Editorial: Addressing President Kaler’s welcome-back email

Editorial Board

On Aug. 29, President Eric Kaler sent out an email welcoming us back to Case Western Reserve University. Kaler stated that CWRU’s three priorities are “to elevate academic excellence, expand our research enterprise and enhance community engagement.” In the email he highlighted the university’s improvements over the summer and movement towards his goals of an expanded student body and increased diversity. He also noted that it’s important to focus on our goals “both as a university and as individuals.” While starting the year with positivity is appreciated, it seems like this email is ignoring the problems the campus community faces in the midst of CWRU’s achievements and progress. 

First, with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the right to reproductive healthcare has been stripped away in many states, including Ohio. President Kaler sent out emails over the summer regarding this decision, announcing the launch of various resources for CWRU students, including a “Reproductive Health” website, a task force, an emergency fund for travel, legal advice, and a commitment to support the free speech and advocacy of students. On the surface it appears Kaler and the administration are making good first steps to help navigate this post-Roe era. 

However, taking a closer look at the announcements, it is uncertain how much CWRU is actually dedicated and willing to help those who are endangered by this critical Supreme Court decision. For example, the task force’s job is to “focus on specific areas and activities that the decision may affect, and make recommendations regarding the university’s response.” This sounds more like a statement vetted to be as vague as possible rather than something geared to help panicked students. However, the website also provides a list of on-campus and off-campus resources, notably ones provided through University Health Services. Kaler also cites the newly created Student Health Emergency Fund as a potential resource for access to healthcare, theoretically outside the state of Ohio. Though this is a step in the right direction, most of the information provided by the website on the fund is surface level without specific assurances. For example, if a student needs to go out-of-state to receive healthcare, the website states that the “university is researching its options given the complex legal landscape, and will update this page as soon as firm information is available.” Another issue is that if someone needs an abortion in Ohio, the fund normally doesn’t allocate more than $500 per person. Yet in Ohio, the cost of an abortion ranges anywhere from $500-$1,000. 

We have seen over the years how lacking student-oriented resources on campus have been. When we think of the insufficient amount of support from the Title IX office and the University Health and Counseling Services, there isn’t much hope that this new website or task force will significantly help students. Though updates on these initiatives may not have been fitting for a welcome message, we must demand more updates and clarification as time goes on. 

What was mentioned in the welcome message is worthy of criticism, however. Kaler mentioned, with pride, the new incoming undergraduate class of 1,550 students. However, he failed to mention the inherent stresses that will accompany a class of this size. 

Last semester, the administration made significant changes in the housing policy due to a lack of available space, resulting in many students not being able to have typical on-campus housing this semester. This is despite assurances made that student housing would be guaranteed after massive backlash forced the university to abandon an even more restrictive policy. Instead of maintaining its previous policy, CWRU asked some upperclassmen to live in university-facilitated off-campus apartments rather than residence halls. This is because the large student body forced some underclassmen to be placed in traditionally upperclassmen campus housing. However, housing issues aren’t the only predicament with more students. CWRU simply does not yet have the infrastructure for an increasingly larger student population. Essential classes have become more difficult to schedule, lectures have become larger, student centers have become overcrowded and resources have been spread thin. This will become a larger issue as more and more students are admitted each year.

Another area Kaler discussed was how CWRU was dedicating an additional “$23 million in faculty and staff compensation” and filling “key leadership positions in research, athletics, at our library, in campus planning and at the School of Medicine and Weatherhead School of Management.” What he failed to mention is that compensation for professors continues to be lacking, with a pattern emerging of humanities and social sciences professors leaving the university. There have been numerous instances of professors returning from retirement due to the university being unable to attract new talent to fill the many niches our students require for a full education in their departments. Furthermore, while Kaler mentioned there had been improvements on the Case Quad and lab spaces, we have not seen improvements in the humanities and social science spaces on Mather Quad. Several of those buildings are in desperate need of renovation and better teaching equipment. Once again, the progress for the university seems solely to be in STEM spaces, at the expense of the humanities. 

We aren’t saying that we can’t be proud of our accomplishments, but it’s essential to acknowledge the problems and failures tied to them. For too long, President Kaler and the administration have continued to boast about CWRU’s achievements, turning a blind eye to troubles and worries within our campus for the sake of positivity. CWRU’s campus community deserves transparency. Simply having cheery welcome-back emails neglects the straightforwardness that is warranted.