Campus News

St. Mary’s Embarks on Academic Department Restructuring

Schaefer Hall Courtesy of Nathan Villiger)

By Nathan Villiger

Over the course of the past year, in conjunction with the new course matrix, St. Mary’s College of Maryland has undertaken a process of academic restructuring and reorganization. As part of this restructuring, academic departments will now be organized in pairs, with each pair being headed by a single chairperson. Theoretically, existing departments will be paired into new divisions based on shared areas of interest, but the College has yet to make the full organizational chart available to the public as exact pairings are still being discussed. 

In addition, three new Associate Dean positions will be created to oversee these newly paired programs, with each Associate Dean ultimately falling under the purview of the Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Over the summer, President Jordan formally selected Doctors Kelly Neiles, Sahar Shafqat and Randy Larsen as the new Associate Deans after a long selection process.

In general, the concept of academic restructuring is not entirely new to St. Mary’s or higher education in general. In response to issues surrounding St. Mary’s accreditation and the resignation of former College President Joseph R. Urgo in 2013, the school underwent a similar restructuring. Likewise, academic departments can be cut, merged or split as majors are added or dropped as we have seen with the reshaping of the old theater department into theater, film and media studies. However, restructuring of this type has not occurred at St. Mary’s for a long time, and has promoted a lengthy and divisive implementation process.

Based on conversations with faculty and students alike, lengthy and divisive are perhaps the best ways to describe the academic restructuring process as a whole. Students and professors are dumbfounded, with many questioning the necessity of such changes. In off-the-record conversations, faculty members voiced their frustration with the college administration, who first proposed the reorganization and have continued to press onwards despite the skepticism of the faculty senate. Though I interviewed multiple faculty members, all chose to remain off the record, fearing retaliation by the administration that might threaten their continued employment. 

According to the 2022 Faculty Pulse Poll, conducted by the Board of Trustees, 74% of senior faculty and 75% of junior faculty are “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the current state of shared governance at SMCM.” Other professors have also expressed concern that the new department pairings will reduce individual departmental autonomy and add unnecessary bureaucracy. 

Likewise, Student Government Association Secretary Lily Riesett had said, “I just don’t see the point of it, do we really need to change anything?” Ultimately, most students I spoke to had a similar take: how necessary are these changes?  As Junior Melissa LaCross put it “I am curious as to the college’s reasoning on why this is a priority when there are pre-existing department chairs. Also, it seems like another instance of administration not listening to what their faculty and students want.” Though the changes have yet to be implemented, the Board of Trustees and college administration seem intent on seeing them through, despite the protests of students and faculty alike.

New Business Major Creates Problems for Freshman

By  Bridget Norton

The new Business Administration and Management Major and Minor were introduced to St. Mary’s at the beginning of this school year. The college website claims the major is rooted in economic theory and that it is applicable to the worlds of business, government and nonprofits. It goes on to state that the major explores diverse disciplines and will provide deep connections into community jobs. 

The major offers course topics such as accounting, international business and econometrics. 

Required classes are split into four main categories: foundational, technical, business and business theory and application. In order to fulfill the credits in these sections, and the overall college credits and senior project requirements, there is a certain schedule laid out for what classes you should take each year in order to stay on track for graduation. Freshman year specifically is extremely structured. This includes the Foundational classes: Introduction to Business, Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics, as well as the beginning of Technical classes, Accounting 1. Many of these classes are prerequisites to future classes required for the business major. When asked about how she liked her business classes thus far, freshman Kate Pass stated that they “are generally really engaging and I really enjoy them.”

As this major is so new, many upperclassmen who are already in similar majors, specifically economics, are adding it as a second major. When upperclassman Ricardo de Abreu, who was originally only an economics major and just added business this year, was asked if he would have only done a business major if he had access to it his freshmen year, he responded that “it is hard to say for sure but I would have probably stayed in economics and just added business earlier.” There is a great interest in this program, not only from incoming students, but those already here. However, this interest from upperclassmen presents a pressing problem in regards to scheduling issues.  

