Apologies aren’t actions: UAF administration efforts hasty, indicate no improvement
Danny Fisher / Sun Star
On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Interim Chancellor Mike Powers issued a statement regarding UAF’s handling of sexual misconduct cases within the past five years. Since the email was sent out, campus administrators have been scrambling to address the issues he presented, and have succeeded in appearing ill-equipped to handle them.
In the email, Powers announced and invited members of the UAF and Fairbanks communities to a town hall event in the multi-level lounge of the Wood Center. Interim Chancellor Powers, Vice Chancellor Mike Sfraga, Title IX Coordinator Mae Marsh, and UAF Police Department Chief Keith Mallard were the panel speakers.
I listened as people stepped up to the microphone and shared their concerns, suggestions, and questions, and watched with dismay as campus leaders fumbled and struggled to answer.
Powers’ fumbling responses might be chalked up to passion and concern for the issues at hand. Marsh was cold, offering up statistics and processes but little reassurance. Sfraga was defensive, falling back on buzzwords rather than information or plans to improve. These are the three people who are supposed to be leading us to building a safer campus, and none of them struck me as capable leaders in that moment.
Perhaps most unsettling was the panel’s response when asked who holds THEM accountable when cases of sexual misconduct are handled improperly. Mallard was the most competent in this area, saying that the community and students of UAF are the people who hold the administration accountable when things go wrong… But that begs the question: If things have been mishandled for the past five years and the leaders of UAF have only recently come out with this information, how can we hold them accountable?
“I want to know what makes today different than last Monday,” Jessie Wattum, a student, said at the town hall. It’s a question that remained unanswered throughout the night. The panel repeatedly reassured the audience that they were cracking down on the issue, citing measures that have been in place since last school year. But what is happening NOW that makes us safer?
Powers has garnered quite a bit of positive attention for himself and UAF following his email, which admitted to the failings of the school’s judicial processes and apologized for the lack of transparency and effort to fix the problem. The producers of “The Hunting Ground,” an award-winning documentary film about sexual assault on college campuses, praised him, calling his actions “bold,” and “brave.” Similarly, the Huffington Post published an op-ed that called the apology “remarkable.”
“I am deeply sorry for how our lack of action affected our students and their friends and families,” Powers wrote in the address. But without a clearly outlined plan of action, his apologetic sentiments concerning the ongoing problems of an administration he has only just stepped into are, frankly, of little more value than a public relations stunt.
I have always felt safe at UAF. My employment at the Sun Star has resulted in many solitary, late-night walks home or to my vehicle, and never once have I been worried about facing any violence, nor have I given much thought to the matter of whether the university would lend assistance if I or a loved one were assaulted or raped on campus. Now, I am not so sure of this confidence, and the blame for that change lies not within the safety statistics on this campus, but rather in the lack of preparation and leadership displayed by the administration in the past week.