By Kristen Griffith, former co-editor-in-chief of The Whetstone, class of 2017
When I attended the 25th anniversary of Wesley College’s women’s soccer team, Oct. 5, all the fun memories of my time as a wolverine came rushing back. Laughing and joking with my teammates made me feel grateful for my four years.
But when I read an Oct. 27 Delaware News Journal article headlined “Wesley president: Financial struggles point to partnership with another school,” I became disappointed and embarrassed in Wesley’s leadership that led to the state it’s in now.
The private institution received more than $3 million of taxpayer money, the article reports, had been placed on a financial monitoring list by the U.S. Department of Education for the second time in three years, could be absorbed by a bigger school, transferred money from renovation projects to operating costs and even discussed taking money from a scholarship fund.
But this wasn’t the first time the administration tried to take away students’ money. A former chief financial officer in 2015 tried to eliminate student fees by weaving them into the general tuition. The policy would have taken away the independence of clubs and organizations on campus. Students would no longer have the freedom to use its budget; instead, the CFO would have control.
When our independence was threatened four years ago, students became angry. Organizations, including the Student Government Association and the Student Activities Board, issued statements about the policy violating the student handbook, its constitutions and bylaws. Professors and student leaders publicly voiced their disagreement and the journalism class at the time was there to record it all.
The Whetstone published the outcry of more than a dozen sources and the CFO’s policy proposal was overturned. It was the first time I witnessed the true power of the student voice and student newspaper. When we speak up, change can happen. But I am worried the students aren’t speaking up anymore.
The Associated Press wrote a summary of the News Journal article and it was published by the Washington Post Oct. 21. I shared the article on social media in hopes to spread awareness to students and alumnae.
“Wesley’s College’s poor financial handling is making national news,” I tweeted the same day, adding emojis with annoyed faces and a link to the Washington Post article.
The following night, Wesley College’s SGA Twitter account responded with insults, calling the reporting I now do for a community paper in Southern Maryland “poor,” denying the facts of the Post’s article and suggested my tweet was not allowing “students to learn in peace.”
What was most disappointing is when the user said “continue the conversation is exactly what we don’t want to do. When you spread over-glorified financial horror stories as an alum that students see, it doesn’t help the already stressful workload of being a college student.”
A student representing Wesley’s SGA suggested ignoring the financial state of Wesley College. This was not the mindset of the SGA and other student leaders when I attended Wesley from 2013 to 2017.
“If you truly cared for the students, this is the exact conversation you should be discussing,” Adrianne Bautista, a former SGA treasurer, said in a Twitter post.
She suggested the user behind the SGA Twitter account should have meetings with the students and press to know their worries and question the college’s leaders about the school’s financial situation.
“Do you realize the school’s situation affects SGA and all the orgs?” she asked. “How will Wesley finance for the orgs? Yes, this [Washington Post] article is worrisome, but doesn’t it make you want to do something?”
Betty Lee, a former SGA president, had some suggestions as well. She described her Wesley experience as “one of the best in my life” and said it makes her sad to think that an institution that gave so many people a chance at a college education could fold.
But Betty also said she’s frustrated. She said students should be involved in the conversation about its financial state. They should see reports, speak to the president and show they have a right to know what’s going on.
“I think the students need to show up,” she said. “Show up for themselves, because without this college they may not get a degree. Show up for each other because it is Wesley that brought us together in the first place. Show up for the fact that this is the oldest private college in Delaware with its own unique and special history. Show up for every person who has made a career there, who uses Wesley for research, feeding their family, who taught all of us how to be better people.”
I agree with Betty. I’m calling out the students to speak up when you disagree with the state of your school, and make sure a Whetstone reporter is there when you do.
I’m calling out the faculty to encourage the conversation. I’m calling out the staff to hold each other accountable.
I’m calling out President Robert E. Clark to take responsibility, and I’m calling out the Board of Trustees to change its leadership to save our school.
“College isn’t forever, but you might as well give a damn while you’re there,” Betty said.
Alumna Kristen Griffith is Education Reporter for The Enterprise, a community newspaper in St. Mary’s County, Md.