Debate over Scripps College’s LASPA Center for Leadership has not subsided with the advent of a new semester. The center, an integral part of Scripps’ ‘We Want More’ campaign, became the center of controversy in February after Scripps President Lori Bettsion-Varga announced her decision not to select social justice activist Margaret Okazawa-Rey as director, who had been chosen by a search committee comprised of students, professors and alumni.
In response to these concerns, Bettison-Varga created a steering committee last semester for the LASPA Center. The committee has been meeting since the start of this school year to clarify the center’s objectives and participate in the renewed director selection process. Scripps Associated Students President Alex Frumkin SC ’15 appointed students Michelle Guan SC ’15 and Chelci Burroughs SC ’16 to represent student viewpoints.
In an email to TSL regarding the LASPA Center and the “We Want More” financial campaign, Bettison-Varga wrote that both the center and campaign have made significant progress.
Frumkin remains cautious but expressed her hope that further issues can be discussed at a Board of Trustees meeting to be held this weekend.
Bettison-Varga’s announcement last February that the search would begin anew sparked an eruption of criticism from many of the students who supported Okazawa-Rey. Still, the decision to restart the search for a director was not extraordinary, Frumkin said.
“It is a very common thing when searching for directors,” she said. “Even for our current school president LBV, she was found in the second cycle in the search for Scripps’ president.”
Some students claimed that the administration had ignored the widespread support for Okazawa-Rey, effectively undermining what they perceived to be a democratic aspect of the selection process. Frumkin, however, said that although many students were visibly supportive of Okazawa-Rey, she does not believe that the Scripps student body had unanimously selected the social justice activist as its choice for LASPA director.
“SAS put on a lot of different panels where you could come talk to the two candidates, and basically only SAS members came to them,” she said. “So to say that the whole student body was behind [the candidate] is a really problematic thing to say.”
Although most of the controversy has dimmed, Scripps students still remain divided on whether or not the decision to restart the search was the right one. Some, such as Kimberly Felt SC ’17, respect Bettison-Varga’s decision.
“I think that, for a center with such lofty goals as LASPA, the person in charge has to be someone who everyone in the administration and student body can agree on,” Felt said. “If the president didn’t think Okazawa-Rey was the right choice, there’s probably something to that.”
Frumkin also stressed the fact that the search committee was never the authorized final say on the choice of who was to be director.
“The voices were heard; they just weren’t the deciding factor,” she said. “Students aren’t the only body that can make that decision.”
But Frumkin noted that the controversy did serve to underscore a lack of accessibility and transparency between students and administration. The debate over LASPA’s director and its mission also incited criticism of Scripps’ ‘We Want More’ financial campaign, of which the LASPA center is a major beneficiary.
As Frumkin observed, the language of the campaign can be construed as “problematic because … we don’t all identify as wanting the same things. Who are you including there? Who’s consenting to be brought into that ‘we’?”