More than 300 Harvey Mudd College students, faculty, and staff convened in the Platt Center Wednesday evening for a two-hour meeting about an external report — recently obtained and released by TSL — that advocates changes to HMC’s demanding curriculum and includes critical comments from anonymous students and faculty members.
In a conversation that ranged from serious to emotional to combative, students, mostly speaking anonymously, aired their grievances and called on the administration to address perceived problems at HMC: a crushing workload, faculty members’ inappropriate comments, a lack of support for women and minorities, and a lack of funding for mental health programs.
Many students shared personal anecdotes about being forced to give up hobbies, extracurriculars, and even essential activities like eating and sleeping to concentrate on a mounting pile of work.
“I think our objective in the long term really needs to be the balance of being able to do a problem set and also have time to play an instrument or [read] a book,” one student said.
Students condemned sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate comments made by faculty; many demanded that problematic faculty members be dealt with more strictly by the administration, and some called for public denunciation of those professors.
One student summed it up: Inappropriate faculty members should “get with it or get lost.”
HMC President Maria Klawe, while being peppered with questions from the audience, defended HMC’s track record of dealing with misconduct reports. Klawe said that although students are not privy to private conversations regarding these types of incidents, they do occur.
“Humiliating someone … is not a positive move forward,” she said, citing research studies. “It might make you feel better, but it’s not actually the best way to change [behavior].”
“Particularly in personnel issues, there are privacy issues,” Klawe said in an interview withTSL after the meeting. “And so there are genuine limitations on how much transparency there can be, and for good reasons. But insofar as transparency as something we can do and make it effective, yes, I think we’re all committed to that.”
Students continually shouted out their desires for immediate change and an action plan, but Dean of the Faculty Jeff Groves said that curricular changes have to be voted on by all faculty members. Still, Groves pledged to entreat HMC committees to think about what can be done in the short term regarding workload concerns and cross-course management.
“I will work over the next week to start discussions about how we do curricular management better,” he said.
Students also pressed Klawe to provide more funding for mental health, and Dean of Health and Wellness Qutayba Abdullatif lamented a lack of staff and money in his department.
“I see students in my office that are broken,” he said.
Abdullatif acknowledged that the Office of Health and Wellness has been growing and receiving more funding, but “to date we still suffer every year to make things happen.”
Klawe emphasized her support for mental health, and told TSL after the meeting that she would prefer to see additional funding go toward 5C or 7C programs like Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS).
“I think it’s more cost-effective to share services with the other colleges,” she said. “We actually spend, I think, more on student health in terms of what we have on campus than any of the other colleges, and we did that … because we weren’t getting the students to go to MCAPS. But now we have more students going [there].”
Forest Kobayashi HM ’20 thought the forum, while disruptive at times, was a productive start to addressing workload concerns. He thinks the combative student behavior at the meeting wasn’t necessarily “the most reasonable, calm, kind of detached thing to do,” but believes “it [did] give the best option of effecting substantive change.”
Radon Rosborough HM ’20 thought the meeting was co-opted by a few students with similar perspectives, but understands the need for wholesale curricular change.
“I really don’t think it’s acceptable for the curriculum to be inflexible to the point where if you don’t have all the right tools then you can’t manage it,” Rosborough said. “If some people can’t handle it and there’s no other option for them, that’s not acceptable.”
The community forum came on the heels of growing student uproar over the results of the leaked report. On Monday, a group of HMC students calling themselves “mad scientists” left hundreds of papers with quotes from the report around campus, including inside Kensington Hall and in front of Klawe's residence.
“The attitudes students expressed in [the report] legitimized feelings that we [the mad scientists] have all felt during our time at this school,” the students explained in an email to other HMC students. “The mad scientists wanted to target the faculty with a demonstration, because all faculty are implicated in not sharing the document sooner.”
On Tuesday, HMC’s student affinity groups sent an email to the college community with a list of demands, which included incorporating student voices in the process of revising HMC’s curriculum and involving the Office of Institutional Diversity in the hiring of new faculty members.
On Thursday, a group of black students led a walk-out and rally of nearly 100 through the Shanahan Center, chanting “Harvey M-U-dou-ble-D. Fire racist faculty!”
Afterwards, Jordan Howard-Jennings HM ’19 fired up the crowd with an impassioned speech.
“I’m tired of having to spend days and weeks and months putting in more time and effort into providing my free labor towards making this toxic campus a better place and not seeing any results,” Howard-Jennings said through a megaphone.