Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

President Cummings talks openly about issues with SGA

University of Southern Maine Image Bank

Posted on February 06, 2017 in News
By Krysteana Scribner

What can you tell me about Madison’s decision to tell the general public about your confidential conversation?

Humza and Madison came to me to talk about the state budget. They wanted to know if they could be helpful for supporting a strong budget request, and it was terrific. In the context of that, there is a little piece of background information, and I wanted them to be confidential but make them aware. I said, “don’t even talk about it on Facebook,” because they had come to me with their own time and effort and I trusted them with it.

I was very clear. The nature of that information was more politicized by the individual who heard it. It wasn’t political in the way Madison was hearing it. It was a different issue how other states might interpret opposed to anything related to gender equity. Within a very short amount of time, maybe hours, Madison didn’t feel like they couldn’t honor that.

Did Governor Lepage withhold funding from the UMaine system because of LGBTQ discrimination?

It looks like he didn’t actually do that.

What was the reason that you chose to keep this confidential statement secret?

Because I was keeping someone else’s confidential information.

Madison claims they were demoted because of LGBTQ discrimination and stated that the administration played a part in this. Is that true?

I had no idea they had been removed from their position until I was contacted by the Free Press, actually. I think it’s totally inappropriate for the University to have any involvement to decide whether a senator should stay on the senate. It is a decision that should be on the senate. I do not have the jurisdiction. They represent the student body, so it is inappropriate for the administration. I was disappointed in Madison, I can’t deny that, but I had made it clear that I wanted to continue to meet with the both of them.

What is your thought on the political climate at Universities in today’s day and age?

Universities are being asked to live up to their highest ideals because they are being challenged – such as freedom of expression, diversity, our commitment to the students we represent and the community. The present political climate puts some of our students in danger of things like deportation, in danger of being denied an education and there is a role for us in the university to express their concerns.

At the same time, we are a place of freedom of expression, so there are people who don’t necessarily agree with the president and policies and yet there are individuals who strongly do. Both of those have to be held to the rights of free speech and free expression – and academic expression as well, that allows them to exist within the dialogue, the interaction of the university.

I had heard that USM had considered the possibility of deeming itself a sanctuary school. If this is true, how would the university go about this and what steps need to be taken to make that happen?

We looked very carefully at sanctuary, but that standard is something outside our jurisdiction, because it implies that we can protect students from things we absolutely, legally cannot do. So, many universities have said there is a better way to do this. We talk about it as supporting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), but we have not made a formal vote on that – the Board of Trustees is still deciding where to go with that I felt obligated to lay out a very clear affirmation of our core values; inclusion, diversity, respect for all, and the sanctity of education. That is the approach web are taking.

Can faculty and staff speak openly to the press without fear of repercussion?

Of course, I would hope people don’t feel that way. Faculty members are held to a very important standards of intellectual accountability because they have to be peer reviewed, and their thoughts and views have to be tested in the marketplace of ideas and their legitimacy. The university has a deep obligation to protect their freedom. There are lines that cannot be crossed, not in the case of faculty, but if one advocates for violence and physical harm to people that no one would want to cross. If you are perceived to insight violence, those behaviors and actions cannot be acceptable. Barring that, we want this free exchange of ideas.

What are your thoughts on the recent discrimination cases that have come to light over the past 6-8 months at USM? How does our University handle these kinds of situations? How do you determine what is considered as a hate crime?

We have a student conduct review to determine our course of action. Or, in the instance of harassment in the fall, we sent it directly to the District Attorney’s office, because we believed  that it had the potential to be tried as a hate crime. We have the ability to do both. We have pretty strong procedures, but we need to get stronger in training and understanding. Lots of folks on the university level, all of us quite frankly, need to learn more about the complexities of these issues. Just like you noted, where does the line cross between hate crimes and harassment? There may be ambiguity in some cases, but we will always have accountability for those students or community members who have experiences such as these.

There have been various instances of hate crimes both from students within the multicultural center harassing Caucasian students and students from the multicultural center experiencing discrimination on campus. What do you believe all of this aggressive behavior is born from?

I think some of the responses are understandable, because when you are threatened, your life is threatened, it is very difficult to find those better angels of our nature and respond in a strong but still respectful way and civil way. It’s very hard, we could easily get caught up in righteous rage, and it is a high standard. What we are seeing in these attacks are the seeming cultural or political permission based on what they’re seeing on TV and perhaps even in tweets. Social media becomes a place to engage in hateful acts, and perhaps not even see them as hateful acts, but rather as norms of the new world order, so to speak.