Editorial: Emerson’s next president should serve students, not their pockets.

By Editorial Board

It is well into the spring semester of the 2021-22 academic year, and Emerson College still lacks permanent leadership. 

Former President M. Lee Pelton, who took the helm of the college in 2011, left his position in June of last year. Ever since, the college has been on a “relentless” search for a new president, and while the administration has adapted to the pandemic without proper leadership, it begs the question: How different should our next administration truly be?

The current interim president, William Gilligan, was sworn into the office more than eight months ago. The college has had the entirety of the summer and the fall semester to search and confirm a new president—after having promised to hire one by the end of last spring—but has still failed to do so. 

Since Pelton’s resignation, the college has faced a myriad of both administrative and social issues including, heightened faculty departure, anti-Asian rhetoric perpetuated by conservative club Turning Point U.S.A., antisemitic behavior both around campus and in the classroom, a COVID-19 surge, and a significant yearly tuition increase

The college’s treatment of each of these issues has led to widespread student frustration at administrative inaction, lack of accountability, and convoluted communication. At an institution notorious for a lack of transparency—or, as students often note, at a communications school bad at communication—the question is why has past leadership been so lacking? 

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In the midst of a pandemic and other recent social issues happening on Emerson’s campus, we wonder if we will ever see a president actually dedicated to these communities. Or does it go much deeper than that? Do the issues Emerson students face result from our lack of leadership, or is it that our past leaders have only ever served their image and their pockets? Could it be a bit of both? 

In fact, Pelton, in his departure, called for the improvement of the circumstances of those impacted most by the pandemic and the country’s ongoing reckoning with systemic racism. Two years earlier, he even promised a tuition decrease by 2021. But Pelton’s promises went unfulfilled, and his advice went unheeded; the college increased tuition to a good 2.0 percent, while hateful rhetoric on campus is still rearing its ugly head. 

Our next leader cannot allow the privilege of their position to run the show. Instead, they should come here with the intention of helping Emerson students that need actual assistance.  

If students are to truly respect the leadership at Emerson, the leadership should act—and not only intend to act—with genuine service, and their work to improve the college becomes actively felt. The president should not simply be a figurehead that becomes richer and richer every year, while only 9.4 percent of need-based financial aid at Emerson is fully met, and the average alum’s level of debt is close to the average salary of students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree–– about $46,600 a year

With Emerson’s president receiving around $754,208 a year, i.e. Lee Pelton, this makes any sort of improvement—even genuine improvement—seem performative at best, or a bare faced lie at worst, that allows our leaders to make bank, while 63.3 percent of students apply for financial aid and 52 percent take out loans averaging $12,481 a year, according to College Factual

How are students supposed to feel safe at an institution that continues to increase tuition for a campus where inflammatory organizations like TPUSA only receive a slap on the wrist? Progress means providing for all students, not just those who can afford to ignore all of these inconsistencies. 

For whoever ends up holding the torch, it should be clear that their position is not one to take for granted. Now more than ever, students need financial and social support in order to move Emerson College forward.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the board of trustees “are paid an insurmountable amount of money, with an average $200,000 salary and above for a trustee,” the article has been updated to reflect that the board of trustees do not get paid for their membership on the board.