Jordan McNair, the University of Maryland student who died of heatstroke this spring following football practice, and his family deserve justice and accountability from UMD leadership. So do Lt. Richard Collins III, who was killed on campus a year earlier, and his family. So do all UMD students, staff and alumni. President Wallace Loh and his administrators have consistently provided neither.
He and his senior administrators have routinely failed to address student concerns about racism. Students floundered amid crisis, trauma and violence when Lt. Collins, a black Bowie State student, was killed on campus and a UMD student, reportedly a white supremacist, was charged with murder and a hate crime in Collins’ death. The University has largely ignored black and brown workers’ claims of racism while telling Spanish-speaking employees to speak English. And as hate speech has proliferated across campus over the last several years, President Loh mildly criticized, ignored or labeled it as "the diversity of views in our community.” Even the former interim chief diversity officer, Roger Worthington, acknowledged he wasn't getting "real backing" from the university.
Our Title IX office is in complete disarray, deferring justice for sexual assault survivors. Its director resigned in August, on the heels of Mr. Worthington’s July resignation, making him the second chief diversity officer to quit within 18 months.
Mr. Loh and his administrators have betrayed students through their financial decisions. The university contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while claiming solidarity with its undocumented students and theatrically celebrating “The Year of Immigration.” It takes advantage of state law that allows it to pay undergraduate student workers wages below Prince George’s County’s minimum. Graduate student salaries are well below peer institutions and the local cost of living, limiting our ability to attract the best and brightest. And it bears noting that according to our research administrative salaries and the number of administrators on campus has ballooned.
Mr. Loh is often praised for developing College Park, but he has done this largely without student input. His vision did not include adequate affordable housing, on- or off-campus, leading to impossibly high rents. Pair these rents with higher textbook prices and higher fees — implemented over the objections of student leaders (and, on occasion, without their required consultation) — and you’ve got a fiscally unsustainable situation.
Want to live on-campus? The University routinely over-accepts students in campus housing and has tried to cover up its mistake by buying students out of their contracts. When this didn’t work, they placed students in dorm lounges or packed students tightly into rooms. Then, in the crushing August/September heat, cooling systems failed. Then, widespread mold — in many buildings.
Jordan McNair’s tragic death laid bare toxic football culture — but we also hope it will lay bare, and remedy, the pattern of negligence, disregard and disrespect for students propagated by President Wallace Loh.
We need drastic institutional change.
Last week, Provost Mary Ann Rankin and all deans praised Wallace Loh for “support[ing] and protect[ing] our students,” and asked him to reconsider resigning. They’re wrong, and some are complicit in Mr. Loh’s toxic campus culture. A handful of Maryland politicians also have suggested President Loh should reconsider his resignation. We demand that President Loh recommit to his June 2019 resignation.
The University System Board of Regents must also institutionalize students in the process of appointing President Loh’s successor and in determining all future presidents and university policies.
Finally, the state legislature must reconstitute the Board of Regents as a democratically elected body via a process in which students are central.
Beyond these initial steps, more must be done to make UMD a safe and nurturing institution. We remain committed to further action and organizing on behalf of our communities.
The toxic environment at the University of Maryland can only be corrected through an exodus of the current leadership. Active student involvement in the appointment of administrators and policies will uphold the values of the University System of Maryland’s flagship campus.
Katie Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Communication PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park. Sarah Eshera is a 2018 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park.Multiple organizations representing graduate and undergraduate students contributed to this op-ed including: the African Student Association, the American Indian Student Union; the Amharic Language Society; the Beta Beta Chapter of Iota Iota Iota; the Chi Chapter of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha; Community Roots; the Coalition of Latinx Student Organizations; the Democratic Socialists of America; Fearless Student Employees; the Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee; the History Graduate Students Association Board; UMD Socialists; the Iota Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; the Latino Graduate Student Association; the Latinx Student Union; the Maryland Food Collective; MaryPIRG; the Muslim Alliance for Social Change; the National Pan-Hellenic Council at the University of Maryland; the Organization of Arab Students; the Phi Chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity; Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society; Pride Alliance; the Prison Resistance Project; the Somali Student Association; Students for Justice in Palestine; the University of Maryland Associate Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma. National Sorority; and the Upsilon Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority.