Plattsburgh State President John Ettling was stunned when he first heard calls for his resignation from the student body last month.
“But what I’d look to do before I retire is to re-earn the trust of those students demanding that I resign,” he said.
Ettling, who became PSUC’s 10th president in 2004, and other members of the administration are under fire for alleged inaction in the wake of racist incidents on campus, particularly one from February, in which a former student posted a racist threat on Snapchat.
The PSUC Student Association, supported by other campus organizations, called for the resignations of Ettling, Director of Student Conduct Larry Allen and Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley in a forum that drew more than 600 members of the campus community.
To improve campus climate, Ettling outlined 10 immediate and long-term initiatives with the help of the SA Executive Committee. Some of the actions underway include an increase in University Police presence, a request to the faculty senate and General Education Committee to institute a mandatory diversity class, the hoisting of a Black Lives Matter flag and LGBT pride flag in the Angell College Center and the formation of a social justice task force.
A campus-wide email from Ettling’s office announced Tuesday that the flags would be on display in the ACC stairway by the end of the week.
Ettling announced Wednesday also via email that community organizer and PSUC alumna Maxine Perry, ‘01, and director of the college’s Institute for Ethics in Public Life Jonathan Slater had been named co-chairs of the task force.
“The task force is charged with helping the president and college leadership better understand matters of social justice, ensuring all voices are heard,” the email said.
The group is scheduled to send its initial report to Ettling no later than Aug. 1.
One of the key initiatives demanded by students was a comprehensive review of the Student Code of Conduct. Hate crimes and offensive language are covered briefly under disorderly conduct in section seven of the current iteration, but the president wants the code to tighten rules and consequences. Among the changes desired, Ettling said, is to possibly include sanctions against students who post hateful and racist sentiments. Ettling hopes to present the proposed changes to the College Council at their public meeting April 16.
Campus community members would also like to see a more diverse faculty. At a range of forums held last month, several minority students voiced concerns that none or little of their teachers looked like them.
“We could redouble our efforts to bring more faculty members here who look like our students,” Ettling said.
Over a third of undergraduates as of fall 2017 were people of color or non-U.S. residents.
“We don’t have enough; it’s been a perennial problem for us,” the president said.
Because faculty and staff are generally recruited locally, recruitment efforts would have to increase outside the region as more than 90 percent of Clinton County is white.
Ettling and his administration intend to spread the campus’ diversity efforts throughout the city of Plattsburgh. PSUC administrators have already met with local government and business leaders. The faith community, who helped to organize Thursday night’s We Walk Together event, is a strong supporter of the goals to build an inclusive and welcoming environment.
Ettling recalled the campus and local community rallying in the past to support former Plattsburgh Mayor Daniel Stewart, the first openly gay mayor in New York, as well the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests, but he believes many in the community will continue to rally around the cause.
Further initiatives include: establishing a bias response-and-referral process this fall, implementing mandatory face-to-face diversity and inclusion training for all faculty and staff and creating a multi-cultural unity space on the first floor of the Angell College Center.
A complete outline of initiatives is available on the college’s website.
Email Ken Bates at firstname.lastname@example.org