If last semester taught us anything, it is that we are almost never getting the full picture regarding campus-wide processes, policies, procedures and practices from the UMBC administration. On an ideal campus, full disclosure would be taken seriously. While information is often distributed in campus-wide emails, much is left out or held until “the appropriate time.”
Most recently, UMBC women’s basketball coach Phil Stern has been on leave since early December. When asked the reason for his leave, university spokeswoman Lisa Akchin said in an email correspondence that the university does not discuss personnel matters and then would not answer an email asking if his leave was personal or sanctioned by the university. The Retriever’s reporters have repeatedly asked UMBC Athletics staff to clarify the reason for Stern’s leave, but he also has not commented. According to these same reporters, student-athletes have been urged not to speak about these matters, and they have been unable to determine whether or not Stern is still being paid his yearly salary of $224,000, according to The Baltimore Sun’s 2017 public salary records. Given the current campus climate, it is difficult not to speculate the reason for his being on leave.
This university administration has taught us to assume the worst, and the only way to circumvent that is to not let us assume at all. If administrators were forthcoming even with information that does not reflect well upon them, we as a student body would have more reason to believe that they had our best interests at heart. Gaining that trust has been a theme of the past semester — in almost every interview, President Freeman Hrabowski gave The Baltimore Sun and in almost every interaction with the student body, he addressed the Sisyphean task of rebuilding trust within the campus community. But the thing that continues to prevent this process from even starting is not that the university administration has failed its students but rather that it continues to sweep any controversy, no matter how big or small, under the rug.
When they do not say anything at all, it often speaks volumes, especially when an outside party has to bring a scandal to light. The result is a student body that feels like it is not being included in a larger conversation that directly impacts it. As we continue along a path of restoration that seems to center around the participation of student volunteers (such as in the Retriever Courage initiative), leaving the general student population out of central conversations can be disastrous. Even acknowledging the role some students currently play in administrative processes, students should not have to put in the equivalent of glorified community service for the right to know what is happening in their community. It is unacceptable to expect so much from students, especially those who are also reliving trauma of their own.
If Phil Stern has been on leave for the past two months due to illness or circumstances beyond his control, the administration should have no trouble telling us. But if there is a greater issue at play, the administration needs to inform its students. It may be information we are not happy to learn, but learning it would mean that the university cares more about its students’ safety and trust than maintaining an immaculate image. And from there, they can actually proceed to involve students in the way they claim they want to.
Right now, almost no one on this campus seems to care about these blatant issues of transparency, but the reason they don’t care is not because they believe the administration is living up to their standards. They don’t care because they know they are not receiving the full story, so they have learned there is no use in paying attention. The only way UMBC can make administrative practices the two-way street that they should be is to start communicating to students in a way that is honest and forthcoming. Once this happens, students may finally start responding.