Letter to the Editor: Open Letter to Munson
by David Smith and Jacob Claudio | published Feb. 8th, 2019
Just three months ago a student took their own life on campus grounds. When a member of the RIT family passes, we look to the office of RIT’s president for leadership, guidance, and a sense of community. In an address to the RIT community that week in October, you offered some words of kindness and support. But then you said, “Our current ratio of counselors to students is above average when compared to peer universities,” and “RIT is guided by a set of priorities. I am proud to say that our top priority is you, our students.”
This is shameful. The moment our community needed to hear how we will come together and be better, we hear more boasting of RIT’s greatness and an immediate comparisons to what could be seen as your competitors. This is one of many errors made by you and your office in response to crisis this year. When we need to hear and validate our loss as a community, we hear of the grand “spectacle” of RIT. That despite a preventable tragedy RIT is, as always “an incubator for the exceptional,” and “onto something amazing.”
As a courtesy to others and a defense to ourselves, we often avoid talking about death, suicide, and mental illness. It is respectful to stay quiet on these issues when offering condolences to the living victims of such a tragedy, but suicide impacts more than just one family. There comes a time when we must confront a harsh reality; when mental health is left uncared for it can be fatal. In that same message to the community you outlined a plan to address the sorely lacking counseling facilities. But it must be asked why wasn’t this already addressed? If, as you say “I meet with students nearly every day,” then surely improving the mental health facilities must have been some priority. Over the past 4 years there have been 6 PawPrints petitions to address this crisis. I have heard dozens of students and professors alike speak out to the poor conditions of the psychological services on campus. And, if it’s true that you had personally advocated for better mental health facilities at the University of Michigan you must have been aware more had to be done.
The student body knew more had to be done, because we are the ones who experience the reality of the services your administration prides itself in. In October 2018, when students heard the news, it came to as a shock to many but a surprise to few. The student body is too familiar with the state of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, and those who feel they need to utilize those facilities are often greeted with waiting periods that can extend weeks, even months. While RIT is in no way directly responsible for the actions this student took, it is responsible for the environment which makes reaching out so difficult. It is mine and many of my colleagues’ firm belief that had your office’s priorities been in order and listened to the issues we had raised time and time again, this student may have been able to reach out and have a second chance.
We question the motives and goals of your administration. Where was all this concern for mental health before a student took his own life? You were right when you had said in a community this large often the decisions at the administrative level feel impersonal, but now the student body is more than just discontent at this disrespectful apathy of your administration. From serious issues such as support for health and psychological facilities, to daily grievances such as housing and parking, our concerns are continually elevated and ignored. If RIT is built for the students first, then the attitudes of your administration must reflect this.
What we need, is transparency and accountability in your agenda. We need clear goals and a detailed direction for the future of this university that is grounded with the students. The student body does not ask for a billion dollars, rebranding efforts, or new buildings. We want to be safe and have decent living conditions so we can get the education we are paying for. We need voices that aren’t restricted to the bureaucracy that’s failing the students. If your administration wishes to reassure the students that its goals are aligned with the students, here are some items to begin with:
- An apology from your office and the office of communications for the unprofessional and insensitive messages during this crisis, and action to ensure proper crisis management. This incident is far from an isolated example of RIT’s poor public relations.
- Quarterly agenda reports consisting of specific, detailed goals for your administration. These items must include a timetable, and a mission statement including how each item is to benefit the students. This agenda should include current and planned projects with updates, and at least one project should be directly aligned with student interests and values.
- Student Government must have more power to directly and efficiently enact and enforce its decisions made on behalf of the student body. Student Government must be better equipped to acknowledge and handle student issues which remain unaddressed by RIT’s restricting bureaucracy.
To retain our confidence in your administration, these items should be underway before April 2019. I recommend the student body take actions to affirm this administration’s focus. From demonstrations on campus during open-to-the-public events, to various social media campaigns, we can contrast RIT’s public image of being student-oriented to the inaction of this administration on the issues we care about. RIT should show its greatness in the way it cares and listens to its community.
Doctor Munson, will you actually focus on the needs and concerns of your students?
RIT’s “First Priority”
Written by David Smith and Jacob Claudio.