An account of Student Senate’s Dec. 5 meeting: Armstrong and McBroom brief students on faculty council’s investigation into academic freedom

The Critical Thinking College sign and snowy tree. Photo by Christina Kirk.

On Dec. 5, Gary Armstrong, interim vice president of academic affairs, and Leesa McBroom, chair of faculty council and professor and chair of nursing, met with Student Senate and The Hilltop Monitor to brief students on faculty council’s executive summary of the report on claims made by students and faculty of the Slavery, Memory Justice Project (SMJP) that the William Jewell College administration had undermined students’ and faculty’s academic freedom.  Armstrong also provided a copy of faculty council’s recommendations for strengthening academic freedom at William Jewell College, as stated in the executive summary of its report.

The SMJP is a group of students, alumni and faculty which has conducted extensive research since Aug. 2020 on the history of slavery’s influence on the College. The SMJP claimed that their ability to present their scholarship to the Jewell community was undermined by interference from the administration. The SMJP also claimed that the College showed preferential treatment in terms of access to archival materials to its own investigative council: the Racial Reconciliation Commission (RRC); the RRC had unlimited access to materials that the SMJP had limited access to. The RRC was established in April 2021 by Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, president of the College. Its purpose is to “[find] and [express] both an historical and moral truth about the racial history of William Jewell College spanning the years of our founding until today.”

After providing a copy of the recommendations, Armstrong addressed questions from members of Student Senate and The Hilltop Monitor pertaining to the recommendations. Armstrong also discussed some of the historical background that led to the resolution to investigate claims of academic freedom violations. 

Secondly, Amstrong also stated that, apart from faculty council’s recommendations, students would not receive any other aspects of faculty council’s executive summary on the report of academic freedom. Armstrong’s explanation for this decision centered on confidentiality, personnel privacy, and the importance of second chances for parties interviewed in the investigative process.

Thirdly, Armstrong responded to claims made in a letter written by Christopher Wilkins, associate professor of history and faculty advisor for the SMJP, concerning the lack of findings on violations of student academic freedom within the report. Afterwards, McBroom explained why faculty council chose to make findings on particular student issues, and not others.

The meeting will be discussed through these three sections. Readers may follow along on the full transcript of the meeting, which can be found here. The transcript, like the article, is divided into sections for ease of access.

The members of the Student Senate meeting generally have a good understanding of the history of the controversy. As a result, the questions asked by students present and Armstrong’s and McBroom’s responses assume a certain degree of knowledge about the matter at hand. Since it is not the case that these facts have been presented in a comprehensive manner to the student body, the article will first give a history of the events leading up to the resolution prompting faculty council’s investigation and the actors involved. Clarification of necessary historical background will take place in the first section of this article; the next three sections will deal with the proceeding of the meeting as previously articulated. In total, this article will have four sections.

I. The events leading up to faculty council’s resolution

On Apr. 4, 2022, Wilkins presented a lecture to Jewell faculty in which he expressed reservations about the RRC’s report and discussed violations of the SMJP’s academic freedom. This report – which was released in January of 2022 – provided the RRC’s “initial research regarding the slaveholding of the College’s founders and the influence of those founders on the early decades of the College.” The report was compiled by the RRC’s lead researcher, Andrew Pratt, dean emeritus of the chapel, using resources from the William Jewell College Archives and Partee Center, the Missouri State Archives, and research conducted by other members of the RRC and research done by Hayley Michael for the SMJP. Michael – now a Jewell history and political science alumna –  is a member of the SMJP and a former member of the RRC between Apr. and Feb. of 2022. Michael resigned from the RRC because of her reservations regarding the findings of the RRC’s report.

In his lecture, Wilkins praised the work of SMJP students, who had gathered more than 5,000 historical sources illuminating slavery’s influence on Jewell’s history. Wilkins also criticized the approach that the RRC had taken in studying connections between slavery and Jewell’s history, including its failure to to focus on the lived experience of enslaved people and the administration’s lack of engagement with SMJP students’ work.

