LASPA Center Controversy Continues, LBV Addresses Students

Since the Scripps College administration decided to reboot the search for a founding director for the LASPA Center for Leadership, much of the Scripps student body remains divided on whether the decision to restart the search was justified. To formally
address concerns about the LASPA director search, Scripps President Lori
Bettison-Varga joined Scripps Associated Students (SAS) on Thursday, Feb. 27 at
a Be Heard forum hosted in the Scripps Communities of Resources and
Empowerment (SCORE) building.

Bettison-Varga announced via email on Feb. 12 that Margaret Okazawa-Rey, the top pick by the LASPA director search committee, was not going to be offered the position, prompting student reactions that included a protest outside the president’s home.

Thursday’s forum began with SAS Vice
President Alexandra Frumkin SC ’15 asking the president a general question
regarding the new direction for the LASPA Center. The floor was then opened up
for students to ask Bettison-Varga questions; topics ranged from clarification on the LASPA Center’s mission to the specific details behind the decision not to
hire Okazawa-Rey.

Some students questioned the effectiveness of the forum. 

“I feel like people were too blinded
by their own biases to actually listen and problem-solve,” Kimberly Felt SC ’17
said. “It turned into just an attack on Bettison-Varga, and so the voices that
could have been heard and could have offered real solutions were drowned out.
It wasn’t a fair, level debate at all.”

SAS President Marta Bean SC ’14 had a favorable impression of the event, but also noted the tendency of arguments to be one-sided. 

“I’m really glad that we had a
focused discussion on just the LASPA Center,” Bean said. “The turnout was really good, but there was definitely a certain opinion
that was acceptable to be said.”

A prominent discussion point was diversity, and how the LASPA Center would address the needs of traditionally underrepresented communities. One criticism of the decision not to hire Okazawa-Rey is that she, as a woman of color, would have been able to connect to marginalized communities on campus. 

“Of course the LASPA Center will be designed in a way that all students feel that they can be a part of it,” Bettison-Varga said at the forum. “That will be integral to the work, as all students should feel they have the LASPA Center as a resource.”

Some students expressed concern that Bettison-Varga did not adequately address their questions. 

“I don’t think she answered my
questions, especially regarding diversity,” Danie Diamond SC ’15 said. “A lot
of time she spent defending herself rather than actually answering our
questions, which derailed the discussion.”

Some, on the other hand, were
pleased with the president’s responses.

“I felt like she was very cogent and
did a very good job of releasing as much information as she could about the
process,” Claire Pompetti SC ’14 said. “I feel like for what she could release,
and for what she could know off the top of her head, and possibly prepare for,
that she did a really great job.”

The forum followed two other Be Heard forums hosted by SAS about the LASPA director search. The first, held last week,
prompted SAS to reach out to both students and SCORE leaders to create
a formal list of questions to send to the college administration.

“I think that her being there to
answer students’ questions is a pretty big step, as she’s a very busy person,
so the fact that she’s taking an hour out of her night is really amazing,” Bean

In an email to TSL, Bettison-Varga
wrote that the ongoing debate has not affected the college’s search for a new

“The search for a program director
is moving forward,” Bettison-Varga wrote. “The holder of this position will
launch programs for the center that will help students bridge their current
interests with their future endeavors.”

Bettison-Varga also stressed at the
forum and through email that, although Scripps students have input in many
hiring processes at Scripps, students should not expect to have the final say.

“I’ve heard phrases including
‘Increase transparency from administration…’ and ‘Scripps College is a
democracy,’ yet it’s not clear to me what students mean or what they expect when
they make these statements,” Bettison-Varga wrote. “We have students and
faculty as voting members on administrative committees at the College and Board
level, and their perspectives and participation are valued. However, shared governance does not mean shared
decision making.”

Besides hosting Be Heard forums,
Bean, on behalf of SAS, requested that every group of Board of Trustees student
representatives hold an open meeting for one hour in the two weeks leading up
to the upcoming trustee retreat, to be held March 7-8. 

“Something I would encourage
students to do is definitely voice your opinions to SAS members, and utilize
the suggestion form on the SAS website,” Bean said. “We’ve been getting a lot
of interesting comments already.”

Also mentioned at the forum was the
possibility of a panel to discuss the Campaign for Scripps College, which has
drawn a mixed reaction from the student body. The exact date of the panel
was not announced at the forum.

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