Bonner students ask administration for answers


Source: Bonner Center for Community Service & Learning

The search for a new vice president of academic affairs continues, but not all students are happy with the process.

Four candidates for the position were selected by a search committee and met the community in open forums before the final candidate was chosen. Among the duties of the vice president of academic affairs is overseeing the Bonner Center. But Bonner scholars who brought questions to the forums felt that their input was not respected.

Chief among the students’ concerns was the fact that Guilford College no longer has a program coordinator for the Bonner Scholars. The last coordinator, Kristina Snader, left in 2014. The position was then frozen, so no one was hired to replace her.

“There wasn’t enough money to pay for that position, even though in the contract that the Bonner foundation has … with every school, there has to be a director, like James (Shields), and a coordinator,” said senior Jennifer Urdaneta, one of two senior Bonner interns. “There has to be one and a half people to run the program.”

The Bonner Center, which oversees the Bonner Scholars program, now consists of just Shields and Andrew Young, who is the volunteer coordinator both for Bonner scholars and for all other students doing service through the Bonner Center. The coordinator’s job was solely to work with the 60 Bonner scholars.

“We’ve met with (President Jane Fernandes) … about the coordinator position, but she said it got frozen,” said junior Marimar Mantuano, the Bonner junior intern. “And it’s been frozen for too long, so now she’ll have to propose a new position.”

The first open forum with a candidate for the vice president position was with Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean Beth Rushing, who has occupied the position in an interim capacity for about 18 months. Bonner scholars gathered to ask about the coordinator position and other issues.

Sophomore and Bonner scholar Danny Rodas Garcia Garcia questioned Rushing about the coordinator position.

“When I asked the question (about) not fulfilling the contract, she told Andrew, ‘Well, Andrew, we can just change your title (to Bonner program coordinator) if that makes you feel better,’ which was very disrespectful of her to say in front of everyone,” said Rodas Garcia.

After Rodas Garcia asked his question, he says some staff in attendance said that the forum should not involve such specific questions about staffing, which not all candidates would be equipped to answer.

“But the way I saw it was (that Rushing has) been here for almost two, if not more than two, years,” said Rodas Garcia. “Therefore, she knows what she’s doing. So because of her experience here, we should be asking her specific questions, not just (the same) broad questions to all of the candidates.”

Erin Dell, special assistant to the president, served on the search committee and scheduled the forums, although she was only able to attend the third one. She confirmed that there was no expectation that attendees should not ask specific questions.

“I have not communicated with folks before a forum to say, ‘Don’t ask about this,’” said Dell in a phone interview. “I’ve never had to, before an open forum, … lay down ground rules.”

Rodas Garcia’s question and the response from Rushing were confirmed by several other Bonner students who attended the forum. Rushing declined to comment, saying it would not be appropriate.

Other Bonner students alleged that some of the other people at the forums also were dismissive of the Bonners’ questions.

“In a lot of meetings like this, the reputation of the Bonner Center and Bonner scholars and students affiliated with Bonner are to be loud and angry,” said senior Mara Stern, the other Bonner senior intern, who also attended the forum with Rushing. “So I think there were some eye rolls. There were some people that just didn’t understand.”

Some of the faculty and staff at the first forum shared their concerns with Dell and felt that the Bonners dominated the conversation

“I heard that people said that Bonners were asking all the questions, … and then, (the forum) turned into a mess,” said Dell. While she was clear that she was not able to judge what had happened, not having been there, Dell did express concern that other attendees at the forum may have been rude toward the Bonner scholars, while also noting that no single group should dominate a forum.

Several Bonners also attended the open forums with other vice presidential candidates Linda Strong-Leek, Patrick Sellers and Frank Boyd.

“I went to the first three (forums),” said Mantuano. “I didn’t go to the last one. And the reason is because James spoke to us and … asked us to be more careful in the way we ask questions.

“I know that somebody from higher up (sent James) an email, asking Bonners to be more …  careful or more understanding about the way we were asking questions, so I got a little bit disappointed.”

Rodas Garcia confirmed that Shields had been asked to talk to the Bonner students about the way they were asking questions. Dell said she was not aware of this.

Shields, who also served on the search committee for the vice president of academic affairs, declined to comment for this article, other than to say, “The Bonner Scholars program coordinator is an important position, and I hope it will be filled soon.”

Young was also at all the forums, and students thought that he too had been asked to be more careful with his questions, although Young did not confirm this.

“Bonner has a long and deep history, and it is not for nothing (that) it’s achieved this reputation,” said Young when asked to comment on this story. “That’s why people care so much.”

Regardless of who gets the position of vice president of academic affairs, the Bonner scholars hope that their concerns will be taken seriously, and the program coordinator position will be filled.

“I just think that there are 60 Bonners, there are 100 community scholars and there are countless students who are in classes that … require Bonner to place them in service settings, so they can get hours for their classes,” said Stern. “It’s a really integral part of the academics here.”