by NICK BUCHANAN
Dr. Lillian Schumacher has a large pair of shoes to fill and a long road to walk in them.
On Jan. 14, four days into her position as interim president of Tiffin University, she met at an open forum held by Black United Students (BUS) in Chisholm Auditorium to discuss rising tension surrounding the sudden departure of Dr. Curtis Charles, racial discrimination on campus, and long-needed improvements for the university. Eleven days later, on Jan. 25, she headed another forum in the same auditorium with the student government to reassure students that their concerns are being heard.
Dr. Schumacher, formerly the vice president of academic affairs, was appointed to her position this month, after Dr. Charles’ resignation was accepted by the university’s board of trustees before the turn of the year. His departure was cited to “a difference in views on strategic vision” in a press release issued by the institution, which wasn’t enough of an explanation for distraught students at the first forum where Dr. Schumacher was met with a hostile environment.
“I never saw a change until President Charles. There was an effort, not just words,” said Malcolm Phillips, current president of Black United Students, at the first forum. “In my six years at Tiffin, Dr. Charles was the only positive change, and then you got rid of him with two words: strategic [vision].”
Dr. Schumacher held to the press release’s statement throughout questioning.
“Sometimes things happen in an institution that we can’t explain,” Dr. Schumacher said, reiterating that only Dr. Charles and the board of trustees know the true reason behind his exit and that his departure was on terms of his own. “You can’t assume this happened just because the institution doesn’t want diversity.”
Focus soon turned to concerns of racial-based discrimination on campus as multiple students reported that they were victims of racial slurs. These admissions were met by wide eyes from Dr. Schumacher and administrators who were present, who offered vague references to campus discrimination policy.
“These students are tired of being swept on the rug,” Jeannette Berry, a director of commercial music on campus and a member of the university’s diversity committee, said during the forum. “Policy will never change the core of people’s hearts.”
Dr. Schumacher didn’t deny that problems exist.
“We have a lot of education to do. We even have to do that with some of our faculty members. We’re starting the first thing on Monday,” said Dr. Schumacher, referencing a Jan. 18 workshop for faculty and staff on campus diversity.
In addition to diversity education, she also plans to continue some of Dr. Charles’ unfinished plans, with focuses on diversifying academic programs, building a group of committed faculty and staff, improving retention rates, and strengthening online programs.
“What we did under Dr. Charles is not all gone,” Dr. Schumacher said.
Meanwhile, at the second forum held by the student government on Jan. 25, she stressed communication between students, faculty, staff, and administration as she addressed multiple concerns that lingered regarding leaderships and lack of communication under both former President Charles and former President Paul Marion.
“I think it’s important to share student issues, student concerns, and student celebrations,” Dr. Schumacher said at the second forum, placing importance on student and faculty collaborations in meetings with organizations, such as the student government. “Whatever you can do to get your student peers to these meetings, do it.”
On the night of the second forum, she said she had received a letter of concerns from BUS and had already begun taking action on some of the problems.
“One of the suggestions was for a resource center,” Dr. Schumacher said. “By the end of the summer, we will have a resource center for diversity issues.”
The Institutional Diversity Resource Center was formally announced in an e-mail from Dr. Sharon Perry-Fantini, Assistant Vice President for Diversity, on Jan. 28.
According to the e-mail, the center will include resources for students who are minorities, have disabilities, or are parents. The center will also “create and maintain a safe, and inclusive environment by supporting and promoting diversity” by providing advocacy for cases of discrimination and harassment at Tiffin University.
Other issues that Dr. Schumacher has already addressed from BUS students include changing the job description for staff involved with extra-curricular programs and expanding curriculum, promising at least one new global class option in the next semester.
Azhane Vance, secretary of BUS, said that the organization’s executive board refused to make further comment on the letter’s contents, but she did say that Dr. Schumacher met privately with the executive board after the forum for a discussion.
After her question and answer session with the student government audience, Dr. Schumacher stayed for the remainder of the meeting to take notes on discussions of retention, budgets, university relationships with the Tiffin community and Heidelberg University, general campus improvements, and updates on the construction of a ballroom and a sport pub-style eatery in the Pettibone Building.
All concerns aside, the overlying message of Dr. Schumacher’s meetings with students was clear: she wants to see positive change for Tiffin University, but she can’t do it without the trust and support of the student body.
“I’m on day four. Give us time to put our money where our mouth is,” Dr. Schumacher said as she closed her forum with BUS. “I’m not Dr. Charles. I’m Dr. Schumacher, and I’m going to do something that’s genuine of me as a person. And it takes all of you to do this."
Dr. Schumacher will be holding public question and answer sessions through the semester in the Gillmor Student Center. Check Susan Ross-La Torre's weekly events e-mails for specific dates and times.