A Call to Action
Some of you may be aware that the College is planning to further consolidate dining, closing dining rooms in Baldwin, Park, and Parsons houses this summer, with dining rooms in Gardiner, Jordan, Haven/Wesley, and Talbot to follow the next summer. A letter from the College to Smith Alumnae and an article in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly Spring 2004 issue indicated that the driving force behind these closings was an attempt to close a projected $7 million budget deficit in 2006-7.
While attempts to maintain a balanced budget are laudable, a recent article by Smith President Ruth Christ in the Chronicle of Higher Education has raised concerns among some alumnae that the consolidation might in fact be driven more by a change in philosophy than by financial considerations. Specifically, President Christ seems to feel that the intimacy of the Smith house system serves to limit principled public debate about important issues, and she suggests that by replacing the intimacy of the houses with a "more appropriate" use of public space will foster more public discussion, and Smith students will be better prepared to debate important issues.
In a conference call to which class reunion chairs and presidents were invited, Kris Ball '91 described the effort that she and more than 650 concerned alumnae who have joined "Smith VOICES", an Internet-based network, have made to establish a dialog with the administration on these issues. Their efforts began as a protest against the closing of dining facilities without adequate evaluation of the impact on the College environment, but the publication of President Christ's article has moved their concerns away from the dining issue and towards a focus on the lack of consultation with alumnae on major changes to the Smith environment for which dining and the house system is just the most visible aspect.
President Christ has specifically dismissed VOICES as merely a "vocal minority" and seems fairly determined to avoid public debate of her philosophy -- a surprising attitude, considering the points made in her Chronicle article. Participants in the conference call suggested that perhaps the best way to demonstrate to President Christ that the 650 who have found their way to VOICES are merely the tip of the iceberg would be to stage a very visible yet non-disruptive protest during Ivy Day events at both reunion weekends. Specifically, alumnae who support a more public and open discussion between the College and alumnae on President Christ's philosopy regarding the relationships between private space, public space, and public debate of issues are being asked to wear the usual white dress with a red armband during the Ivy Day parade. Since the meeting on the lawn following the parade is ostensibly the official annual meeting of the Alumnae Association of Smith College, a letter is being sent to the Alumnae Association requesting that an agenda item be added to the meeting for both weekends, giving concerned alumnae a clear voice in front of President Christ and allowing her to perceive that concerned alumnae are not as small a minority as she may believed.
We strongly encourage you to read President Christ's article and decide for yourself how you feel about the issues she raises. If you feel that alumnae should have a voice in the kind of changes to the College environment that President Christ is suggesting, red armbands will be available at class headquarters along with additional information that may develop between now and reunion.