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Last updateFri, 19 Jun 2020 7pm

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Student Leaders write to President Leahy administration and the Board of Trustees

JUNE 19, 2020

DEAR PRESIDENT LEAHY AND MEMBERS OF THE MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES,

In light of the recent renaming of Wilson Hall and establishment of the Diversity Initiatives Fund, we seek to address the University’s practices that have been discriminatory towards students of color, particularly those who are low-income. While this long overdue action is a positive step in the right direction, the environment and institutional structure perpetuated by Monmouth and its administration remains extremely hostile towards students of color, in particular Black students. We acknowledge the significance of this symbolic gesture, but it is not enough to redress these systemic issues. Monmouth has a continued pattern, as we have evidenced below, of showing the University's complete disregard for the wellbeing and prosperity of its students of color and overall low-income student population. In particular, President Leahy, your public proclamations and support of low-income students/Federal Pell Grant Recipients are in complete contrast with the actions and measures you take in private. Moreover, members of the Monmouth community continue to freely make racially charged statements that are both harmful and disheartening towards students of color.

 

June 2020

  • 6/19/2020:
    • President Leahy announces Woodrow Wilson Hall will be renamed “Great Hall.” This decision comes after suggestions from the organized student group Students for Systemic Change (SSC) to rename Wilson in honor of Julian Abele, one of the first black architects in the U.S., who designed the interior of the building, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who delivered a speech in Monmouth’s  Boylan Gymnasium on October 6, 1966.
    • Additionally, Leahy announces the establishment of the Diversity Initiatives Fund, a permanent endowment to support the University’s diversity initiatives, dedicating $3 million in inaugural funds. As student leaders well versed in official university operations, we understand that this fund will only utilize approximately $150,000 in interest collected from the endowed fund. However, for other students and most of their families, they might assume the University is actually dispensing $3 million.
  • 6/2/2020:
    • A search was put out to hire an Interim Vice Provost for Academic Affairs; the former position held by the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs was eliminated by President Leahy’s administration. Back in April, Leahy told NJdotcom that the University would be implementing an immediate hiring freeze “on all open and new academic and non-academic positions with the exception of posts that have ongoing searches.”
    • The Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) currently only has one full-time counselor, a part time counselor and program Director set to serve a caseload of over 150 students. Typically, EOF has at least three to four full-time counselors. Leahy’s administration has chosen to prioritize the hiring of an Interim Vice Provost, a position which does not directly interact with students, over a single EOF counselor to assist the badly understaffed and overwhelmed program which serves vulnerable low-income students, or a single person to staff the similarly situated Intercultural Center.
  • 6/1/2020:
    • President Leahy sends out a mass email to students and employees following the brutal televised murder of George Floyd, and similar acts of violence against the Black community which led to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the racial harassment of Christian Cooper.
    • In this email Leahy commends the work done by Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft, Director of the Intercultural Center. Dr. Z has done impeccable work in her first year at Monmouth and provides a welcoming space for students of all backgrounds.
    • Currently, Dr.Z’s Intercultural Center (IC) is staffed with one person, herself. The space Monmouth designated for the IC itself, can only hold a maximum of fifteen students, while the IC serves over 1,000 racially and ethnically diverse students in addition to members of other marginalized communities.
  • 6/9/2020:
    • A picture surfaces on Instagram of two Monmouth students holding a grossly derogatory poster which states “BDAY BASH PONG, Trump 2020” on the bottom of the poster it states “#BLM #NotheyDont.”

MAY 2020

  • 5/23/2020:
    • Monmouth University receives nearly $5 million dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act. Of this money, Monmouth was required to disburse at minimum, $2.5 million directly to students through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).
  • 5/26/2020:
    • The University’s CARES Act Grant Team sends emails to students notifying them that are eligible to CARES Aid, because in addition to other requirements they demonstrate unmet financial need.
    • Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Education’s allocation of HEERF aid to Monmouth was 75 percent based on the University’s share of full-time equivalent Pell Grant Recipients, Pell status is not an eligibility requirement used by Monmouth in its disbursement process—unlike other New Jersey colleges who chose to use Pell Status as an eligibility criteria.
    • 276 of Monmouth’s low-income Pell eligible students were initially denied CARES aid from HEERF, because their families don’t make enough to afford the cost of Monmouth, allowing them to receive substantial need-based financial aid and present no unmet financial need.
    • Due to efforts made by the Monmouth Pell Recipients for CARES Aid (MPRCA) a group of concerned students and alumni, Monmouth amended their eligibility criteria to allow all undergraduate Pell Recipients and Pell eligible graduate students to get CARES aid.
    • Leahy later tells the MPRCA team that Pell students not being covered was an accident caused by his lack of oversight of the CARES Act Grant team. Prior to these eligibility amendments, Paul Dement corresponded with several students explaining why the University chose not to allocate them CARES Aid.
  • 5/31/2020:
    • Two Monmouth students are reported to Nina Anderson, Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, for making hostile and racially charged comments regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. Both of these students were reprimanded by their classmates on social media and in a group chat. During that conversation one of the students refers to Black protestors as “animals” and “savages.” As the conversation escalated, the two students continued making racist remarks, even advocating for running over and killing protestors.
    • A 2016 iMessage screenshot of a different Monmouth student stating in a group chat that “Blacks are white people who were burnt in hell” resurfaces and is circulated all over social media.
    • Leahy responds the following day acknowledging the two abovementioned incidents stating that “Hate has no place here at Monmouth, and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.” Two weeks later Leahy sent another mass email to the Monmouth community stating details of the investigation process of these incidents. Leahy’s second mass email outlining the investigation process, was sent after conversations he had with the organized student group, Students for Systemic Change (SSC). In this conversation, SCC presented a nine-page research report of student-based, academic and financial related initiatives for the University to implement much needed change.

