To the Chapman Community,
There are so many things wrong in Lisa Sparks’ email, that it is difficult to know where to begin. We will try to do this in some order.
1. The first issue we’d like to point out is Sparks’ dismissal of Laura Weisbecker’s initial introduction on the basis that a students’ accomplishments don’t “matter.” If this is the case, if the accomplishments and milestones we experience at Chapman have no effect on our legitimacy, why are we even here? Student accomplishments matter. Becoming distinguished alumni and global citizens is something that Chapman consistently touts. If Sparks’ point is true, if our qualifications are irrelevant and what we accomplish during our time at Chapman means nothing to those in administrative power, then why are we all engaged with the school? What is motivating us to join sororities, clubs, honor societies? Qualifications and accomplishments are important and relevant and Sparks’ claim is otherwise ignorant.
2. Sparks asserts that copying President Daniele Struppa is inappropriate. Maybe Struppa doesn’t have direct supervision over a Dean’s academic choices. Maybe a Dean does have utter academic freedom. But in response to the backlash over the email, Struppa was the one who initiated the interview with The Panther. He spoke to the email and its backlash. He sat in front, defending Sparks’ actions with little to no concern about the legitimate student concerns that have been brought up in light of the released emails. Furthermore, as president of our university, Struppa has a right to know what’s going on. He has a duty to address the concerns of students and alumni. And ultimately, he is in charge.
3. Perhaps it’s true that Sparks’ intentions behind the Sanders/Gibbs event shouldn’t have been attacked like they were. But at the end of the day, she is running for office. Part of running for a public position means that you will be provoked and you will have to argue. Despite the critiques and criticisms, it is essential that you know how to take the high road. Administrators – and those in public office – need to respond gracefully when they’re being called out. That also means it’s necessary to learn how to respond without personally attacking someone’s ability to learn in a classroom. Asserting, “You did a poor job” is not only a poor reflection on the School of Communication overall, but is simply inappropriate to respond to former students that way. Students in the School of Communication are suffering as a result of this. Our institution is suffering as a result of this. Sparks’ actions are a poor reflection of this school.
4. Sparks additionally called out Weisbecker of being “misinformed” for directing the email at her. To this we say, Sparks, you are the Dean of the School of Communication. You are the face of this school. The event in question is put on by the School of Communication. What the school and what this center does is a direct reflection of you. Your name was literally on the invitation. This email wasn’t misdirected at all.
5. The claim that Weisbecker missed the point of the event was also incorrect. She didn’t miss the intent; she was simply voicing her concern. The alumna said multiple times that her issue wasn’t regarding the balance of the event, but that it was with Sanders herself. This is a legitimate concern and regardless, as Dean, you have a responsibility to take student concern into account. Chapman has a duty to treat its alumni – the people that put this school in business – with dignity and respect. If this is how Sparks is addressing alumni, what does this say about her ability to take criticism? What does it say about her willingness to respond to current Chapman students? And what does it say about if she were to win a congressional seat? Would she respond to her constituents with the same disrespect? It would have been so easy to respond respectfully and gracefully to the initial email.
6. Maybe the most confusing part of Sparks’ email is that she referred to a former student expressing their opinion as sad. Again, the alumna was not opposed to the event and viewpoint diversity, but was concerned with hosting Sanders, someone who has gone out of their way to demonize the press. Sanders is against media integrity. And yet she’s helping inaugurate the Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity. That is just ironic.
In sum, we are truly embarrassed that a Dean found it appropriate to address a former student with such disdain, as she is missing the entire point of respecting those who disagree with you.
The Panther Editorial Board