First Earlham College Conversation held, discussion of challenges and opportunities

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First Earlham College Conversation held, discussion of challenges and opportunities

By Andrew Adie, ’24

The first Earlham College Conversations (ECC) meeting was held over Zoom on Sunday, April 25 at 7 P.M. It was organized by Earlham Student Government (ESG) Cabinet Liaisons Yazid Barhoush, ‘21, and Bailey Owens, ‘23, and facilitated by Evan Saito, ‘22.

The attendance, which fluctuated around 50, was made up of students as well as faculty and staff. Administrators and students were invited to make statements and reflections and provided space for both parties to ask each other questions. Attendees were encouraged to speak about opportunities and challenges from this past year. 

Barhoush opened the conversation by stating he hoped the meeting would help live up to Earlham’s principles and practices, one of these principles being community. He stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has made community difficult to maintain. 

President Anne Houtman started the discussion by reflecting upon Earlham’s history. She shared an inquiry she made of Tom Hamm, Professor of history, about whether or not Earlham had ever been challenged as it is now. He suggested the 1918 Spanish Flu, and how Earlham once came under fire for teaching about evolution when creationism was the predominant belief. She said that this past year, due to COVID-19, cannot truly be compared to any other. 

Bonita Washington-Lacey, Dean of Students, was then invited to speak. She emphasised the importance of engaging first-year students, as social distancing has deprived students of a traditional experience. She identified engagement as a challenge, but team-building with students and faculty as an opportunity. 

David Hawsey, Vice President for Enrollment Management, then spoke about Earlham from an economic standpoint. He stated that Earlham’s economic standing had been made better since his employment, but COVID-19 has presented challenges. He claimed that community engagement, such as current students who have recruited peers to enroll, had been beneficial for enrollment. 

James Logan, Interim Academic Dean, informed the group that all search committees looking for new employees have been given training in diversity, equity, and inclusion centered in the hiring process. He also stated that the classes offered over the summer are intended to make higher education more accessible.

Logan also mentioned how, for the first time, Ivy Tech students have been invited to transfer to Earlham College and continue their studies. He pointed to an article from Richmond’s paper, the Palladium-Item, entitled “Earlham and Ivy Tech reach credit-transfer agreement, first in the school’s history,” by Gus Martin, which reports on this. 

Shane Peters, Associate Vice President for Student Life and Director of Residence Life, then shared his concerns regarding the Class of ‘23, as their freshman year was interrupted by COVID-19. He reported that RA applications and applications to other leadership roles are low and suspects COVID-19 had caused students to become less involved. 

Kim Tanner, Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement, advised that students be cautious of what they post online, as public perception can be impactful. She reflected upon how alumni have been especially eager to assist the college due to these challenging times. 

Stacy Lutz Davidson, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer, briefly spoke to say every challenge has simultaneously been an opportunity. She said that staff are making hard decisions for the sake of the college. 

Kristen Lainsbury, Vice president of marketing and communications, shared her intention to  incorporate student perspective into marketing.

Upon questioning from a student, Houtman shared her vision of expanding Earlham’s enrollment from 700 to 1,400-1,600. She described how the average charge for education alone is $60k, but the average student pays $15k. $20k of that difference is covered by the endowment, but there is still $25k that must be accounted for. Houtman says she plans to fix this financial problem by increasing enrollment rather than imposing budget cuts. She also stated that the college’s current practice of outsourcing will not change until the enrollment goal of 1,400 students is achieved.

Washington-Lacey, responding to another student, said that administrators are currently working to hire more diverse faculty members, but this process requires time, and she asks for patience and also for student feedback.

The meeting closed with a suggestion from Barhoush and Saito that more ECC meetings be held. Tanner affirmed that, whenever invited, she and other faculty members would participate in discussions.

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