On Apr. 22, 2022, in another lecture, Wilkins elaborated on the claims he made to faculty on Apr. 4. Wilkins claimed the following:

First, the administration inaccurately implied that the research done by Jewell students, alumni, and Wilkins on the College’s pro-slavery past was done in collaboration with the RRC and administration. In the College’s initial public relations statement regarding the RRC, Wilkins was listed as a special advisor to the group and his name was used without permission in the College’s announcement video for the RRC. In fact, Wilkins had declined to be a part of the RRC. 

Second, Wilkins elaborated on his earlier point on Apr. 4 concerning the lack of adequate engagement with student voices and student research in the RRC’s report. The RRC’s report makes no mention of research completed by SMJP students as members of the SMJP. The RRC report cites research compiled by Michael, but does not indicate that this research was done as part of the SMJP project, long before the RRC’s report was compiled. Furthermore, the RRC’s report did not cite research completed by the student archivist during the summer of 2021 on census data hosted on the Missouri State Archives website.

Though Wilkins did not directly mention this in his lecture at the Colloquium, he invited the audience to ask SMJP student researchers about their experiences serving on the RRC. Specifically, he indicated that the way in which the RRC repeatedly undermined student voices was enumerated in Michael’s letter of resignation from the RRC. The content of this letter would later serve as some of the basis for Wilkins’ claims that culminated in the resolution petitioning faculty council to investigate concerns about academic freedom violations. Because this was discussed in the Student Senate meeting, a fuller account of this letter will be given in the relevant section of this article. 

Third, Wilkins drew attention to an e-mail sent by Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, president of the College, on Aug. 30, 2021; Wilkins discussed this e-mail on Apr. 22 of 2022 during the Duke Undergraduate Colloquium. This e-mail was sent to all faculty and staff – but not students – after the Kansas City Star published an article focusing on the SMJP students’ research. The e-mail stated that “until we are clear on what is true regarding Jewell’s founding, we cannot make decisions on how we should live, or move forward,  as a twenty-first century institution of higher learning. Perhaps more importantly, it is the sole responsibility of the [Racial Reconciliation] Commission to determine what is true [about the college’s founding]…”

The e-mail made no mention of the SMJP or of their contributions to researching the history of the College and its ties to slavery. Wilkins claimed that MacLeod Walls’ e-mail, in asserting that the RRC had the sole responsibility to determine what is true about the founding of the College, amounted to the claim that “only the college administration has the authority to say what is true about its history” – not the students, nor any alumni or faculty associated with the SMJP. 

Fourthly, Wilkins claimed that repeated efforts, dating back to Sept. of 2020, to make contact with the administration and the lead researcher of the RRC in order “to try to get them to empower the students and listen to the students and me when we explain what national best practices would require to study Jewell’s pro-slavery past well” amounted to nothing.

For example, SMJP students suggested dedicating a room in Jewell Hall to the history of the College and its ties to slavery – this idea was rejected by the College on the basis that it did not constitute an “organic” move towards change. Further, Wilkins’ petition to have a faculty forum for the purposes of educating faculty on the history of slavery at the College was denied on the grounds that this move would be “discourteous to the administration.” It was Pharamond Guice, then chair of the staff council, who invited Wilkins to speak to staff on these issues.

Finally, Wilkins also claimed that students were barred from access to key resources found in the William Jewell College Archives at a time when Pratt had 24/7 access to the archives, given that he had a key to the archives. In other words, the College showed preferential treatment to its own investigative commission in terms of access to key archival resources. 

In May of 2022, on the basis of claims made by Wilkins and SMJP students, a resolution was unanimously approved by the Jewell faculty tasking faculty council to ‘investigate and report on claims that academic freedom has been threatened or undermined at Jewell.’ That investigation began in June and concluded last month. Its findings, to the extent that students have been able to learn about them, were the subject of the Student Senate meeting, and will be brought up in the relevant section.

II. The executive summary of  faculty council’s report on the question of academic freedom: A brief history and recommendations 

With these historical preliminaries aside, the article will discuss the Student Senate meeting. Readers following along on the transcript should note that this section corresponds to section 1 of the transcript.

Armstrong stated that “faculty voted on a resolution which [he] had offered… to ask faculty council to investigate the claims about whether academic freedom had been threatened or undermined.”

Once the resolution had been adopted, faculty council began a “long investigative process” which McBroom took part in. McBroom, along with other faculty, was “elected by the faculty and entrusted by the faculty” to undertake this investigative process.