After this most recent registration period for the Spring of 2023, the Point News talked to three freshmen whose registration period opened at a point where Accounting I, a class they all must take freshman year, was filled. They will be kept anonymous as they do not want to receive any backlash for the honest critique of their major. There are a total of six business classes this coming semester, and there is only one section of Accounting I, which is already at -7/20 seats with an extensive waitlist as of Nov. 10. This presents a large problem for the freshman who wish to stay on track, as many upperclassmen who are adding this new major are taking credits to fulfill the major, but there are not enough spots for business majors who have later registration times. This could lead to a perpetual loop of business majors coming in, not having access to the classes they need, and rushing them in at the end or leaving this school to find a more stable program. When asked to comment on their scheduling, a business major stated that “while the major has a good premise, it is largely underdeveloped.” 

However, while the lack of an adequate number of classes is concerning, the unequal response to students asking to get into said closed class is even more so. The three students who the Point talked to all emailed the professor to request to get into the Accounting I class. Two of the students had similarly worded emails stating that they needed the class that semester to stay on track to graduate on time. The first student sent their email a day before the second student. However, while the first received a reply saying that the professor might consider putting them on the waiting list, the second student received an email saying that the professor would put them in the class right away and proceeded to email the registrar to have them put in the class. The third student’s email was slightly different and sent three days later than the second student. It stated that this class was also necessary for them to take this coming semester, but it also stated that they would have to leave the school if they were not put in the class. This email not only led the student to be put in the class right away, but three or four additional spots were opened as well. While this movement in a positive direction is promising, it is disappointing to many that it took this much student pushback to change it.

DPAC Reveals Ongoing Tensions Between Perfroming Arts and SMCM

Auditorium in DPAC (Courtesy of Kaley Christman)

By Ellie Pratt 

Over the last few months, who can use the Nancy R. & Norton T. Dodge Performing Arts Center, or DPAC, has been the source of confusion for many performing arts clubs on campus. In an effort to shine some light on the situation, The Point News spoke to the DPAC director of production and events Keith Hinton, as well as multiple performing arts clubs, about the new building and SMCM’s relationship with the arts. 

According to DPAC’s page on the SMCM website, the building features “a 700-seat auditorium, which will host a full schedule of performances in the arts for the benefit of students, the College, and the entire surrounding community; a 125-seat recital hall and adjacent rehearsal studios; and classroom and office space for the music department.” 

Early in the year there was some confusion over who could and could not use this new space and why. Hinton laid many of these rumors to rest during an email exchange with The Point News, explaining, “We are still a building partially under construction with contractors working in spaces throughout the building. Many times, their work needs to take priority over campus events. This will all be wrapped up fairly soon.” Hinton also noted that the building “also hosts events that involve more than one space in the facility. It is simply untenable to have a group meeting in the lobby when there are events in either the Recital Hall or Auditorium, for example. Also, many events require the use of rehearsal and practice rooms for staging/dressing. This cuts into availability.”

In regards to reserving performance space, dance clubs have expressed confusion about whether they are allowed to use the new building or not. Hinton explained his concerns and thoughts on booking dancers to TPN, saying: “it is my responsibility to look after the overall welfare of the artists that use these spaces. That is why I am hesitant, but not completely against, dance groups utilizing the spaces. The performing arts centers where I have been in the past had dedicated dance spaces. This particular building does not. It is unfortunate, but it is reality. I have seen dancers sustain injuries directly resulting from performing on non-sprung stages. It is, therefore, incumbent upon me to relay my hesitancy, which is born out of well-reasoned caution.” 

In addition, Hinton noted that audience draw is another factor. “If there are not going to be sufficient audience numbers to warrant using the Auditorium, then we will recommend using the Recital Hall. Now, this also limits the performance space (especially for dance).” 

President of Zero Degrees Melinda Huynh expressed disappointment and confusion over not being able to use the space this semester–especially as a senior. Earlier in the semester she had asked resident lighting designer and technical director David Smith whether it would be possible for clubs to rent out the new auditorium. He said that it is currently not for clubs to use and only for academics. “I believe we were disappointed more than anything because we weren’t given a proper rationale. Thankfully the school still has the Bruce Davis Theatre and St. Mary’s Hall that clubs can use.” 

She noted how enjoyable performing at the new building was during the student showcase earlier this semester, and hopes in future the club will be able to use the space next semester. In similar fashion to other clubs, Huynh observed with some confusion that to those in the club, “the quality of the floor is perfectly fine to dance on. I don’t know if any arguments for ‘it’s not a dance floor’ is a strong enough rationale.” 

