Silent Protest Ensues After Perceived Threat to Liberal Arts
About 40 University of Mary Washington student demonstrators gathered around the fountain in front of Monroe Hall on Friday, Nov. 16 to voice their support for the liberal arts and to show concern about potential program cuts.
The group walked from the fountain to the faculty and staff entrance of Seacobeck with signs visible to the Board of Visitors members making their way from their morning meeting session to lunch at the dining hall.
The demonstration was a reaction to the emails received last week concerning President Rick Hurley’s announcement of the plan to hire a consulting firm that will review UMW programs.
Before the demonstrators walked to Seacobeck, senior studio art major Mattson Fields climbed onto the fountain’s ledge and made an announcement to the crowd.
“Don’t get in anyone’s face. This is a silent protest,” Fields said.
A main objective was to keep things peaceful. Each student carried a sign to voice different concerns. Some said, “I Support Art,” and “Poetry Matters,” while others read, “No Closed Meetings,” and “Transparency.”
Many students were there to let the administration know how much they value the liberal arts.
Emma Oesteicher, a classics major, said, “We’re protesting because we want people to know what’s going on. We want the administration to know how much we love our school and the academics of liberal arts.”
According to Fields, many students are worried that cuts will affect liberal arts departments, much like the cuts made to Russian language courses in the 1990s at UMW.
As BOV members walked through the swarm of posters and signs, both Hurley and Pamela White, rector of the BOV, stopped to talk with individual protestors.
“I’m glad you all take a strong stance to tell me what you think,” Hurley said. He assured students that they have nothing to worry about, as no decisions have been made.
“This is just a study, and there’s a lot of data crunching and consulting,” said Hurley.
Senior geography major Emily Montgomery attended the protest and was pleased with the turnout of students.
“The BOV needs to understand that students will no longer tolerate the direction in which our school is currently heading, and I believe that the protest was a good way of showing them what we cared about,” said Montgomery. “While I appreciated the attention that President Hurley and members of the BOV gave us during the protest I am still not fully convinced that our concerns will be completely addressed, considering that many of these problems have persisted for a long time.”
Some students were there to protest the lack of information being given to students and faculty concerning how much the consulting group will impact academics and student life at UMW.
Hurley announced that all BOV meetings are open. The meeting agenda and minutes are required by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to be accessible to the public.
Doug Searcy, the vice president of student affairs, said the limited number of closed meetings are, “required by state law to stay private.”
“I thank you for being here and for understanding how important it is to work with the Board of Visitors to make sure that we continue to be the best that we can be as a public liberal arts and sciences educational institution,” said White. “We’re not going away.”