After collecting evidence by interviewing relevant individuals, asking questions of the College archives and reviewing the Faculty Handbook and the Student Handbook, faculty council compiled their findings in a report. The full report was issued to administrative Cabinet members, faculty council, the Board of Trustees, the associate dean of the core curriculum and academic department chairs. An executive summary of this report was issued to all faculty. However, no faculty members other than department chairs will be allowed to see the full report. 

According to Armstrong, “faculty council had three principal findings. First, while academic freedom had not been threatened… it had been undermined. Secondly, although there have been claims that professor Wilkins and [SMJP] students had been denied fair access to the college archives, [faculty council] found those claims were not persuasive. They didn’t rise to the level of being an academic freedom violation.” Thirdly, “[faculty council] also found that although there had been claims that students had been denied their right to present their findings or research – to have a voice – they found that those were not persuasive either.” 

Armstrong presented students with faculty council’s 25 recommendations. The document containing these recommendations can be accessed here. The Hilltop Monitor has also transcribed the recommendations. They are as follows:

Policy Changes 

  1. Academic Freedom Policy
    • Examine handbook language to ensure consistency and adequate protection of academic freedom. 
    • Specifically address academic freedom issues around intramural speech and protect the right to criticize college policy and administrative decisions. 
    • Require annual training for the Board of Trustees (BOT), Administration and Faculty on Academic Freedom.
    • Review the student academic freedom policy.
    • Appoint an academic freedom policy task force to review these recommendations. 
  2. Archive Policy 
    • The policy on access and storage of old trustee minutes should be written.
    • Commit to preserving the archives, following best practices, improving the environment/storage, and providing the resources to do so. 
    • Policy on archive access should be codified. 
    • Clarify role of retirees, key return, building access, and oversight of and input on policy. 
  3. Write a policy for the Faculty Handbook or Policy Library about media inquiries and faculty.

Racial Reconciliation Commission 

  1. Continue the scholarly work of uncovering the history of the College’s earliest decades, but with a renewed energy of cooperation among all competing narratives. 
  2. Acknowledge that the previous histories left out the truth. 
  3. Tell the history unimpeded by spinning a more “acceptable” story.
  4. Inform the College community of the RRC’s mandate, goals, and alignment with strategic plan. 
  5. Share recommendations, engage the community, and share next steps. 
  6. Adopt a transparent process by providing regular communication on outcomes and shortening the timeline on action items. 
  7. Remove the announcement video and webpage information that implies Dr. Wilkins is a member of RRC.

Shared Governance 

  1. Issue a statement of support from Administration and BOT defending faculty rights to full academic freedom and commitment to shared governance. 
  2. Specify that the VPAA leads in the defense of academic freedom for the faculty. 
  3. Appoint two faculty to the full BOT for a two-year term and a maximum of two consecutive terms for consistent faculty representation concurrent with the Faculty Council subcommittee appointments. 
  4. Improve consistent membership of Faculty Council members on subcommittees. 
  5. Appoint a faculty cabinet from the chairs of the big four committee (or their designee) to provide an avenue to improve communication, trust, and shared governance. 
  6. The VPAA should vet any changes to the Faculty Handbook after first consulting with Faculty Council.
  7. Faculty Council should conduct a regular evaluation of the President and VPAA, reporting the results to the faculty. 

Culture and Communication

  1. Foster a culture of trust and openness. 
  2. Acknowledge the culture of fear and take steps to acknowledge and adopt meaningful change to eliminate or mitigate fear. 
  3. Seek to listen to diverse viewpoints and find compromise instead of attempting to control. 
  4. Set collaboration as a priority at all levels, and include all relevant audiences. 
  5. When intentions or goals are not clear, gather all pertinent members face-to-face to discuss goals, priorities, and intentions to avoid miscommunication. 
  6. Allow multiple voices into formal communication efforts to incorporate diverse perspectives and check tone and alignment. 
  7. Check communication efforts to make sure they are forward-looking and not simply reactionary. 
  8. Develop a culture taskforce (made up of administration, faculty, and staff) to assess current cultural norms and find effective ways forward to mitigate some of the cultural characteristics and miscommunication that led to this situation.