President of Dance Club Lizzie Gill told the Point News that sprung floors have not been brought up before for the club, mostly due to the lack of spaces on campus specifically for dance. It was just a reality that there were no sprung floors around. However, the club “will obviously respect it. We’re not going to be obstinate and think we’re entitled to use the space.” 

The dance club plans to use Bruce Davis Theater for their upcoming showcase, though this presents its own set of difficulties. According to Gill, Bruce Davis is usually around $1000 to rent and “usually in the spring because of music performances and other theater performances we would be in St. Mary’s Hall, and that one is free to reserve space, but we have to pay our own tech people which is about $2000.” 

Gill noted that SGA has been good about honoring the club’s fund requests, but the club does run out of money quickly. They have tried to fundraise, but need to find more successful methods to do so. The majority of their funding is reserved for booking spaces, “and we almost do nothing else because of how much money is required. We don’t want to ask too much from SGA because other clubs need it.” They expressed that it was a bit unfair that student clubs had to shoulder these costs, even if the reasoning–paying for tech and tech labor–makes some sense. 

In addition to confusion over performing, there has also been some concern over rehearsal space and DPAC for both dance- and music-centered clubs. President of TNA, an on-campus acapella group, Gabby Blew is in charge of her club’s scheduling and was excited about the possibility of performing in the new building for their fall concert; however, she was told by a staff member in the office of student activities that no students–or student groups–would be allowed to use the space. This was an unwelcome shock as the group had also been notified that their normal rehearsal spaces in Montgomery Hall and concert space (Monty 25) were no longer available. 

Eventually, Blew and TNA learned that student groups are allowed to use the space–though as Hinton noted to TPN through email, “student groups can utilize the spaces in the DPAC AS LONG AS they go through the same booking/inquiry process as everybody else. And the DPAC has the final say.” TNA has booked the recital hall for their fall concert on Dec. 10. 

That all being said, the group is still having trouble finding rehearsal space, especially since the music department has moved to the new building, which is currently difficult to access due to the OneCard system still being created. Furthermore, there has been some confusion between TNA and staff in the building about which rooms they can use to rehearse. After much trial and error, the group now has fairly consistent access to one unlocked classroom in the building on Thursdays, though it is frustrating to not also have access on the weekend–when most are available to rehearse– due to the building often being locked. 

Due to these challenges accessing the building for rehearsals, Blew expressed frustration with the school’s planning in regards to the “new” major, saying, “We feel orphaned. Monty was the space for performing arts, and now it’s transitioned to the new building…we feel “homeless” in a sense because we can’t use Monty, as Monty doesn’t have the resources we need anymore. The biggest thing was that we don’t have pianos to rehearse anymore and we need those to play starting notes.” Overall, Blew told us that, “People don’t want to be in a performing arts club if we can’t provide them with consistent practice spaces and rehearsals.”

In regards to the locked building situation, an anonymous member of the music club told TPN that they believed tension had grown between clubs because the building “would be completely locked on the weekends and even if you called PS, you’d have to have a written verification from a staff member that permitted you to be in the building. Reason for this is because the building’s not fully turned over to the college yet due to its incompletion.” Luckily the student said that “the building is much more accessible since PS doesn’t lock it as much and more key access is on the way!” 

In relation to practice spaces and rehearsals, dance clubs–and students concentrating in dance– have faced similar trials with a lack of resources for other performing arts across campus. Gill explained: “It’s incredibly frustrating for me personally. From the dance perspective, it’s clear the new building was only built with the intention of highlighting music and maybe plays–though not musical theater. There are no dance studios in the new building and there’s only one dance studio on campus and all of the performing arts clubs use it. This has caused a lot of issues because it’s hard for everyone to get access to the space and it’s very difficult to keep track of who’s reserving it when, so there’s been double bookings, which have caused tensions between the clubs.” 

Additionally, there is only one dance faculty member currently employed by the college, which makes the entire situation all the more frustrating. Gill says: “They’re not giving her the resources she needs. She’s a fantastic teacher, she’s wonderful, but not having any other dance faculty really limits the ability to learn about different aspects of dance and for a performing arts major you should really have more available for people.”

Finally, the focus on the music department over other concentrations of the performing arts major has caused tensions, especially as DPAC has been advertised as, “a vital part of the St. Mary’s College Maryland campus, and serves as an anchor for the performing arts not only for the college, but for the community as a whole” (emphasis added). 

