An open letter to Dr. Anne Carson Daly and the Mount Saint Mary College Board of Trustees

Dear Dr. Daly and the MSMC Board of Trustees,

 

As more actions of the current administration come to light, I find myself feeling increasingly sad, disturbed and detached from the Dominican Campus I was raised on. Mount Saint Mary College has been a defining part of my academic and personal growth. My family has lived in Newburgh for generations, for more than two hundred years in fact. My grandmother attended Mount Saint Mary Academy when it was an all-girls secondary school and many of my relatives, friends and best teachers have had the privilege of studying here.

When I was 4 years old I began Pre-Kindergarten at Bishop Dunn Memorial School on our campus. I spent the first 13 years of my life on this campus. Now, returning as a young adult, I find only a vague memory of what once existed. The fiery spirit of inquiry and dialogue that defined Mount Saint Mary College has been reduced to a flicker and the atmosphere of family and genuine compassion has been replaced by a culture of fear and anxiety.

I feel sorry for our students and faculty who have been robbed of the special inclusiveness of the Mount. For those in the administration who reject student protests as against the ideals that the Dominican Sisters would have wanted, I can promise you that you are wrong- I know, because they were the ones who raised me to have a voice from my earliest years.

In his letter to the Mount Saint Mary College community, Albert Gruner, Chair of the Board of Trustees asserts “Properly understood, academic freedom extends, with appropriate limitations, to academic research, classroom instruction, and one’s speech as a public citizen,” but who defines such limitations? The President? The Board? The faculty? And even so, who is to say that these limitations are appropriate? The world does not exist with “appropriate limitations.” When we restrict our freedom within academia, we do a great injustice to ourselves and to our community.

The Dominican Tradition does not uphold any such limitations but rather abhors them. Our mission as a Dominican community is one of truth. We will seek truth and we will seek justice, no matter the limitations set before us. In The Dominican Charism in American Higher Education: A Vision in Service of Truth, reference is made to the Dominican Sisters overcoming cultural limitations and instead contributing to the advancement and greater good of society.

Now students, faculty and myself alike stand upon the shoulders of the giants that are the Dominican Sisters in overcoming the limitations that have been deemed appropriate for us. The only limitation to academic freedom is ignorance itself.

While the decision not to reinstate Dr. Erin Crockett and Dr. Andrew Weiss is a profoundly detestable decision, it has enlivened the Dominican virtues within so many of us. A campus community that so rarely protests is engaged in a glorious act of solidarity. We came together as students, faculty, alumni and more with one message: “We are Mount Saint Mary College. We may come from different backgrounds, we may have different passions and we may not always agree, but so long as we can come together as a community to pursue righteousness, then we can say with confidence that we are committed to teaching truth.”

Any attempts to limit academic freedom, or silence dissidence, or even disregard the Dominican mission will inevitably fail. While the President and the Board of Trustees may alter the direction of this college, they can never alter our perceptions of our Dominican heritage.

While the Mount may now be consumed by fear and repression, it is still the same college that once served as a beacon of hope and truth to so many. While I speak for myself and myself alone, I am confident that many students, faculty and alumni would agree with this assertion.

It is with great disappointment to students and faculty that the Board of Trustees and our new president have failed to share our pursuit for truth. There are countless examples of the Board and President diverting from our collective mission, most recently, the non-reappointment of Dr. Crockett and Dr. Weiss.

While the board does ultimately make the final decision on tenure, promotion and re-appointment (as reiterated by Albert Gruner in his letter), the decision shows a complete disregard for the Promotion & Tenure committee who overwhelmingly recommended both Dr. Crockett and Dr.Weiss. This causes one to ask, if the board does not make decisions based on the recommendations of the P&T committee, how can these decisions be accurate or appropriate? As a student who takes academics very seriously, this disturbs me greatly.

In my opinion, the decision of the Board and President have shown a complete and utter disregard and contempt for our Dominican traditions by not only choosing to not reappoint and by refusing to even comment on such a contentious and provocative matter. This makes one think, if the administration has such little regard for esteemed professors, how little must the voices of students matter as well? Time and time again, this administration proves to be deeply out of touch.

Many of us are eager for dialogue and transparency. We are desperate to finally have an open conversation about the Dominican heritage and how we can preserve truth. As a student who has been deeply engaged in the recent activism on campus, I invite MSMC President Dr. Carson Daly and the Board of Trustees to engage in an open discussion with faculty and students on what it means to seek truth in the Dominican heritage. Thank you.

 

Respectfully,

Nicholas M. Casiano