Students stage sit-in, demand answers from USF Student Affairs

More than 70 students gathered in protest of Student Affairs. ORACLE PHOTOS/SEAN REED

The more than 70 student protesters who followed student body President Garin Flowers and Vice President Faran Abbasi to a sit-in Tuesday afternoon came looking for answers.

As they sat on the short brick walls enclosing the pools in the courtyard in the Administration building, students told camera crews from local TV stations they had questions for high-ranking administrators about the laundry list of problems aired by their student leaders:

USF’s campus isn’t safe. Student Affairs has failed to give University Police adequate funds.

Student Affairs Vice President Jennifer Meningall mismanaged funds in her department, cloaking the movement of money with accounting shell games.

Administrators privy to problems in Student Affairs are afraid to talk. The one who did, lost his job.

President Judy Genshaft was unreceptive when Flowers, Abbasi and other members of SG’s executive confronted her with their concerns about Student Affairs.

Many of the students stayed for more than two hours, as they heard and discussed these and other serious allegations from the SG leaders.

By 1 p.m., most of the crowd that filled the courtyard behind Abbasi and Flowers had slowly thinned.

No answer to their questions had come.

“I’m disappointed no one came out, but I’m not surprised,” Abbasi said. “Our goal here was to share our concerns with the public and the students. Those that stayed in their offices are going to be forced to acknowledge this when it hits the 6:00 news.”

Administrators first found out about the planned sit-in Monday, USF spokesman Ken Gullette said, adding Genshaft was out to lunch with the chair of the Board of Trustees and Dr. Meningall had scheduled meetings during the sit-in.

“No administrators came down because they thought it might be a distraction to the media,” Gullette said. “We’re listening. Just because we’re not coming out in public and saying anything doesn’t mean we’re not listening.”

Allegations of misconduct within Student Affairs were first aired by former Associate VP of Student Affairs James Dragna, who sent an e-mail Oct. 3 to more than 80 University leaders – including Genshaft – that accused Meningall of mismanaging money, favoritism, and abusive behavior toward employees.

Meningall has denied all the allegations and has welcomed an audit of Student Affairs by USF’s Office of Audit and Compliance, which began last week.

During the press conference before the sit-in, Abbasi called for a third-party audit of Student Affairs as well as the rehiring of Dragna, whose contract Meningall decided not to renew in July.

“We have uncovered a culture of fear in Student Affairs and individuals are fearful of losing their jobs for dissenting or asking the wrong questions,” he said. “The efforts of individuals like Dr. James Dragna have gone unnoticed and ultimately led to his termination.”

In the e-mail, Dragna said Meningall made the decision after learning he had brought his complaints to the Office of the President. Meningall has declined comment, citing personnel privacy laws.

While under Meningall’s guidance, Student Affairs has also received negative attention about its funding for UP. In e-mails sent to Meningall last November, University Police Chief Thomas Longo described a police force poorly funded and unable to recruit and retain new officers who were taking higher-paying positions with local law enforcement agencies.

“While no university is equipped to handle a Virginia Tech-type tragedy, ours is not even equipped to handle daily policing duties, which is evident (in) the continuing high rates of crime on campus,” Abbasi said at the press conference.

Student Protesters

Dex Horrow, a junior majoring in history, raised his hand during his Roman Republic class Tuesday morning and told his professor, Julie Langford-Johnson, he felt today’s sit-in was important enough for him to leave class early.

“She said, ‘I should let my conscious decide,'” Horrow said. “I said, ‘Will my conscious affect my grade?'”

Langford-Johnson, an associate professor of history was swayed to allow Horrow and other students to leave, without penalty.

“It’s just my general policy to encourage students to participate politically whenever they can,” she said. “My impression has been that one way to get the ear of the administration is to get students involved.”

Horrow stayed for nearly two hours, leaving around the time most of those gathered began to filter out of the courtyard.

“In my class we were talking about rhetoric in Rome,” Horrow said. “That’s what we’re here about. We don’t want to hear misdirection from administrators. We want to hear the truth.”

One of his classmates, Amelia Carlson, joined Horrow in the sit-in, as did two others.

“It sounds like the police have been needing funds and requesting them,” said Carlson, a sophomore majoring in history. “They know there’s a problem and we know there’s a problem. This University has a lot of things going for it, but we need to take care of the other things, like having an adequate police force, first.”

Full Circle

Before SG Senate’s weekly meeting Tuesday night, Flowers and Abbasi gathered with a handful of other members of SG for Channel 10’s nightly news broadcast in the basement of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center.

They turned up the volume when the segment about the sit-in aired, and gave themselves congratulatory smiles as they watched.

A few students playing pool nearby looked up when they heard the noise. Then they went back to their game.