It isn’t often that a student body takes a sincerely invested interest in the formation of their school’s administration. Students largely concern themselves with their day-to-day lives: their classes, their social experiences, paying for tuition, et cetera. This isn’t to say that the average student is wholly apathetic towards their school admin, which would be untrue. If you are preoccupied with daily tasks, why concern yourself with someone you rarely see?
As I have been consistently reminded of, Saint Anselm College is not an average college, and does not produce average citizens. Its students are acutely and equally aware of what happens around the world as they are in their own backyard. And, as far as many Saint Anselm students were concerned, their backyard had seen better days.
Mass layoffs. Inadequate housing . Rising costs. Where was the administration last year when we raised our concerns? We still don’t know-the word on the tongues of Saint Anselm students with reference to the previous administration was invisible. Inaccessible. Untransparent. Frustrating. This bevy of words and more were used by students to express a simple reality: President Stephen DiSalvo wasn’t there for us when we needed him.
This is not an article about the previous administration, but rather, the new one. It’s only fair to know, first, what is new about the new administration. If a lack of transparency and accessibility concerned you last year, as it did this author, have faith in this: change is ahead.
When I reached out to President Favazza to schedule an interview, I expected to wait a few days for a response. Understandably so-the beginning of the year is easily the busiest time of year, especially for a brand new executive. I received my response within 24 hours. This was my first indication that change was on the horizon.
President Favazza has never been the president of a higher learning institution, but this does not mean he is without administrative experience. He was previously the Provost as well as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Stonehill College. It was during his oversight that Stonehill undertook the official division of its academic programming into two schools, the May School of Arts and Sciences, and the Meehan School of Business. Before his duties as Provost and VP of Academic Affairs, President Favazza served as Dean of General Education and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs.
In addition to his experience at Stonehill, Favazza was a Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis. He also oversaw the “Search For Values” program, which was the core curriculum at Rhodes.
When I entered the president’s office, he and his executive assistant Janet (who was instrumental in expediting the interview-many thanks to her) were warm and welcoming. Upon entering a closed room, I remember President Favazza’s expression- one of anticipation. This anticipatory gaze wasn’t out of fear, but later manifested itself as eagerness.
President Favazza is aware of the difficult spot he has filled. I opened by asking him: what do you want to say to the Saint Anselm College community? In giving him the opportunity to take the lead, I saw that President Favazza is not a man on an island. He extolled the virtues of the staff, the administration, and the professors without whom, he said, success would be impossible.
It is not difficult to seem sageworthy and wise when speaking about those around you, however. I asked what he would do, specifically, to further engage the student body and to do what his predecessor failed to do: be seen by students. He opened with classic examples: attending student sporting events, class events, et cetera, et cetera. One thing he did mention, was a “breakfast with the president” where he would be at Davison Hall once or twice a month and students would be free to sit and chat with him.
That was all good-of course, but Saint Anselm students will not be assuaged by promises and oaths. They demand accountability and action. It is because of this, that I was so pleased to see President Favazza hold a meet and greet in the Intercultural Center this past week. Kudos to you, President Favazza, for holding your word, and holding to it early.
Our conversation ebbed and flowed, but he was never evasive. He did his best to answer questions squarely, no matter the difficulty of their subject matter. He referenced the perceived antiquity of the monastic community, that some students believe holds back the potential of the school. He retorted with a reminder that Saint Anselm is a bastion of tradition: a tradition that upholds virtues of compassion, service, and sacrifice.
The students of 2019 face unique challenges to those of college students from previous generations. It is not an uncommon feeling amongst this generation that older generations are unsympathetic towards the extra anxiety and stresses we feel as college students in this day and age. I asked President Favazza what he found to be the most difficult challenges facing Saint Anselm College. As opposed to naming a college-specific issue, Favazza was keen to this anxiety, proclaiming the added cost of college to be his first challenge facing Saint Anselm.
This sensitivity may result from a unique perspective: President Favazza was a first generation college student. When I asked him about how this influenced his approach as president, he responded with a reminder to be compassionate. Not having the same support system as students with parents who went to college was a challenge he experienced. As a result of this, he spoke to the importance of having a strong college advisory infrastructure to assist students who needed it. Such a sympathetic approach might prove to be constructive in this current era of college finance anxiety.
On a personal note, his experience as a first-gen college student gave him what he called a “personal resiliency” that “tried to take advantage of disadvantage”. Such an attitude would be surely welcomed at Saint Anselm. Anselmians don’t get going when the going gets tough.
It would not have been a fruitful conversation had we not discussed housing. Everyone on this campus knows someone in a forced triple. That should be considered a categorical failure to accommodate for growing class sizes. Thankfully, despite being fresh on the job, the moment I mentioned the word “housing”, President Favazza responded with a nod of understanding. “It’s not ideal to have so many forced triples” was his immediate response. While he was noncommittal to saying that the college would build a new dorm, President Favazza did clearly state that he wanted to look into the potential of building one, as well as wanting to improve on our already existing dorms (as I write this, Saint Mary’s Hall flooded and was without running water for at least one day due to a burst pipe-a repeat of an issue from last winter that displaced three students).
In conjunction with the discussion surrounding housing, many students have decried the construction of the new welcome center for the department of admissions as misguided, as they feel that the most pressing infrastructure need for the student body is a new residence hall. I asked him about the multi-million dollar project, and received a similar response. While, again, the current housing situation wasn’t “ideal”, the new welcome center was not without merit. “The school needs new students to live on,” he said, further noting that many other schools that Saint Anselm competes with for admissions have their own welcome centers. It will now be a question as to whether or not the new students pulled in by the welcome center will have a place to live on campus. However, once again Favazza couldn’t commit to any upcoming dormitory building projects.
This response didn’t surprise me-most major infrastructure projects undertaken by the college need to get through the Board of Trustees first. The Trustees themselves are a sensitive subject; they operate outside the jurisdiction of the school, and are not held accountable by the student body. They also aren’t held accountable by the professors or deanships.
What if this were different? What if the most powerful body in the college had a student representative? This idea has been tossed around the Student Government Association for some time now- to no avail (clearly). President Favazza had an interesting take on this situation: at the institutions he previously worked at there was not a permanent student seat on the board of trustees, but there was a temporary seat for a student representative for special meetings and retreats of the board. He expressed an interest in the potential to implement a similar system at Saint Anselm.
President Favazza expressed interest in many things that sounded fantastic. Other than what has already been mentioned, he discussed adding new undergraduate programs, increasing study abroad opportunities, as well as the potentiality of a “J-Term”, a shortened academic term in January that’d give students an opportunity to study a class or two outside of their major requirements. Middlebury College in Vermont employs their J-Term with great success.
All of that sounds good in theory, but where President Favazza needs to separate himself from his predecessor, is by fulfilling promises, listening to students, and being there for us.
I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to listen to President Favazza. I sincerely hope it won’t be the last time the two of us sit together. I also sincerely hope that now that I’ve taken the time to listen to him, he will take the time to listen to us.