Progressive Student Union remains active in wake of academic changes

(Emma Carter / McDaniel Free Press).

On Saturday, Feb. 23, McDaniel’s Progressive Student Union gathered outside of McDaniel Lounge as the Board of Trustees met to vote on proposed academic changes. The Board ultimately voted for the suspension of art history, religious studies, French, German, and music majors, along with minors in music and German and the deaf studies graduate program.

Members of PSU, the self-described leftist campus group that backs various student interests, distributed pamphlets, which included testimonies from students and alumni about programs that were then rumored to be threatened, to individuals on the Board of Trustees as they entered the building.

Several students also held signs with phrases such as “please don’t stop the music,” demanding that certain academic programs be kept.

The student organization’s protest outside the meeting was an effort to display dissatisfaction with the academic restructuring process, according to PSU President SG.

“One of the things we wanted to do was give a physical impression of people who wanted there to be more accountability in the process and information about what was going on,” said the senior.

The group also prepared a statement regarding the academic changes that they had planned to read in the Trustees’ meeting, to which they had hoped to gain access. PSU was not permitted to enter, however.

Video surfaced on Facebook hours after the meeting that showed students chanting “let us speak” in front of McDaniel Lounge’s doors, as well as tense interactions with Campus Safety officers.

“There were students who were physically pushed back from the door [by Campus Safety officers],” said G. 

Head of Campus Safety Chief Eric Immler said this action came after verbal warnings from the Campus Safety officers who were present.

“Unfortunately some of the students involved attempted to physically push their way into the meeting after being verbally told several times that they could not enter,” he said. “This resulted in a student being prevented from entering McDaniel Lounge.”

Some students were threatened with conduct violations as well, G said, but none of the protesters received write-ups.

“The Department of Campus Safety worked to ensure two things that morning: [that] the Board of Trustees were able to conduct their business meeting without disruption, while the students were able to peacefully protest in a safe manner,” said Immler. “I am pleased that the majority of the students present were able to express their point of view while cooperating with the Campus Safety officers who were there to manage the situation.”

PSU shared the over-700-word statement they had planned to read to the Board of Trustees later the same day on their Facebook page.

Although these proposed restructurings have been compared to similar movements in liberal arts education, like cutting Latin and Greek as required subjects, we believe that there is a genuine difference between the removal of those programs and what is currently happening here,” read the statement, referring to the loss of German, music, and other programs that are “integral to the creation of well-informed citizens and academics.”

The organization’s statement also touched on the student organization’s concerns about the future of faculty in affected departments, as well as their criticisms of a lack of student input and transparency at the administrative level.

“We also realize that there was a survey that went out [about potential future academic offerings], but it was still combined with a lack of information about what the reality of the restructuring might bring,” the statement said.

The statement followed a series of Facebook posts by PSU that started a week before the Trustees’ meeting, largely criticizing the College administration and calling for testimonies from students and alumni in response to the restructuring process. The group created an email account dedicated to receiving these testimonies.

This amount of activity on social media is new for the student group. Until this spring, PSU has been relatively quiet in this arena. One of its projects this semester, said Jake Fine, a sophomore member of PSU, was to build more of an online presence.

As we were building up these social media platforms for the first time in a while, [the academic restructuring] started to happen and we realized that we had a perfect vessel for informing people what was going on,” said Fine.

A handful of alumni and donors learned of the restructuring process through their Facebook page, according to Fine.

“The big thing is people sharing our posts,” he said. “I remember a lot of people commenting on them throughout the week [leading up to the Board of Trustees meeting] saying, ‘I had no idea this was happening.’”

Mariah Ligas, an alumna who graduated in 2016 with a double major in German and theater and minor in French, and again in 2017 with a master’s in secondary education, attended the protest on Saturday.

“I felt, as an alum who really became who I am through some of the programs that were in danger,” she said, “that I should come join.”

Though not heavily involved with PSU as a student at McDaniel, Ligas — now a high-school German teacher in Pennsylvania — said she was on the same page as the organization throughout the week before the Board of Trustees meeting.

“I communicated [with PSU] to find out what actions were planned for campus and how I could help,” she said. “I think that once the word slipped out, alumni and students were energized and wanted to do whatever we could.”

Ligas, like PSU, worked to reach out to other alumni and to communicate about the proposed academic changes. She also asked these alumni to write statements arguing for retaining academic programs.

“I reached out to all the foreign language graduates I knew…and told them to spread the word. Once we had an organized group, we all wrote in,” said Ligas.

PSU plans to continue discussion about the College’s academic changes at an open town hall-style meeting with SGA on March 6.

“Although the restructurings have been decided, there are still people who have questions and thoughts about them,” said G.

G said she hopes to invite students, as well as College administrators, to the meeting.

“I think it’s important that if administrators are there, they can kind of address the things that maybe they’ve been more obscure or ambiguous about,” she said. “It’s hard to feel like things you say on Facebook have an impact, but saying things in public with other people is a really direct example of you being heard and other people sharing in that space.”

PSU’s town hall meeting will be held on Wed., March 6 at 5 p.m. in Decker Auditorium.