EARLY APRIL 2020

  • Back in April, the University took special care to publicize the coronavirus emergency aid that had been pulled together from University donors for the President’s Relief Fund (PRF). The PRF was created in order to help students facing hardships related to disruption of campus learning. When EOF students identified themselves as such in their PRF application, they were denied emergency relief due to their “personal financial aid package.” This package refers to the need-based financial aid EOF students receive, which was disbursed in January prior to the global pandemic and only used to cover their cost of attendance at Monmouth (tuition, room and board, fees, etc.)
  • The MPRCA team sent out a survey to all EOF students enrolled during the spring 2020 term to collect data on the disbursement of the PRF. 74 students responded to the survey and  24  indicated they were EOF in their applications, all 24 were denied aid through the PRF. Few of these students appealed this decision and were successful, but others remained without emergency relief aid from the PRF.

JANUARY 2020

  • 1/8/2020:
    • Strategic Planning Steering Committee meeting occurs where President Leahy suggests Monmouth take some funding from the scholarships that Pell Grant eligible students receive and use it to recruit students from more affluent backgrounds…because poor students tend to do worse academically because of lack of resources, quality education, etc. However, EOF students are among the most successful demographic of students on campus. Monmouth figures show that for the past four years, they are the only demographic with a 100% retention rate. This demonstrates that not only are EOF students the only demographic to not drop out or transfer within a given year; it also shows that when students have financial support and resources, they remain enrolled and successful, which should incentive more investment in order to help students succeed at Monmouth.
  • 1/12/2020:
    • Four days after Leahy made comments during the above mentioned meeting,  in a filmed interview with news network Jersey Matters, when asked about some of his top talking points in his Strategic Plan he tells the interviewer that Monmouth is “really proud of the fact that one third of our Undergraduate students are eligible for Pell Grants, which is the federal aid program for the highest financial-need students.” (2:27)
    • Leahy then states that Monmouth welcomes high financial need students stating, “It’s just so easy for us at Monmouth to get behind the students like that, and to support them, and to fight for them, really…because we know they are pursuing something that is unique in their family and will reset the trajectory of that family for generations to come” (4:12)
    • The interviewer later points out that one of Leahy’s priorities is racial and gender equality. The first way Leahy states that Monmouth can measure how well it is achieving in areas of racial and gender equality is to measure “how many Pell students are we bringing in.” (5:15)
    • An individual such as President Leahy with over fifteen years of experience in higher education administration has insight on how economic class and race intersect in the education system and understand that the Federal Pell program often is an access tool to help racially diverse students specifically, to obtain a college degree.

DECEMBER 2019

  • 12/5/2019:
    • Vice President Mary Anne Nagy and President Leahy meet with the Alumni Board to present Leahy's Strategic Plan. During this meeting, Radek Ostrowski, Director of Assessment, explains that, when asked if they felt like part of a community at Monmouth, black students had the lowest positive feedback compared to any other race of students. In its official Retention Plan, the University’s Committee states one remedy to such lack of belonging felt by black students at Monmouth, would be to display a plaque in honor of Julian Abele, one of the first black architects in the U.S., who designed the interior of the formerly named Wilson Hall. We find this proposition to be reflective of the lack of diversity serving on the Retention Plan Committee, as well as an overall misunderstanding of black students on campus.

AUGUST 2019

  • 8/8/2019:
    • A report is published by Lend EDU entitled the “United States of Debt,”  where Monmouth University ranked No. 1 in the country for the institution with the highest average student loan debt. This report’s graphic can be viewed  here. However, Monmouth rebutted this report, stating that the independent database used the wrong numerical figures and requested their ranking be removed (as is stated in the report). The report remains without updated data from Monmouth, lending us to believe that the University simply does not want to display accurate official statistics.
  • Late August:
    • Less than two weeks before the Fall semester, 290 students are removed from their registered courses. This was a result of a University policy that overwhelming affects low-income students who have difficulty meeting their tuition payment because of financial constraints. Not only is this policy discriminatory in practice, it is also predatory in theory. It is predicated on the notion that students should be punished (by removal of their courses) if they cannot meet an arbitrary deadline to the University in times of financial difficulties. Dr Joseph Patten, Political Science Professor, wrote a letter to the Outlook detailing the impacts of this incident describing it as an “entirely avoidable high drama re-registration process” where “students also come to view university administrators as cold-hearted, and commonly say things like “Monmouth only cares about money.” 

WHY DOES ALL OF THIS MATTER?

