President Bruce Shepard responded to a petition created by the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation, a newly formed student activist group, in an email directed at the Associated Students Board of Directors. A copy of the email was also sent to the group.
The petition demands the creation of a College of Power and Liberation, among five other proposed changes. The college would be focused on meeting the demands of marginalized identities through movements for social justice, according to the petition.
The group’s major demands include the allocation of $45,000 each quarter to students and faculty who complete any “decolonial” work, the creation of the Office for Social Transformation, a mandatory online survey for community members to express concerns about discrimination and safety, a multicultural residence hall and compensation for any student who has been harassed or targeted by the university.
The group presented the petition on Friday, Feb. 26, during a press conference, and called for a response from the administration to agree to their demands by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1. More than 390 signatures were collected for the petition online by the time of publication.
Shepard sent the email to the AS board at 5:29 p.m. on March 1, directing them to pursue “whatever involvement you conclude to be appropriate” in response to the demands.
The Student Assembly for Power and Liberation could not be reached for comment.
In his email, Shepard brought attention to the way the petition was written and pointed to the difficulty of responding to the demands.
“The proposal is problematic, initially coming, as it has, to my office. This is because Western works bottom up, not top down. Support, understandings, and alliances must be built working bottom up,” Shepard said in the email. “No president can simply command such developments as those contained in the proposal.”
Shepard also discussed how the proposal was not sent to the appropriate offices to be seriously considered.
“So, a proposal submitted to a president has it backwards. Working bottom up, two groups, the broadly representative University Planning and Resources Council and the Academic Coordinating Commission (including student members), would play central roles,” Shepard said in the email. “AS involvement, as I understand the interface of our governance processes, would be through these bodies.”
University Director of Communications Paul Cocke was contacted for a comment from the Council and Commission, but declined to comment on their behalf. The AS Communications Director Kelly Mason also declined to comment at this time.
Shepard also said the proposal would go against the university’s way of organization and would contradict certain campus policies.
“The proposal would fundamentally contradict our policies, practices, mutually bargained contracts, and federal law and policy on such matters as faculty evaluation and discipline, student conduct and discipline, the investigation of alleged racist behaviors, and the planning of facilities, spaces, and residence halls,” Shepard said in the email. “I further find, in the proposal, language possibly threatening our core commitments to campus-wide inclusivity and, again possibly, to academic freedom.”
The Western Front reached out to Cocke to clarify what language was specifically threatening in the proposal, but did not receive comment by publication.
Shepard explained his purpose of contacting the AS was to bring the petition to their attention, rather than encourage any action to be taken. Shepard also mentioned the University Planning and Resources Council and the Academic Coordinating Commission are responsible for determining if the petition is to be included on the university’s agenda.
“Our first priority, I believe, must be to continue and to sustain our multiple efforts all across campus to address such matters as campus climate, campus safety, critical cultural consciousness, and liberating education,” Shepard wrote in the email. “This, I know, remains a top priority for so many and must innovatively continue.”
Anyone can sign the group’s petition via iPetitions.com, which has resulted in a wide array of responses. Countries where people claim to have signed the petition include the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Serbia, Indonesia, France and New Zealand.
The petition also allows anyone to leave comments online. Thirty four commenters out of 79 at the time of publication claim to live in Bellingham. Other Washington cities where commenters claimed to live include Seattle, Mount Vernon, Tacoma, Kent, Pullman and Marysville.
There will be a special Board of Trustees meeting with the AS Board and Faculty Senate President Molly Ware at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, in Old Main 340. The meeting will be open to the public.