students of her perception of the significance of the no confidence vote: it has no bearing on the performance of her duties as a president.

“This vote of no confidence,” Drugovich said, “shows that I am making the hard decisions that need to be made.”

But according to the students involved in the NODD campaign, it isn’t theose hard decisions that are causing problems at Hartwick. Rather it’s the lack of vision and a disconnect between the future that students and faculty see for Hartwick and the way the administration and the Board of Trustees see the college going.

In short, Hartwick needs to change. That much is agreed upon. And Hartwick isn’t failing, yet. But while other liberal arts schools are retaining students at over 90%, Hartwick is consistently keeping students at a rate below 80%. So the question, it seems, is how to change?

It would seem, from last week’s vote, and from the barrage of emails being lobbed across campus, that the conversation is heating up by the day, and now the students are involved, most of us through no fault of our own. But now that we have been brought into this discussion we have no choice but to involve ourselves, and we will not be left in the dark to be pushed around to serve anybody’s ends. We’re smarter than that.

So how can we engage intelligently in constructive discourse if we don’t know what’s going on? How should we try to find out? The faculty doesn’t have the facts, pointing fingers at everyone else who also doesn’t have the facts, only to not have the facts themselves. The administration doesn’t communicate well, and when asked gives ambiguous responses without any actual substance. Student Senate doesn’t seem to know either. So where are these facts supposed to come from?

I’m out of here next year, so it’s tempting to think that what happens here after I graduate really isn’t my problem. But -- and again maybe I only speak for myself -- I refuse to act like it doesn’t matter to me what happens to this place I have come to call home.

Whatever problems, disagreements, and personal issues other people have really don’t concern me and I don’t want them to. I just want to know that Hartwick College -- this strange, beautiful little place way up here on this hill -- has a future and that it’s in good hands, going along a path ensuring its future in a world seemingly becoming less and less sympathetic to the Liberal Arts.

Whatever that path is and whose hands those are is still to be decided, but we had better start figuring it out, and we had better do it together.