Common Hour Clash Over Recent Changes

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As of publication,  Goucher President Kent Devereaux has attended two large informational sessions related to staff layoffs and Gardaworld. First, he attended the weekly GSG meeting November 12, as previously planned. (My previous article, posted online, incorporated information from that meeting, as well as communications with the entire student body up until that point.) He indicated that he would continue to communicate with the student body as we all learn more about the situation. GSG asked Kent to have one of these public forums during the November 20 Common Hour, which Kent requested to do in the Orange Room of Mary Fisher. The conversation focused primarily on Gardaworld and the Administrative Services Review, with layoffs in the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) dominating the session. There was a brief conversation about the Green Fund and campus sustainability, as well.

There are three main interrelated issues at play within this week of tension and uncertainty on campus: Campus Safety, changes to the Student Code of Conduct, and layoffs from the Administrative Services Review. These issues fall into a wider conversation about shared governance that is taking place across campus.

Yuchen Ding ‘22 remarked that the recent GSG ballot contained a referendum about Gardaworld. Ding quoted: “A ‘yes’ vote means you reject the decision to acquire the services of Gardaworld. A ‘no’ vote means you do not reject the decision to acquire the services of Gardaworld.” With a record-breaking 43% voter turnout, 88% of the student body who voted in this election voted ‘yes’ on the referendum.

When asked about the move to a privatized security force on campus, Kent said: “the decision to move to an outsource model for public safety and move it under the VP of Campus Operations long-term is a decision that we’re not gonna go back on. There are so many issues around the way we are currently doing public safety that, quite frankly, are invisible to you all but quite frankly, are an extreme risk to the school. No, I cannot elaborate on confidential issues that really are. We need to make some changes. Suffice it to say we have some really, really stellar people in Public Safety, and we’re hoping that they’re gonna move over to Gardaworld. We have so many other issues that really have to do with consistency in terms of security and in terms of not being respectful to our community. There are people who we just have across the board, across the board, lack of accountability. We have people doing a good job in Public Safety and then it goes both ways, and we have some of our staff and faculty, who are treating officers, who are our employees, in a really disrespectful manner, so it was problematic across the board.” Kent also noted departure of Director of Public Safety Dave Heffer last month let a leadership gap within GCOPS. Kent stated that “we started to explore the outsourcing model, which has pretty much become predominant in higher education” in response to this leadership gap. A student pointed out that several students have called almost 30 peer institutions across the country, and not a single one of them outsources their Public Safety office. It is important to note that the peer institutions are those identified by Goucher itself.

Kent acknowledged that Gardaworld has acquired “sketchy” companies such as Aegis. “The big picture is: over the long term, they are the right company for us.” After looking at three companies and Maryland, Kent noted that “From everything we’ve read since [learning of the issues with Gardaworld subsidiaries, particularly Aegis and being impressed with Gardaworld’s response]…The larger picture is, over the long term, they are the right company with us to be outsourcing. Of all the companies we looked at, and we did three here in Maryland…they [Whelan] were far and away the best, because, number one, we are talking about our policies, they don’t bring in their policies. It’s our policies, our faculty, our staff, our students, define our policies…They then have to implement our policies.” Kent also highlighted major differences between this situation and that of Johns Hopkins’ private police force.

This policy is our campus’s Student Code of Conduct. Part of an ongoing review of the College’s 111 policies broadly overseen by College General Counsel Barbara Stob, this particular policy is being managed by the Associate Dean of Students for Student Support and Success, Nicole Johnson. Kent indicated that there are “no formal policy changes yet. Will reach out to GSG…We define what our student code of conduct will be with student input.” Johnson was not at the GSG meeting or the Common Hour. 

Two finalists for the new Director of Campus Safety position were recently on campus. Students were involved in the interview process for both of them. This position will be employed by Gardaworld.

When asked “Should we be doing this at all?” Kent responded: “We don’t have the capabilities. It was the best things for our students going forward.” Kent also indicated that the annual contract may not be practical in the future, speculating that “we may change our mind in two years.”

As The Baltimore Sun recently reported, there have been 13 staff layoffs as part of the Administrative Services Review. As Kent explained in the Common Hour Q&A on November 20 in the orange room of Mary Fisher, rpk Group made their recommendations relating to the Administrative Services Review, and about half of them were implemented at the College by the President’s Cabinet, which consists of the President, Vice Presidents, and General Counsel of Goucher. Kent indicated that two Trustees were involved in the process; the extent of this involvement remains unclear.

The reason for the confidentiality, Kent has explained at both the November 20 meeting and the November 12 packed GSG meeting in Batza, was to reduce the possibility of internal leaks that would lead to rumors of people being on the chopping block. A main concern with this approach, which has been articulated to value efficiency and accuracy, is that it left everyone in the dark about the changes until they happened. While Kent has been explicit that these staff layoffs are a “one and done” occurrence meant to continue the faculty cuts that took place two years ago, there is a looming feeling of uncertainty and fear on campus right now.

The most well-known staff layoffs that took place last week were in the Academic Center for Excellence. Better known as ACE, the office is considered a warm and trusted space on campus where generations of students have received academic coaching and emotional support. A change.org petition created by Emily Belkowitz ‘21 entitled “Save ACE” has over 1,970 signatures as of publication time. In an update to the petition posted on November 17, Belkowitz writes in part:

“The goal of this petition is to stop the restructuring of ACE. We also demand that Kay Beard and Peejo Sehr are reinstated to the old positions or are given new positions of equal or better value. It is unbelievable that the administration has decided that Kay and Peejo’s jobs are not valuable to the school. We, the students, faculty, staff, family members, and alumni who have signed this petition wholeheartedly disagree with Goucher’s decision to terminate their substantial roles. Kay and Peejo are the heart of Goucher. Goucher’s mission is to promote student’s success, and that cannot be done without Kay Beard and Peejo Sehr.”

Kent has made it clear that ACE will be combining with what will be called the Office of Academic Advising and Support, with one current pre-major advisor training to be a coach, two others focusing on other responsibilities, with one director overseeing the office. “I’m not saying that’s all it’s ever going to be,” noted Kent, indicating that the staff may grow in coming fiscal years. It remains uncertain whether Beard or Sehr have interest in returning to Goucher in the new director position. 

The Quindecim will continue to post updates in these stories as they evolve.

Editor’s note: this article has been lightly revised for precision and clarity.

Neve Levinson is a junior majoring in Spanish and American Studies. They enjoy playing frisbee, reading the news, and learning about peacebuilding processes around the world. As the Editor-in-Chief of The Quindecim, they intend to document and address the many changes taking place on campus. What other pieces of news need to be covered? Want to write about it? (Or just tell them about it?) Email Neve at nelev001@mail.goucher.edu.

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