EDITORIAL BOARD: Keen’s resignation should be a wake up call for Scripps

A white building is covered with green plants, a red brick path leads up to the building
The Editorial Board argues that Suzanne Keen’s resignation calls attention to Scripps’ inability to maintain a safe environment for students. (Sarah Sundermeyer • The Student Life)

Scripps College President Suzanne Keen resigned last week after just eight months in her position. That’s less time than a full-term pregnancy. That’s less time than it takes to experience all four seasons. Although to be fair, her predecessors haven’t lasted too much longer. Keen makes this the third resignation in ten years for the Scripps Administration. 

The instability of the Scripps’ administration echoes a larger, national trend for historically women’s colleges (HWCs) — a trend toward obsolescence. Keen’s resignation is during the same school year that the number of U.S. HWCs plummeted to 31. That’s down 86.5 percent in the last 75 years, such that HWCs now make up only 0.7 percent of colleges in the United States. The Daily Beast called it “the fight to save women’s colleges from extinction.” “Are women’s colleges doomed?” NPR’s headline reads.

We don’t intend to fearmonger, but Scripps’ excessive presidential turnover naturally begs the question: How much do we care about the future of Scripps, or HWCs everywhere? With the security of the institution continually hanging in the balance, we ask that all 7C students pay attention. We ask that students demand Scripps and all other 7C administrations prioritize the educational opportunities for all students and applicants that aren’t cisgender men through their actions, not just their words. To be clear, Keen’s resignation is something to be outraged about.

To add insult to injury, Keen’s resignation has been shrouded in secrecy. Students that have been vocal about their justified concerns of instability have been met with little to no answers. She declined TSL’s request for an exit interview and did not provide any further information aside from saying she would return to Scripps in 2024 as a professor. 

We can recognize that Keen, however, is not solely to blame for the lack of transparency. It’s not a presidential failure, but an institutional one. Whatever the reason for Keen’s resignation, we take issue with the Scripps Board of Trustees and current administrators’ delayed and evasive response to being held accountable for the institution’s glaring instability issue. 

It has been two weeks with minimal clarity and accountability since Keen’s resignation. Scripps Associated Students just announced on March 30 that an open conversation will be hosted surrounding the presidential transition. But we fear this may be too little too late. While we hope this conversation may provide the insight we’ve been waiting for, the previous decade of uncertainty has given us little optimism.

Her resignation is more than just an institutional embarrassment. Keen’s resignation is a wake up call. The legitimacy of Scripps’ mission to “secure … through its actions and the services it provides to students, faculty and staff, the widest appreciation for all groups and individuals; to combat discrimination,” is at stake when it fails to consistently provide the resources and administrators to ensure that security. So, Scripps, we ask you: How important are your students, faculty and staff, really? What will you do to “secure” consistency for them?

We are alarmed. Our concerns are not only large scale about preserving the sanctity of spaces designed for the systematically disadvantaged. On a more immediate level, constant presidential turnover necessarily impedes any institutional progress. Scripps prides itself as being internationally recognized as a “leader in women’s liberal arts education,” but how can it lead with no leadership? There is no leader to direct the future of the institution or any long-term progress — whether that be increasing tuition affordability or sustaining new departments. Without any presidential consistency, students and faculty are left helpless in their demands and effectively forced to maintain the status quo. 

And even that is, admittedly, the best case scenario. If the national trend is any indication, at worst, administrative instability and failure to meet student demands could eventually swallow the institution and its history entirely. That exact scenario recently befell Mills College in Oakland, CA, causing it to merge with Northeastern University in 2021. It’s not difficult to imagine Scripps as a debilitated institution with limited administrative resources, simply becoming a leg of its surrounding colleges. To some, the thought of that slippery slope may not be as alarming as we are making it out to be. What could be so bad about everything being co-ed? To that, we circle back to what we believe to be the heart of this issue: How much do we care about preserving and prioritizing the educational interests of all students that are not cisgender men? 

For many Scripps students, including our own editor-in-chief, the institution offers a residential safe haven and a learning environment that is conducive to those that have been historically disadvantaged. It’s an institution designed directly in reaction to oppression, and since its inception, has aimed to work toward educational opportunity and justicial progress. Inhibiting the Scripps administration, let alone dismantling it, will not create equality. Misogyny still prevails, hence the need to prioritize spaces for those affected by it.

So, please believe us when we say that the failure to prioritize the health of the Scripps administration is a direct obstruction to progress for the institution and addressing patriarchal spaces at large. It is not dramatic to demand more attention for this negligence.

Scripps students, faculty and staff deserve better. It’s completely unacceptable that some of the most vulnerable members of our society can be met with such little accountability, clarity and even less consistency. The health and future of Scripps should be a concern to everyone at the 7Cs. The institution’s success relies on our continuous commitment and concentrated efforts to show that –– yes, Scripps is important, and the 5Cs cannot and will not allow Scripps to be treated as the weakest link. We cannot let Scripps continue to rot from the head. 

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