This story was originally published in the March 23 print issue.
An “Ask Dr. Cabrera” event was supposed to take place on March 18; however, President Cabrera did not attend, and no one substituted in his absence.
No statement was released explaining the situation. According to Newsdesk, another “Ask Dr. Cabrera” will take place April 29.
Students and faculty representing GMU Transparency, who planned to use the event to ask questions about private donations to Mason, were disappointed with the administrative error and lack of explanation. According to Cabrera’s twitter, he was in Richmond for a campus sexual violence task force meeting.
“I do think it’s an error, I wouldn’t go so far to say he did it intentionally but the fact that the error happened at all – I mean they previously specifically told us ‘come next time, bring your friends,’ so it’s not like it’s a surprise that we have some two, three dozen students here and the fact that people were waiting and a mistake like this happened – mistake or not, he’s not here and all of these people ready to say what they have to say but no one was here to listen,” Rachel Brewer, junior and Student Power member, said.
Many Student Power members attended an earlier “Ask Dr. Cabrera” event this semester for the same purpose and plan to use these public forums as an opportunity to directly communicate with Cabrera and the administration. According to Colin Nackerman, junior and Student Power member, Cabrera told Student Power he would be willing to meet with members of the group and discuss concerns over an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.
“It’s unfortunate because…with things of this nature, it is really important to [Student Power], and it is our only forum for us to speak with Cabrera since he refuses to meet with us still, even though he said he would meet with us, he still won’t. So this was really our opportunity, now this kind of pushes our timeline back even farther. It just postpones what we’re trying to do even more,” Nackerman said.
Students and faculty have been advocating for transparency at Mason since August 2014 when Student Power wrote an open letter to the administration stating their concerns. Student Power campaigns to reduce student debt and for contingent faculty’s rights, while GMU Transparency is trying to get answers about private funding at Mason and the effects it may have on academic freedom. The two groups are separate but affiliated.
According to Samantha Parsons, junior and co-founder of Student Power, some students expressed concern to her about a loss of academic freedom. Brewer said that while there may not be an obvious effect, the possibility of strings attached to donations is always present.
“I feel like there’s always that shadow hovering over [faculty], that you have to be careful with what you do if you want to keep your job,” Brewer said.
Associate Professor of Art Mark Cooley, who brought his students to the event, said he felt that though his academic freedom has not been hindered, it is a possibility.
“… [P]ersonally, no I don’t feel my academic freedom has been limited. I’ve had a really good experience here and a lot of support among my colleagues,” Cooley said. “I see the potential for it though, because I look at other schools as a model…Of course schools are looking for private money and they should be, because public money is drying up, but it is concerning because of strings that may be attached, and especially groups that have a very strong record of having a large lobby and so on, so you wonder definitely.”
Although there may not yet be a consensus over the extent to which academic freedom may be limited at Mason, Cooley said practicing political activism at the student level is a unique opportunity.
“I was telling the students I thought it was amazing when I was in college the idea of getting engaged with the political process and so on was just so far out. I was just so engaged with my studies, relationships, trying to pay the rent and working that it’s really a great thing that they’re doing this,” Cooley said. “No matter what their political beliefs, just their political activism is just a great thing. And it makes me look forward to the future because so many people are down on the kids of today and it makes me hopeful because we need more participation, more engagement.”
Photo Courtesy of William Dickson