The 2016-17 Boston University school year was one marked by student advocacy. The 2016 presidential election spurred dialogue up and down Commonwealth Avenue, and student activists raised their voices at BU’s administration. Many BU community members encouraged social responsibility, raising questions for one another to contemplate. To what extent should BU protect undocumented students? How transparent should the Board of Trustees be? Should the university increase its financial aid with tuition, or does freezing financial aid suffice?
Here are several topics and issues that The Daily Free Press covered this year and will continue to cover during the 2017-18 school year.
New female police chief appointed
The Boston University Police Department selected Kelly Nee as its new police chief, following a rigorous search process. Nee took over as the BUPD’s first female chief in May after former BUPD Chief Tom Robbins stepped down in September. In the meantime, former Deputy Chief Scott Paré filled in as acting executive director of public safety and chief of police.
The search process involved input from the BU community and the Police Executive Research Forum, which is a vetting company that was used in hiring Robbins. The Police Chief Search Committee, composed of BU faculty and staff members, whittled 19 qualified candidates down to Nee. Nee’s passion, professionalism and broad experience ultimately stood out to Peter Fiedler, the vice president of administrative services and the chair of the search committee.
Financial aid assurance program set in motion
Boston University Financial Assistance launched the Grant Assurance program in December to quell unease many students felt about the prospect of having their financial assistance scaled back. The program guaranteed that any financial aid students receive from BU during their first year will renew each year through their undergraduate careers.
Frustrated that some classmates were unable to return to BU because of cuts to their aid, a group of students started the #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity campaign on social media to raise awareness of their financial aid fixes. After students voiced their concerns and suggested possible improvements to the financial aid process, the Financial Assistance team unveiled their new mutually-beneficial program aimed at optimizing retention by assuring no future cuts to students’ aid, regardless of changes in family income. Both students and Financial Assistance staff members look forward to continuing their open, constructive dialogue.
Tuition hikes prompt students to demand transparency
Following the announcement that BU’s tuition will increase overall by 3.4 percent this fall, many students expressed outrage at a perceived lack of transparency on the part of BU’s administration. University representatives contended that BU’s tuition increases are historically lower than its peer institutions, and tuition increases are necessary to maintain a high quality of education. However, their justifications did not diminish the frustration students felt.
Students navigated ways to embolden their voices, which many felt go unheard by the administration. The Student Curriculum Committee, Student Government and #PoorAtAPrivateUniversity hosted a forum about the importance of transparency from higher-ups. SG passed a proposal to allow a student representative to sit in on Board of Trustees meetings and are awaiting approval. Students want to know exactly how their money is being spent as they continue to build a channel of communication to the administration.
BU gears up for presidential election
In the few fall months leading up to the election, BU was abuzz with political conversations. Students held debate watch parties and voter registration drives. Faculty panels analyzed the election’s inner workings and broader implications. Students formally and informally debated either candidate’s policies. In a heated debate held two days before the election, last year’s SG President Jake Brewer — who isn’t a fan of Donald Trump — accused Trump supporter Nicholas Fuentes of supporting “objectively fascist” ideologies, while Fuentes accused Brewer of perpetuating multiculturalism, something Fuentes claimed was “cancer.”
On Election Day, local voter turnout was high, but enthusiasm for the two main candidates was low. Since most students expected Hillary Clinton to secure her victory, the liberal-leaning campus was especially distraught as the final votes were tallied. As the community came to grips with the results, many were left wondering what lies ahead.
Campus responds to travel ban
Students and faculty alike grappled with the newly-minted Trump administration and contemplated how BU should respond to national policies, as many directly affect the BU community. One such policy was Trump’s executive order which temporarily prevented citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. Both university officials and students sought to resist the ban. At the time, the order would affect 100 BU students and 16 scholars. Students rallied in support of their classmates, and President Brown denounced Trump’s anti-immigration policies in an op-ed for The Boston Globe. Administrators said they saw the ban as a hamper on higher education and a violation of values fundamental to BU.
Students seek climate justice
Climate activists on campus continued their quest to pressure the Board of Trustees to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry. Divest BU, a vocal student coalition, has rallied and lobbied for divestment. Their recent campaign, which was launched in May, is an attempt to persuade alumni to withhold donations to the university until it divests entirely.
Apart from BU’s fossil fuel finances, BU community members have taken to the streets on national climate concerns as well. In April, about 100 Boston University students and faculty participated in the BU March for Science, where they celebrated the role of science in society amid skepticism about the Trump administration’s will to combat climate change.
CFA’s sexual assault lawsuit
In April 2016, two women — one current and one former BU student — filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against BU and College of Fine Arts professor Eric Ruske. The lawsuit claimed Ruske sexually harassed the two women from a position of power and that BU failed to properly handle their complaints. The women said they hoped the lawsuit would change the way BU handles reports of sexual misconduct.
In April 2017, Ruske was pulled from a concert lineup at the University of Mary Washington Philharmonic Orchestra. Though UMW declined to comment on whether or not Ruske was dropped because of the lawsuit, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra — which canceled Ruske’s performance in April 2016 — explicitly blamed canceling Ruske on the “significant negative attention” surrounding the lawsuit.
Throughout the 2016-17 school year, Ruske remained a professor in CFA. A student created a petition seeking Ruske’s ouster that has since garnered over 500 online signatures.
BU versus NHL
Back in January, the National Hockey League filed a motion demanding that BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center turn over documents containing exhaustive research on hundreds of brains and spinal cords, including those of former NHL players. The CTE Center’s research had found that blows to the head could lead to the development of CTE, a degenerative brain disease. With this information, former NHL players sued the league a few years ago for not acting on these dangers.
A U.S. District Court judge denied the NHL’s request for medical data from the CTE Center in April. The judge decided that the NHL’s request was not only unduly burdensome for the center, but it could stymie further scientific research. For the CTE Center, this ruling was a major victory against an intrusive and unreasonable request.
Student government restructures Senate
In its final meeting of the school year, SG members voted to restructure their Senate. The proposal removed the seven seats allotted to student groups — the Environment Student Organization, BU Hillel, InterFraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee — and replaced them with 10 at-large seats, whose fillers will be voted on this fall.
The controversial proposal, which was solidified in the last minutes of the meeting, will almost double Senate’s size.
As students return to campus for the fall semester, these are among the issues that will dominate campus dialogue. Be sure to check out The Daily Free Press for all the latest campus coverage.