Since 2017, Albion’s Board of Trustees has gained six new members, three of whom graduated from Albion in the last few years.
Why does this matter for Albion students? These fresh voices will determine the big issues of Albion’s campus for at least the next two years. Five of the new members were available to talk about their new position and their positions on student issues that have taken prominence this semester.
The New Faces
Kate Hao graduated from Albion in 1998 with a degree in economics. She now owns the New York City-based financial company Fintech, which specializes in providing products to lower and middle-income consumers. Hao became involved in this company after working at larger technological organizations where she realized that there was a gap in services offered to lower income consumers. She realized that these consumers have to pay more for those financial services.
Hao decided she wanted to become involved in the Board of Trustees after being invited to join by a previous board member whom she saw as a mentor.
She believes that she can offer a technological background that will allow the Board to enhance operations at the school for students.
“At the moment there’s the high cost of education, student loans, and there’s a lot of doubt and skepticism in general about the benefits of higher education,” she said.
Hao believes that part of the reason Albion College has managed to survive so well is because of the bond between students and alumni.
“It has to be attributed as a core value of the institution. This is an example which I felt helped me tremendously as a student. That kind of connection is still embedded in Albion. Internship programs, bringing in a diverse set of alumni to different levels, and not necessarily just at the trustee levels, which very diligently organize events across geographic locations and try to connect with Albion graduates and bring them together.”
Hao said her main concern as a new member of the Board will be learning how the students currently feel about their college and overall experience.
Paul Huth graduated from Albion in 1977, followed by two brothers, a sister, and two children. He double majored in economics and political science, and went on to Law School at Michigan State and Wayne State. He now works at the Huth Lynett law firm in downtown Detroit, which manages real estate and corporate work.
Huth believes that his background is a good fit for the Board of Trustees. Before joining the Board, Paul worked in the Ford Institute and on Albion’s Finance Committee.
“I can be a catalyst for fundraising, recruiting new students, and my background will help the board with governance,” he said.
As for why Paul decided to join the Board now, he wanted to give back to the school he has such fond memories of. “I thought [Albion] gave [my family] a great background and preparation for our various careers and successes,” he said. “I thought it would be great to help the school and give students the opportunity that we had.”
Paul believes that an important part of Albion College’s future is its relationship with the town.
“It is critically important to wave the city of Albion’s fabric with that of the college. Success depends on the city it’s located in, and I hope to continue to steward that relationship.”
While he is at Albion, Paul hopes to see more development in the downtown area with the college.
Alena Farooq graduated from Albion last December, with a self-created major, social entrepreneurship. She now works for Urban Alliance, a nonprofit in Detroit providing city youth with internship placements after high school.
Alena was always interested in being involved with Albion College after her graduation.
“I think all through my three and a half years at Albion, I was really interested in understanding the decisions that were made behind the scenes that affected students every day,” she said. “I was really interested in the city of Albion, and how Albion College could support Albion without overtaking the city. As I moved forward throughout my education, I realized I really wanted to be a part of those decisions.”
Alena is also very passionate about recruiting and retaining a more diverse population at Albion. She believes that as a recent graduate, she is able to offer a student perspective to the Board, as well as a minority perspective, and that an important part of the changes at Albion should be a more diverse staff and Board.
Madison Kase graduated from Albion this May with a double major in public policy and religious studies. She now works for Kroger in merchandising at their Southgate, Michigan, corporate location.
Kase became interested in joining the Board after serving four years on Student Senate. Student Senate does the initial interviews for Board members. She was also an active member of the greater Albion community. She believes that because of her involvement with the Albion community, she will be able to help a lot with economic development and expansion in Albion.
“As a recent graduate, I don’t get to go back often and see what everyday life is like, but I do get to see what it will be like 25 years from now,” she said.
Kase’s main concern as a Board member is being seriously as a young graduate, and she feels that it is important that the diverse students being pulled into the school be offered more of a support system.
“We’re seeing students who have different skill levels and basic life experience, so I think the school could have a better guidance system in the school, similar to the First Year Experience, so that we can make sure that when we’re bringing people in, they can succeed.”
Ethan Sutton graduated in 2017 with a degree in economics.. He now works as a technology consultant for Ernst & Young. He joined the Board for a two-year role because he wanted to give a voice as a recent graduate.
After working for Albion’s IT department for his last two years at Albion in database recording and programming, Sutton felt that he’d gotten an interesting view of how the school worked in administration and with the students.
“I saw I could bring an interesting point of view to concerns students were bringing up, as well as where they were coming from on the Board.”
He feels that the two years he will be on the Board is a very short time to create change in Albion. However, Sutton believes that he has also brought up important issues that the Board was previously unaware of.
One of the examples he cited was the rising price of textbooks, and students being unable to sell them back to the campus bookstore.
“It’s no secret that it is a tough time to be a small, private liberal arts college right now,” he said. Look anywhere. Colleges like Albion are struggling with attendance, finances, continuing to give a liberal arts education, because people are looking more at technical schools and big schools. The biggest concern right now is getting ourselves up for success so that we can deal with those issues head on.”
Brian McPheely could not be reached.
The Issues, Q&A-style:
Many Albion students believe their residence halls have been in dire need of an upgrade for several years, but after the strong reactions of students over the summer against high damage charges, and Resident Assistants coming forward about low pay for many work hours, residence halls are in the spotlight as one of the larger issues students worry about on campus. How do you feel about the current state of residential life at Albion?