Armstrong stated that the administration is committed to enacting faculty council’s recommendations. This commitment was expressed in a joint e-mail from MacLeod Walls and Armstrong to the faculty on Nov. 19, the day after faculty council’s executive summary of the report was released to all faculty. 

Armstrong noted that the timeline in terms of the adoption of these recommendations is difficult to pin down. Some of the recommendations, such as the recommendation to review the Faculty Handbook, require the approval of the Board of Trustees. Further, proposing major changes to the Student Handbook with respect to academic freedom requires that the Board be informed such that they can make comments and questions.

III: On the confidentiality of the executive summary of faculty council’s report

Armstrong then gave an account of why the executive summary of faculty council’s report is confidential. Interested readers will want to refer to section two of the transcript. 

Armstrong stated that it is the College’s policy to “maintain confidentiality about investigative processes which can involve alleged misconduct.” To illustrate this, Armstrong gave three examples. 

1. “Professor McBroom and I know faculty that have been fired because they have sex with students. We don’t know that officially because unless you’re directly involved with the case, we never say that publicly. That’s in part to guard the rightful privacy of the student who is involved, but that is also – in cases where everyone is confident that there is not serial abuse – you give the faculty a chance to get another job. So it’s in part about privacy, second chances.”

2. “I served on the Greek judicial council. Now, the Greek judicial council does not deal with individual Greeks; it deals with sanctions on Greek organizations as a whole. Some of them have gotten into enormous trouble and faced serious sanctions imposed by a group who are majority students with some faculty – and I bet you don’t know. Well, why don’t we tell you? It’s in part we’re saying to those organizations, get your act together. And we’re going to give you a chance to recruit good new members to help you keep your act together rather than publicly – but if you don’t get your act together, then that can come out.”

3. “I imagine this year we’re going to have 35 academic honor code violations. I will always think the College should – and we always do – we report to faculty and I hope the Hilltop Monitor will always run an article on the numbers: how many cases, how many were convicted, how many were acquitted, describe the sanctions. But we can’t tell you the individuals and that’s in part because, we’ve always said that part of our educational process –  even in that process – is educational and to give the person another chance. So that’s elements of rightful confidentiality in my view.”

Students were confused about the examples presented. While clearly there was some similarity in terms of confidentiality for the sake of maintaining personnel or student privacy in both the academic freedom investigation and in the three examples, the nature of these examples seemed different than the investigation undertaken by faculty council. As The Hilltop Monitor’s reporter noted, the examples dealt with criminal investigations or investigations into misconduct, whereas the issue at hand was a “determination on student rights to academic freedom.” The Hilltop Monitor reporter argued that it was important for students to see the “deliberation that faculty council underwent in order to have an understanding of how… admin and… faculty understand students’ rights.”

In response, Armstrong emphasized that confidentiality was maintained because of personnel privacy. As Armstrong stated that behind some of the evidence “are actual college personnel and officers. And… faculty council made the decision… that the really important thing here is to figure out what happened and what to do about it… not to adjudicate personal accountability and responsibility.” Therefore, “[the College] cannot give an account of the structure of the deliberation beyond what’s in the executive summary… [In the report, faculty council] give a definition of what they mean by threaten and undermine; they gave a list of the people that they interviewed; and some evidence that they looked at… Beyond that, that is cloaked behind confidentiality.”

The Hilltop Monitor’s reporter asked whether the principles that faculty council used in their deliberation about academic freedom could be released. The Hilltop Monitor’s reporter was specifically interested in getting the definition of undermine or threaten as used in the report.

Armstrong responded that “[the student body] will not be given the exact principles [used by faculty council].”

Following up on this line of questioning, Ethan Naber, Student Senate’s commissioner for student involvement, asked why “no steps [like redacting names of personnel where appropriate] can be taken to make information available to students.” 

Armstrong responded that he had already given three examples as to why this would not suffice to safeguard confidentiality. However, he stated that he was “very happy to ask the president” for permission to summarize the arguments he had presented thus far. 