However, Hinton explained that “Music Department events have priority with these spaces” and that he would not “book musical theater because we have no fly space. A hall is not a hall is not a hall. The performance spaces in the DPAC are designed PRIMARILY for music performance.” 

Many performing arts clubs–and performing arts majors in general–feel that the college does not seem to care about the arts as much as it claims to and this building is proof of this ongoing neglect. 

“I was a freshman when they cut programs and formed the “new” performing arts major” says Blew. “It was really frustrating because we are supposed to be a liberal arts school, so why are you getting rid of the things that actually make us a liberal arts school? It seems like we’re pushing towards a science focus and the school says it’s because we’re moving into the 21st century, but the arts are so important. COVID showed us how important the arts are; it often brought us together. Creativity is important and your actions deny students that.” 

Gill echoed these sentiments, stating that they believe the college is not only neglecting the performing arts major as a whole, but the school is also not, “taking care of their performance clubs which represent–or used to represent at least–a large body of campus but are now dwindling because of COVID and lack of resources.”

In regards to the new building, hopefully DPAC staff members and clubs can move forward with less tension, especially as construction finishes and the one card system is put in place. Hinton encourages student groups to contact him (kdhinton@smcm.edu) with any questions about the space and availability. On a larger scale; however, it is clear that for many, the relationship between the college and performing arts will be less easily fixed.

SGA Passes Controversial Wrestling Mat Bill

A Crows Gathers in Glendening Annex in Support of the Bill (Courtesy of Jordan Williams)

Since the fall semester began, the Wrestling Club has been requesting the Student Government (SGA) for funds to purchase a new mat for practices and upcoming competitions. PG Senator Morgan Marzec wrote the bill to purchase the mat, SB F22:05, and Jacob Brookes (WC Senator) and Zayon Morgan (TH Senator) cosponsored. 

Maribeth Boeke Ganzell, SMCM’s Club Sports Coordinator, worked with Marzec and the Wrestling Club on the bill. According to the legislation, the mat costs almost $12,000 and is meant to “improve the safety of practices and competitions for its members.” The SGA debated over the mat for at least a month, but the bill eventually passed on Nov. 8 with a 17-1 vote.

According to the club, the current mat is not large enough to safely support their full membership, so they have had to limit their practices to four members and have been unable to compete in competitions with other schools as a result. Because of the mat’s limitations, the club cannot operate effectively as other clubs are able to. With Wrestling being a new club, their yearly operating budget from the SGA is far too low to cover the cost of the mat, so they had no choice but to ask SGA for funds.

This was one of the more contentious bills that the SGA has heard this year. Even though the bill passed almost unanimously, its fate was not always clear. The SGA debated it for weeks prior with arguments on both sides. TPN reached out to SGA Director of Communications Zac Pisarz to get a neutral perspective on the debate. As an executive board member, Pisarz does not have an official stance on the bill, but he explained how the debate unfolded between senators.

According to Pisarz, when the bill was first introduced, its opponents claimed that $12,000 was too much money to be spent on a new club like Wrestling. They also claimed that the mat would only be utilized by a small portion of the student body and lacks utility for most students, so they could not justify spending that much money on something that would benefit only a small number of students.

Proponents refuted this, saying that they needed the mat in order to function and grow as a club. The SGA recognizes Wrestling as a legitimate club, but the club cannot currently function as one because their mat is inadequate to support them. The club will be small forever if they are limited to holding four-person practices with the current mat. Wrestling claims that as a legitimate club, they deserve to hold practices with the club’s full roster and compete with other schools.

The bill was first brought to the senate floor to be voted on Oct. 25, however the vote was not cast because of an SGA rule that bills exceeding spending of $11,000 require an additional week to be voted on. There was a motion to suspend this rule, but it required a two-thirds majority and failed with a 4-15 vote. The club was slightly disheartened, but they were willing to wait.

And so, on Nov. 8, the SGA met to hold a vote over the wrestling mat. The Glendenning Annex was packed with students who came out in support of the bill, and it turned out to be the largest attendance that an SGA meeting had seen in quite a while. The bill passed with almost no detractors. When it was declared, “The I’s have it,” the crowd cheered in excitement.

After the meeting, TPN reached out to James Atwell, the vice president of the Wrestling Club, for a statement. , “We are so excited!” exclaimed Atwell, “We’ve been trying to get this mat for so long and it finally happened. St. Mary’s has never had a wrestling club before and we are so excited to start traveling and competing with other schools.”