Hao: “I think it is definitely something I will want to look into more, after this next board meeting.”
Huth: “I think sometimes the environments that students live in can create positive things that aren’t typically apparent to a student while they’re there. Some of my fondest memories of Wesley Hall are the friends that I made in our living environment then, which wasn’t the Taj Mahal. As years go by, you forget the details but remember fondly the experiences there. But [students[ had pictures of the Fraternity houses. It was unbelievable.”
Farooq: “I really hope that things start to change. With the way certain residence halls are priced, I think it’s definitely worth reassessing.”
Kase: “I remember being charged like $400. But I’ve always said this: I really feel like when a student chooses a school, we want the students that choose this school for different reasons, other than the residence halls. I want a nice room, I want good maintenance, but if I had to choose where my money goes to, I would rather it enrich the daily lives of students through hiring equipped staff, or the food on campus, than upgrad[ing] the residence halls.”
Sutton: “I think that the Board is aware that there are updates that need to be made around campus, and it’s important to keep in mind all the work that has been done. When I went there, the road in front of Baldwin was completely crumbling. It’s all part of balancing priorities.”
Over the summer, students took to social media to talk about the issues they faced. This led to the College quickly promising to reexamine the room damage fees placed on students. Do you think this was an appropriate way for students to voice their discontent?
Hao: “I believe students have the right to voice their discontent. However, using social media may not always be the best way to fix a problem.”
Huth: “Social media is a powerful weapon these days, from the President on Twitter to Facebook driving revolutions. It’s a powerful tool, and students are using the tools available to them.”
Farooq: “The thing I noticed and loved the most about all of that was the way the students handled it. I think a lot of the time, when we have an issue as students, we like to complain about it, but we don’t take action. The way the students did that, to take to social media, I thought was very smart, because that’s something the college cares about. As students we should be advocates for the college, and if we can’t, there’s an issue.”
Kase: “I think it was appropriate, but I think there’s a level of professionalism that needs to be held, and I don’t think every student who took to social media actually included that. I think a lot of students don’t understand the chain of command in the school. But I agree with the students and I think they did a great job overall making this issue seen and heard.”
Sutton: “I think what’s important is that the school hears and tries to work with the student body to find a solution.”
Something which also has students concerned is the way that the school dealt with a recent sexual assault allegation on campus. The school sent out a mass email a few weeks ago explaining that a young woman had been assaulted, and that they were unable to identify her attackers. Do you think that Albion does enough to prevent sexual assaults on campus, and that the way they reacted to this specific event was appropriate as a college?
Hao: “Personally, I think that safety and health is the number one issue, before anything else, including quality of life and education, because everyone spends their lives there, and their safety and health should be first priority.”
Huth: “I can understand why they wouldn’t want to publicize more information. I think students should be told to make smart choices and should be educated on this issue. Campus Safety is available to escort students, and students should try to create opportunities to walk with each other across campus. I think that something that has helped in Detroit has been cameras on the streets, and this is something the school could consider.”
Farooq: “I think across institutions all over our country right now, there’s a lot to be done there. I think a lot of the time, what’s done is behind the scenes, but judging the climate in our nation right now, I’d say we all have improvements to make.”
Kase: “I think any college could absolutely do more. Sexual assault is a very real and life-altering crime and an atrocity, and every single school across the country deals with this and doesn’t deal with it correctly. I think Albion goes above and beyond, but not enough. I don’t think that was an appropriate way to handle that. I don’t have one answer for what they can do better because it is an incredibly complex legal problem, but I think there could definitely be more done, especially on the side of how they are using communication for the staff and treating the victim and the alleged assaulter.”
Some professors who are not involved in political studies at Albion are known to talk about their own political opinions in class, not always encouraging a discussion of diverse opinions when they do so. Do you think this should be allowed by the school?
Hao: “I think that right now, it’s a very interesting time to be engaged politically, because the country has a lot of challenges, and is divided, and these debates should be encouraged. But if some of these debates get overheated, that is something the school should take a stand on to make sure they’re conducted in a constructive way. When I was a student, at the time the big issue was about the impeachment of a [United States] president. I don’t think it ever got out of hand because the level of emotion was much more subdued compared to the current environment.”
Huth: “Sometimes political discourse is good. For example, I’m the political opposite of my officemate, and it leads to healthy discussion, as long as they respect the views of others and allow a free discourse of all viewpoints without ridicule or complaint.”
Farooq: “Discussion and debate are always good, and I think they should be encouraged by professors, but if there are cases where professors are shutting down debate with their own point of view, I don’t support that.”
Kase: “As someone coming out of the two most dreaded conversation topics, no one wants to talk about these things. I admired the teachers that I could never read. I never wanted to know if my teacher was the religion they were teaching, or how they identified as far as their politics. I don’t think there’s a lot of education in stating your opinion about what’s correct. Education is teaching you how to think, not what to think. When your opinion invades education, that can get very complicated”.
Sutton: “College campuses have always been a place for discussion, and exploration of opposing and foreign views. It’s all about meeting on the Quad and talking through your differences with someone of opposing views. I understand the concern, and I think that ultimately students are going to get an education. If something is happening in the classroom that’s interfering with the teaching, that’s an issue that should be raised.”
Student Senate will bring a petition of student concerns in front of the Board on Oct. 1, the first Board meeting of the semester.