IV. Dr. Wilkins’ allegations in his letter to faculty and administration

Benjamin Wardlow, president of Student Senate, asked Armstrong and McBroom to respond to allegations discussed in a letter Wilkins sent to faculty and administration on Dec. 4, following the release of the executive summary. The Hilltop Monitor obtained a copy of Wilkins’ letter. Interested readers will want to refer to section three and four of the transcript.

The central claim made by Wilkins was that faculty council’s findings – as reported in the executive summary – presented “a flawed, incomplete narrative that effaces students’ central role” in the ongoing controversy concerning academic freedom. Specifically, faculty council failed to make findings on two of three claims that Wilkins made with respect to student academic freedom, and Wilkins argued that its finding on his third claim was flawed.

What were Wilkins’ three claims?

1. The administration threatened or undermined student academic freedom by “hindering students’ access to historical sources and giving College officials preferential access to those sources.”

2. The administration threatened or undermined student academic freedom “by attempting to exert control over the dissemination of students’ research into the College’s relation to slavery.”

3. The administration threatened or undermined student academic freedom by “hindering their ability to have their scholarship judged fairly by the College community.”

With respect to the first claim, Armstrong stated that faculty council’s report “concluded that professor Wilkins did have access to the archives but at a different timeline as the result of what was going on inside the archives – it was not a process of deliberate, intentional denial of archive access.”

Furthermore, Armstrong drew a distinction between violations of academic freedom and violations of the spirit of free inquiry. Armstrong argued that barring someone “access to archival materials is not itself an academic freedom issue.” To explain why, Armstrong gave three examples:

1. “If I want the minutes of crucial Chinese leadership meetings over what to do at Shanghai, and they refuse to give it to me, my academic freedom has not been violated.”

2. “If I want what I think are super secret memos in the Vatican about the role of the Pope in World War II, and I want those memos and the Vatican says no, my academic freedom has not been violated.”

3. “If I believe there are really important memos in the George Bush library about torture and I know where they are and they won’t give them, my academic freedom has not been violated.”

Students were confused about the applicability of these examples to the current matter. The Hilltop Monitor reporter noted that the issue at hand was one wherein a faculty member had requested access to archival resources. It was unclear just how petitioning a foreign government could be similar to this case, particularly when the policy of the College archives has generally been that “so long as it’s a member of the Jewell community [petitioning for access to archival resources], [archives staff] have to give reasons for not giving access.” And although the College granted Wilkins and the SMJP students access to archival resources, the SMJP claimed that the RRC’s lead researcher was given “preferential treatment” to archives resources. Specifically, in June 2021, the SMJP had first requested information about Board of Trustee minutes, but never received information from the archives staff regarding them, and only learned of their existence after the publication of the RRC’s slavery report in Jan. of 2022.

In response, Armstrong emphasized that the point of his examples “is that refusing to grant access to information is not itself a violation of academic freedom.” Further, with respect to the claim about preferential treatment of the RRC’s lead researcher, Armstrong stated that “he had different access at a different time, but Professor Wilkins was given the same access.” Armstrong also added that “the second thing that’s important… is that the early Board of Trustees minutes were not in the archives. They were in the executive office.”

A brief discussion on the resources in contention is merited. Apart from a general claim made by SMJP students that they were barred access to the archives for a variety of reasons such as the disorganization of the archives itself and the presence of black mold, there is also a specific claim made with respect to certain key archives resources. These are the mid 19th century minutes of the Board of Trustees and certain early development financial papers. The minutes of the Board of Trustees are not stored in the archives; these are stored in the president’s office. The early development papers are stored in the archives. 

The claims made by Wilkins with respect to the early development papers and the Board of Trustee minutes are as follows:

1. During the summer of 2021, Wilkins petitioned the College archives for access to their resources in order to conduct research concerning the history of the College and its ties to slavery. This petition made it known to archives staff that Wilkins was looking for documents which might aid his research. Given the disorganization of the archives at the time, effective research required that archives staff stay on the lookout for resources that might help the patron, as the patron themself could not reference a comprehensive inventory, nor wander archives circulation, as the archives is closed circulation. That archives staff did not inform Wilkins or the SMJP students about the RRC’s lead researcher finding the Board of Trustee minutes in the President’s Office, then, constitutes preferential treatment of the RRC in terms of access to resources, where access to these resources is crucial for academic freedom insofar as this involves pursuing controversial issues freely. Wilkins and the SMJP students found out about the existence of the Board of Trustee minutes only when the RRC’s report was published. Previously, the Board of Trustee minutes in question had been lost and were found in the President’s Office.