  • A 2019 report from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that at private four-year institutions, 62.1 percent of the African American and 55.2 percent of Hispanic and Latinx students received a Pell Grant in the 2015-16 academic year. Monmouth’s Black and Latinx students at minimum will compare to these national averages. The University needs to disclose what share of their Black and Latinx students are Pell Recipients. Leahy’s statements on reallocating scholarships that Pell Grant Recipients get, to recruit more affluent students will have the most jarring effect on these populations of students—again which he has publicly and profusely voiced support for. Not only this, but if a majority of Black and Latinx students at Monmouth are Pell Recipients, then Leahy would be admitting that he is fully knowledgeable that decreasing aid to the Pell Recipients would have a significant impact on one or more marginalized groups.
  • President Leahy’s continued public advocacy and support for the over 1,250 Federal Pell Grant Recipients, is used as a predatory marketing tool to attract low-income students from poor to working class families who are deserving of a quality education. Leahy and the administration sell Monmouth as an access tool for social mobility to low income students of color. When these students arrive on-campus they are met with hostility from their peers and institutional systemic racism, which leaves them not just without support while at Monmouth, but with a great deal debt when or if they graduate.  
  • Monmouth has repeatedly proven itself to be an unwelcoming and unsupportive institution to low-income students most especially those of color. These outlined discriminatory practices contrast the public proclamations made in support of this specific population of students. Not only does Monmouth fail to support these students on an institutional level, but the continued hostility of the enrolled racist students without suitable University-imposed consequences even further undermines any real notions of commitment to support.
  • At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and civil unrest among people who have grown frustrated with race-based systemic oppression, Monmouth University has a responsibility to not only take accountability for its discriminatory practices but work precisely to bring them into alignment with the schools perfuse public support for low-income students and diversity and inclusion. It will take more than the symbolic gesture of changing a building name from a former KKK endorser, or the creation of a Diversity Initiatives Fund—whose allocations will reduce to less than the equivalent of a single administrator’s salary, to even come close to a remedy for these issues.  

 

QUESTION POSED TO THE LEAHY ADMINISTRATION AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES

President Leahy has voiced pride in the fact that Monmouth’s incoming class of 2024, is the “most racially incoming class in University history.”

  • How can Monmouth bring these students to an institution where members of the current racially diverse population at the school have vocalized, on many occasions, that they feel threatened and unwelcomed at Monmouth?
  • How can Monmouth bring these students to an institution where its leader has been vocal about reallocating financial aid to students who do not really need, in order to boost enrollment of more affluent students?
  • The single most diverse body of students, and among the most academically successful are students in the EOF program, how has Monmouth as an institution been supportive of this student population?

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Make public the race breakdown of the Pell Recipients at Monmouth using the most available data, in a similar fashion used for race breakdowns of the school’s full population in the Factbook. As national averages indicate, more than half of Black and Latinx students are Federal Pell Grant Recipients, respective to their separate student populations.
  • Recognize Students for Systemic Change (SSC) as an autonomous organized student committee, that will be regulated by the Student Code of Conduct and any other additional governing documents subject to students individually, but unregulated by the Monmouth University administration or the Student Government Association. In addition, the administration should work to create a Relationship Statement, approved by the Office of General Council, to outline Monmouth’s relationship with SSC.
  • Incorporate into President Leahy’s Strategic Plan:
    • a commitment to hire more people of color in the President’s cabinet and as faculty, in addition to electing, at minimum, one additional person of color on the Board of Trustees.
    • a system to introduce the history of oppression of unrepresented and marginalized groups through the academic curriculum.
  • Amend governing documents to require two student representatives, approved by SSC, to be appointed on the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees.
  • Add two student representatives on the President's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion—more specifically not students who are hand-selected by administrators for shallow representation on such committees, as has been done in the past. The Faculty Council has agreed to having student representatives serve on its steering committees.
  • Increase the volume of diversity and inclusion campaigns, as suggested by the SSC, both inside and outside the classroom to actually prevent racial and social injustice at all levels of the University.

Signed,

Esosa Ruffin ‘20

Monmouth Pell Recipients for CARES Aid (MPRCA)

 

Nicholas J. Coscarelli ‘20

Immediate Past President, Student-Alumni Association

 

Jenai Bacote,

Students for Systemic Change

 

Shadiyah J. Belton

President, Black Student Union

 

Jasmine N. Cooper & Ameka Yawson

President, National Council of Negro Women-Monmouth Section(NCNW)

 

Addy Diaz

President, Latin American Student Organization (LASO)

 

Kennedy I. Johnson

First to Fly

 

Zachary S. Dougherty

President, Monmouth University College Democrats

 

Brooke Kampf

President, Psychology Club

 

Chyna M. Walker

President, Students Advocating Girls’ Education

 

Jasmine Cooper, ΑΚΑ-ΤΗ

Lissette E. Pena,  ΛΘΑ-Τ

Brayan Loja, ΛΘΦ-Π

Yarleny Mejia,  ΧΥΣ-ΓΒ

Joshua E. Putman ΩΨΦ-ΦΥ

Chapter Presidents of the Multicultural Greek Council

Contact Information

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