WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 12/12/16
Effective leadership begins with the ability to empathize with one’s constituents. At Adams State University, that means finding common ground with first-generation and non-traditional students, many of whom come from working class backgrounds. Despite this, on October 29th 2016, ASU President Beverlee McClure chose to dress in a fat suit, portraying a plumber with rotting teeth, to attend a party hosted by an obese employee and his obese partner.
Prior to becoming president, her Halloween costume would not have been of public concern. However, as a highly-paid public official representing the university, her costume reflects a clear disconnect with the students she ostensibly promised to serve; a leader cannot support them while simultaneously expressing disdain for them. These photos, apparently mocking the working class, have become a source of painful discomfort for many in the Alamosa community and, as of publication, remain posted on Dr. McClure’s Facebook page.
How, for example, do our working class students feel when they see publicly-disseminated photos of their president parading around in a fat suit? What negative stereotypes does it perpetuate by depicting a working class person who cannot afford dental care? How many ASU students cannot afford regular dental checkups, given that ASU doesn’t offer a health insurance plan or health center for its students? How many ASU students are the first in their family to attend college, with working class parents, and with some working similar jobs to pay their own tuition – and Dr. McClure’s salary? What kind of emotions might such photos provoke in members of ASU custodial crew who tirelessly dedicate their nights and weekends to cleaning the very bathrooms and other facilities that Dr. McClure and her colleagues use in Richardson Hall?
One current employee at ASU said, “My father was a contractor, who also did plumbing/heating work. This ‘costume’ was hurtful, even to me.”
A Hispanic female ASU employee who later learned of Dr. McClure’s costume choice said, “I find it disgraceful the way she dressed for Halloween. I felt she was putting down the plumbers and making fun of their appearance. It was distasteful.”
Unfortunately, in just over a year in office, Dr. McClure has revealed very little regard for the ASU student body. Her lack of empathy, even contempt, for others was evident at this Halloween party, but it is on full display every day at ASU.
Such behaviors help to explain President McClure’s general level of disengagement during the forums for the National Center for Historically Underserved Students, held at ASU on November 13-15th. Several members of the think tank, all of whom are nationally renowned, commented to faculty and staff members about the president’s apparent lack of commitment to underserved students. Another individual close to the event’s organization said, “To be honest, she just doesn’t seem to get our students.” Participants said actions speak louder than words, and her public comments were not in keeping with her behavior.
In addition to first generation students, ASU has given President McClure the charge of serving Colorado’s first and largest Hispanic Serving Institution. Dr. McClure has engaged very little with the student body in her time on campus, and when she has, she has failed to connect with them. A Watching Adams comment left on December 7th by someone identifying themselves as an ASU student stated in part:
“President McClure states she has an open door policy… I spoke to the snooty woman for maybe one minute, she made me feel lower than low. Was it because I am an undocumented female, who looks or dresses nothing like her? Was I not worthy of her attention? Remember, you need me along with my siblings and relatives to attend. Remember this is an HSI… Hispanic Serving Institution.”
One faculty member discussed how Dr. McClure’s conduct is making it more difficult to recruit and retain faculty members of Hispanic heritage. They said, “we try to recruit and retain faculty from the same population that Dr. McClure mocks. No wonder we fall short when it comes to providing minority faculty as role models for our students, especially female Hispanic faculty.”
Empathy is about identifying with others, and when it comes to ASU’s most important student demographics, Hispanics and the working class, McClure has clearly failed to find common ground.
Everyone makes mistakes but Dr. McClure’s Halloween costume is in keeping with the general lack of empathy that she has demonstrated for her colleagues and constituents during her tenure at ASU. In just over a year, she has falsely accused a former ASU instructor of terrorism, labeled male faculty members and a student as “sexist” for questioning the constitutionality of ASU’s persona non grata policy, openly bullied campus activists in administrative forums, forced out employees with dissenting viewpoints, and in recent months, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance and sexual orientation of other ASU employees.
With this in mind, perhaps it is not surprising that under Dr. McClure’s leadership, student enrollment has dropped each semester and the institution’s graduation rates have hovered near historic lows. Students are voting with their feet, and as 2016 comes to a close, one can’t help but wonder how much longer legislators and regulators will stand on the sidelines before they cast their own votes of no confidence.
Effective leadership begins with the ability to empathize with one’s constituents and it ends with one’s ability to retain the support of those they serve. As president of ASU, Dr. McClure has demonstrated a pattern of exceptionally poor judgment that continues to erode her support on campus. Ultimately, she is responsible for the decisions she makes. If faculty, staff, and students continue to stand by while she undermines Adams State’s historic mission, we will ultimately be responsible for ASU’s demise.