2. In April 2022, when Wilkins requested to see the mid 19th century Board of Trustee minutes kept for safekeeping in the Office of the President, adding that he wished to include SMJP students in these research appointments, he received a response from the administration that, in order to see these minutes, he and his students would have to petition the Board of Trustees directly. Later, this was revised to say that President MacLeod Walls, who is “ultimately responsible” for the minutes, could approve access to the minutes—which she did. In his open letter to faculty, Wilkins pointed out that he had first asked to see the trustee minutes in June 2021, and that between that time and January 2022, when the existence of those sources became public knowledge, only the RRC’s lead researcher had been able to conduct research in the sources.

3. Furthermore, when Wilkins and the SMJP students were granted access to these resources, they were informed that no scans or photographs could be taken of these minutes, nor of the early development financial papers stored in the archives, as both of these contain proprietary and confidential information. Wilkins and his students were invited to take handwritten or typed notes on the documents. However, this again showed that the College had given preferential treatment to the RRC’s lead researcher – Pratt had received scans of almost all the early development papers stored in the archives. These scans were made by the student archivist during the summer of 2021.

4. By unduly obstructing the SMJP’s access to resources, the College’s actions undermined the epistemic authority of the SMJP. While the lead researcher of the RRC had reproductions which he could easily reproduce, the SMJP researchers had to rely on handwritten or typed notes which are subject to mistakes and to further questioning by members of the public. These obstacles in terms of access made it so that the SMJP was in a worse position in terms of doing sustained academic research into the history of the College – these concerns seemed to Wilkins to fall right under the purview of academic freedom violations.

In response, Armstrong reasserted that SMJP students were granted access to resources, just on a different timeline. He also restated his strong belief that a denial of access is not an academic freedom violation.

Armstrong then addressed Wilkins’ second claim by drawing a distinction between controlling and influencing. Armstrong argues that Wilkins’ claims that the administration went astray insofar as they attempted to influence the students, and that this struck him as “different than… control.” “If the president says, ‘We are worried about the timing of… [the] dissemination of findings and building coalitions and support for the unity of change.’ She has just said, ‘We are worried.’ She did not say, ‘You may not do that.’ So she’s trying to influence, but that’s not the same thing as control.”

These comments were in reference to claims that, upon hearing that The Hilltop Monitor planned to release several articles about the SMJP and their research, the administration contacted The Hilltop Monitor to ask that the publication of these articles be delayed. Despite the administration’s attempt to influence the publication time, The Hilltop Monitor published their articles in April and May (the relevant articles can be accessed here, starting with an article published in Apr. 16, 2021). 

Finally, Armstrong addressed Wilkins’ third claim. Armstrong does not believe that the actions of the administration undermined students’ freedom to have their scholarship judged fairly by the College community. For the same reasons he discussed earlier in the meeting: namely, students were able to present their research at various forums and on The Hilltop Monitor. 

However, Wilkins’ claims say a bit more. Wilkins argues that communication on the part of the administration – both to specific students and to the Jewell community – undermined Jewell’s standing as a marketplace of ideas, where competing truths can be discussed and tested. This is because the communication on the part of administration, which has a great degree of authority and influence when it comes to addressing both the Jewell community and the broader Kansas City community, placed the RRC at the center of the investigative enterprise while ignoring or minimizing the SMJP’s ongoing contributions to research into the history of the College. 

There are at least three instances that may support such a claim:

1. The first is one that has already been mentioned; namely, MacLeod Walls’ email in August of 2021 that stated that the RRC had the ‘sole responsibility’ to determine what is true in terms of the history of the College.

2. The second has to do with statements made by the administration with respect to Michael’s letter of resignation from the RRC. As a reminder, Michael was a history and political science major who was a founding member of the SMJP in August 2020; she is now a Jewell alumna. Michael agreed to be a member of the RRC in Apr. of 2021. In Feb. of 2022, she resigned from the RRC for a variety of reasons. One of these is that she did not feel that her concerns as a student researcher were adequately heard during the RRC’s meetings. Michael criticized the RRC’s report for including “various historical inaccuracies about the founders’ ties to slavery,” including exaggerating the anti-slavery actions of William Jewell, founder of the College. When Michael disputed this portrayal of Jewell’s actions using SMJP member Christian Santiago’s research on Jewell, she was told: “No, you’re wrong.”

