CSG Brief: Final meeting mainly devoted to President Finegold op-ed criticism

CSG Brief: Final meeting mainly devoted to President Finegold op-ed criticism

Alice Crow

The final CSG meeting for the 2021 spring semester was held on April 15 via Zoom. The meeting began with members of the senate presenting a proclamation to Dr. Randi Congelton, Assistant Vice president for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, for her work helping marginalized students during this last year. 

While accepting the award Dr. Congelton said, “The work is not done, nor near done and never done.” She thanked all of the Chatham community members who contributed to improving diversity and inclusion on campus.  

In the advisor report, Chris Purcell, Assistant Dean of Students, and Heather Black, Dean of Students,  congratulated CSG members for their hard work, despite the difficult situations presented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dean Black also made CSG members aware that a recent resignation letter by a former professor at the University had sparked faculty to write an open letter to administration about their concerns regarding equity and inclusion. The resignation letter detailed this former professor’s multiple experiences with racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry while working at Chatham. 

Dean Black noted that what Dr. Congelton was correct when she said the work on this issue wasn’t done. “We need to be taking action,” said Black. She encouraged members to continue to meet in the summer to discuss these issues. 

After individual breakout rooms, where members were able to wrap-up talks on the projects they had worked on during the semester, the senate moved to discuss the op-ed written by Chatham President Dr. David Finegold, which was recently published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

The piece, “Why free college is a bad idea,” had become well known among students in the days leading up to the CSG meeting, and many were concerned that the sentiments expressed by President Finegold did not seem to reflect Chatham’s core values. 

“It was really disheartening to read, coming from a lower-income family. Seeing everything that was said, I don’t really think there is a way for him to reverse anything that was in the article because everything was pretty blatant and straight to the point,” said Hannah Perry ‘23. “And, I know as a community, I feel like we’re all very upset by it.” 

Molly Yowler ‘24 echoed these ideas, saying, “The part about mental health, for me, was the most damaging. As a student who struggles with mental health, to read that services for mental health is what’s potentially preventing free college, I think that’s a really damaging narrative to put out. It is just really damaging to students who struggle with mental illness.” 

CSG members were also concerned that Dr. Finegold seemed to be disconnected from the experiences of the student body, since he stated in the piece that many people attend college for the “nice social environment.” Many students expressed that other factors were predominant reasons as to why they pursue higher education. 

“Maybe Finegold’s watching too many ’80s college movies,” joked Allen Schoyer ‘22.

Other students agreed with these sentiments, expressing that they thought the logic of the opinion piece didn’t seem consistent or was otherwise disingenuous. 

While one student suggested that CSG ask Dr. Finegold to resign, other members seemed more interested in writing an open letter. The letter would highlight student concerns around the ideas in the op-ed and ask Dr. Finegold to participate in more diversity training. 

The following week on April 20, Dr. Finegold sent an email with the subject line, “Apology and Case for a More Equitable Funding System for Higher Ed.” In the email, Dr. Finegold wrote that he regretted that the op-ed had caused distress among Chatham community members. He also invited students to an open forum event where he would answer questions. 

Due to the scheduled open forum event, CSG postponed its open letter and incoming Executive President Ryan Tahbaz ‘23 encouraged students to attend. Students can still register for the open forum with Dr. Finegold on my.chatham. The first forum will be at noon May 5 and the second forum will be at 5:30 p.m. May 6.