Solving the problems of this semester

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December 2, 2008

12:45 AM

Nobody likes December. For most of us, Virginia’s excuse for winter weather becomes as unpredictable as our sleep patterns, as final exams, term papers and job or graduate school applications make stress-free moments hard to come by. You’ll probably have better luck finding people drinking at Swem than at the Delis. Aside from the usual shenanigans of Blowout — sorry, the last day of classes — the next few weeks don’t promise to be very much fun.

Aside from individual stress and troubles, however, the College of William and Mary community faces several important challenges as we wind down this fall semester. It’s hard to predict what news headlines will dominate the College next spring. If history is any lesson, College President Taylor Reveley could remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson overnight in order to be more accommodating to Northern Virginia residents who did not get into the University of Virginia. The Sex Worker’s Art Show will probably come back to campus, and a lot of people will probably get really angry for one reason or another. A committee may be launched by the College to look into the possibility of creating a task force that will explore the potential for our athletic teams and our College to have a mascot. In fact, if you listen, I think you can hear the feet dragging along the floor.

But beyond pure speculation, there are some obvious issues that the student body and the College must tackle during the remainder of the year, and two of them deserve special attention here.
The first critical issue that will face the students of the College next semester — and, for that matter, for the next several years — is the financial condition of our school. State budget cuts, totaling $4.9 million, forced a faculty and staff hiring freeze. The Board of Visitors recently met to discuss strategic planning, but it remains unclear whether it will announce a new fundraising goal or what other sorts of initiatives it will adopt to steer the College in the right direction. A clear, specific fundraising goal — certainly in excess of the $500 million Campaign for William and Mary that was reached under former College President Gene Nichol — should be announced this spring if the College is to reassure its alumni base, particularly those that were alienated by the problems of the last few years.

While this has proved a controversial topic during my years here, now is when the College needs to give serious consideration to the idea of going private. According to a recent Flat Hat article on the subject, Vice President for Finance Sam Jones said that the privatization discussion is raised “especially during those times when the commonwealth of Virginia is forced to reduce its support due to declining revenue.” The obvious question then is how many rocky periods will the College go through before it finally makes the push?

The second issue is that of student rights, and, like many observers have remarked of the troubling economy, it seems that things will get worse before they get better. A recent article in The Virginia Informer revealed that packets of information on student rights, which were supposed to be given to students to better understand their options in judicial cases, never made it out of the Dean of Student’s office. Overcome with a bout of in loco parentis, the Dean’s Office seems to have decided that Residence Life and Campus Police are incapable of properly fulfilling their jobs and have therefore begun conducting walkthroughs in the Units themselves. During Homecoming, rather than put additional recycling bins or trash cans on Harrison Street, the Office of Student Affairs limited the number of tailgating permits to 10, and was then appalled when people tailgated in the William and Mary Hall parking lot instead.

If things are to improve in this department, somebody has to take a stand. The Council for Fraternity Affairs has proved dreadfully inept at this over the years, so the burden seems to fall to the Student Assembly. Inaction on this issue would be a disservice to many students who regularly deal with the questionable behavior of certain campus officials.

The issues that we each face come and go with each semester. The College’s problems rarely do.

Alexander Ely is a senior at the College.

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