Michael presented the reasons for her resignation to Rodney Smith, vice president for access and engagement and commission chair. In a letter to the SMJP sent in July 2022, Michael states that in a May 2022 faculty forum, MacLeod Walls implied that “that Dr. Wilkins manipulated me into resigning because he was angry the administration refused his demands. She portrayed me as a weak-willed individual in front of 40+ faculty and the entire college cabinet, completely ignoring that I had resigned for principled moral and intellectual reasons.”

3. Michael claimed that comments by Smith also misrepresented her to the Jewell community.

Armstrong addressed each of these claims. In terms of the first, Armstrong stated that “what [MacLeod Walls] says in that e-mail is that the RRC will have the sole authority to decide what is true and what we are going to do about it.The faculty all heard the first part of the e-mail.” But what MacLeod Walls really meant was “the ‘and’ in the second part.” Further, Armstrong thinks that MacLeod Walls likely regrets that e-mail, given that there is a general understanding on the part of the faculty that “the institutional office of the College does not have a right to decide what is true. [However,] it does have the right to figure out what [the community is] going to do about it.”

Particularly with respect to the third claim, Armstrong stated that “Dr. Smith… would say that… those statements were inartful… [that he] did not mean to indicate the College or the RRC is going to control who receives what of the SMJP’s students’ research.” Armstrong also added that Smith had already clarified his statements in several meetings. 

The Hilltop Monitor reporter asked in what meetings, and to whom, Smith had clarified that his statements were ‘inartful.’ The Hilltop Monitor reporter argued that the issue is that no students had been present in these meetings, which did not ameliorate the “institutional break-down of trust between the admin and the students.”

Armstrong emphasized that The Hilltop Monitor should interview Smith and MacLeod Walls on their statements made with respect to Michael and with respect to the RRC being solely responsible for inquiry into the truth of the history of the College. Armstrong argued that: “It’s time for some interviews, instead of writing more editorials.” Armstrong’s comments are in reference to an editorial arguing that the College should uphold its commitments to student academic freedom, as articulated in the Student Handbook, and disseminate an appropriately redacted version of the executive summary of faculty council’s report.

Wardlow then turned to McBroom. Specifically, Wardlow wanted to understand why faculty council reached a finding on Wilkins’ third claim, and not his first and second claim. In terms of the third claim: faculty council had found that students’ academic freedom was not threatened or undermined insofar as students were able to present at Colloquium and publish articles on the Hilltop Monitor.

McBroom stated that faculty council’s investigative scope was limited to concerns about faculty academic freedom, given its charter. Faculty council did make a finding on Wilkins’ third claim because it pertained to concerns of faculty academic freedom. Faculty council’s claims were also set in relation to Wilkins claims. This also accounts for why faculty council made findings with respect to certain issues, and not others.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Matthew Parker, Student Senate’s commissioner for students’ charter of rights and responsibilities, asked whether there “is…some council or commission whose job it is to address matters of student academic freedom, specifically as regards students rather than as regards faculty.”

McBroom recommended that students “read the student handbook first” to see what “processes or procedures” may be in place. McBroom also recommended that students work with Ernie Stufflebean, dean of students, to “move [things] forward.”  

Armstrong added that he thought it was “totally reasonable for Student Senate to send a letter to the administration” asking for assurances that credible allegations concerning student academic freedom violation would be addressed.  After the meeting with Armstrong and McBroom ended, the cabinet members of Student Senate – along with Stufflebean – discussed gathering evidence from students and alumni affiliated with the SMJP in order to continue the discussion on academic freedom. The Hilltop Monitor will continue to report on the story as it develops, and relevant members of administration will be contacted to give them an opportunity to respond to claims that surfaced in this meeting. 

Agatha Echenique

Agatha Echenique is the Chief Editor for The Hilltop Monitor. He is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and Philosophy. This is his third year on staff.

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