In an email to the Sarah Lawrence Community, Board of Trustees Chair John Hill confirmed that the Florence abroad program is indeed undergoing the most drastic changes that students, faculty and alumni feared. As of June 30th 2016, Hill wrote, “the lease on our Florence facility will end, and the College’s direct employment relationships with the faculty and staff will conclude, in accordance with local regulations and individual contracts.”
The email comes after weeks of activism from students, alums and faculty attempting to reverse this decision. Along with the dozens of letters written to President Karen Lawrence and the Board, a fundraiser for the program raised over $3,100 in two days, and a petition in support of it garnered over 800 signatures. Program alums and faculty have voiced disillusionment about what they see as a deeply flawed decision making process, and have raised serious concerns about how the Board and senior staff are treating the future of the College. Recent SLC alum Adriana Lucci ‘15, who attended the program during the ’13-’14 academic year, commented, “By throwing away almost thirty years [of expansion in Florence], [President Lawrence and the Board of Trustees] are also disposing of all the contacts made by administrators there and the alumni network that can vouch for the program.”
The fate of the program has been a source of frustration among SLC students who are not affiliated with it as well, as seen at recent Student Senate meetings and a Town Hall held by the class presidents last month, with many voicing criticism about what they see as the ongoing lack of transparency surrounding administrative decisions.
Even so, Hill asserted that the administration will try its best to “preserve the mission and pedagogical integrity of the program for future students.” This means that Sarah Lawrence will protect the seminar and conference model, home stays, and the ability of students to use their existing financial aid to help pay for the program. Additionally, Hill said, any future program will be “economically sustainable way so that we can continue to ensure excellence and integrity for future students.”
President Karen Lawrence and Dean Kanwal Singh commented, “Although we understand that some are still upset and very disappointed about the Board’s decision on Florence, we will continue working hard, in consultation with faculty, to create a partnership that allows us to offer an excellent and very recognizable Sarah Lawrence program.”
For most SLC in Florence alums, however, the program is unrecognizable without the faculty and administration that have defined the program up until now, particularly director Cristina Anzilotti.
In a response to the Student Senate meeting two weeks ago where the future of the program was discussed, Anzilotti wrote, “On September 30th I was notified that, as of the end of June 2016, all of the faculty, staff and I are being dismissed. Therefore, the advent of the SLC-Middlebury partnership will terminate the SLC Florence program as it is known today.”
She also seriously questioned the Board’s logic in terms of the partnership, writing, “I know very well the reality of the US study abroad programs in Florence, and I find this merger simply unreasonable. Over the last ten years Middlebury Florence has lost its fine reputation and today only has 4 undergraduates enrolled. If anything, the merger should have occurred the other way around, with Middlebury merging into the SLC Florence program, not the opposite. In this moment of high competition SLC is giving up on what it does best: offering a high quality program that no other competitor is providing.”
Though the decision cannot be reversed at this point, it doesn’t seem that student activism for greater transparency or a different future for the College will end here. But for community members affiliated with the program, its fate is a deep loss.
Alum Emily Hayward ’10, who attended the program for the ’08-’09 academic year, sent a response to the Board and President Lawrence after receiving Hill’s email. “I must admit that when I first started to read students’ responses to the closure of the program, I found myself frustrated at the lack of understanding of the financial realities the university must be facing. I trusted the powers-that-be to have exhausted every single possible solution to save the program,” she wrote. “I now see that I was seriously mistaken. Nowhere do I find evidence of the creativity and innovative thinking that I usually associate with my alma mater.”
Jeremiah O'Mahoney '19