The Centurion

A Sitdown with Bucks President Stephanie Shanblatt

John Fey, Centurion Staff

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On the day of the Eagles Parade in Philadelphia, Bucks was mostly barren of students. Most students went to bask in their team’s glory, leaving a few over-achievers and the staff to go about their normal day on campus.
From her Tyler Hall office with a large window that faces out into the courtyard in front of Grupp Hall and the side of The Orangery, Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt, President of Bucks, was kind enough to take time out of her multiple calls and appointments she had that day to answer a few questions.
Dr. Shanblatt, who served as provost at Lansing Community College before becoming Bucks’ president in 2012, thought long and hard before answering questions. It was easy to tell she wanted to give the best and most articulate answers she could.
“I think the opportunity to learn is such a gift and lots of students around the world would love that opportunity,” she said. “I hope students don’t squander it.”
She was asked about students who may not know what they want to do. “We can certainly try to help them,” she said. “I think some little things we’ve done, like requiring advising for all students, keeping students on track, checking in and saying ‘what do you want to do next semester’ or ‘what do you want to do after graduating?’ really helps.”
She then suggested every student “go to the Career Center and take a career inventory.” She said that students might not be aware of certain jobs and careers and wants students to know that Bucks is always looking out for them. “You don’t know where your career trajectory may go. Most kids today aren’t just going to change jobs multiple times but change careers as well.”
Bucks has recently announced a tuition hike which will keep the school financially stable. When this was brought up to her, she was quick to answer as the head of a college and someone who is in the midst of trying to make life easier for the students. “There are all different kinds of students at different schools. And each school is going to have their own issues with tuition and financing their campuses.”
She continued, “It’s not my goal to get people in the door; it’s my goal for them to come here and be successful.”
The conversation was moved to the topic of Pastor Aden, the controversial preacher that has shown up on campus on multiple occasions. Shanblatt hosted an event to inform students on free speech laws a week beforehand, an event she persisted through despite a cold. She is not one to cancel on her students.
When asked about how students should react to a character like Pastor Aden, she said, “I think it’s a learning moment for students.” She paused for a moment to find the right words. “There’s a wide variety of viewpoints in this country and you can learn that by just turning on the television.”She continued, “I certainly strive, and I think everyone else on campus does, to ensure that we have an inclusive campus, that we welcome all students, regardless of however they want to identify themselves, whatever that means to them.”
“It’s really difficult for students to understand that I have that philosophy and still allow Pastor Aden on campus. I have no choice but to let him on campus. I’m not inviting him. It feels, for a lot of students, as though I’m disrespecting them, and that is as far from the truth that anything.”
She said “We can learn a little about our country and the Constitution and the First Amendment, about why some of us think we should fight for the rights of all individuals, because we don’t want this to become the dominant narrative on our culture. It’s a challenge to me because some people think I care more about Pastor Aden’s rights than I do about theirs. It’s not an either-or situation; it’s not like I care about him and not you. There’s the law. And even though it feels like he is, he is not infringing on your rights.”
Shanblatt invites all students to walk away and ignore the characters like Aden, she urges us to be the bigger person.
She made it clear that she is not thrilled that he comes, but she will support the first amendment for everyone. “Do I want to say what I want to say? You bet. And in order for me to be able to say what I want to say, I have to allow him to say what he wants to say.” She wants students to know that “he targets everyone, and the more you engage with him, the more he will say something hurtful to you.” She mentioned that he has nicknamed her a “Femi-Nazi” and she laughs it off.
“He targets everyone,” she continued. “He’s framing this as his religious beliefs that you need to believe what he believes in order to be a good Christian and to go to heaven; it’s all framed in a religious narrative. You don’t change people who have that world view by engaging with them. As much as we’d like to believe that we can do that with debate, I’m not sure that’s possible. I’m sure it’s possible for some individuals and we can have a rational conversation.”
“I think, with individuals like Pastor Aden, that is not possible, and so I wish it were, but the question is ‘what do you do when faced with a situation like that?’ Some people say you should stand up and fight, and I get that. If nobody ever checked anything that was said, where would we end up?”
She closed the conversation by letting the students of Bucks know how she feels about them.
“I would like them to know that I care about each and every one of them and I care about the culture here. I care that they all feel welcome and included here and that this is a place where they can learn and grow and explore and challenge not only themselves but others in a respectful way and if we can do that, at the end of the day, I can go home happy.”
Dr. Shanblatt went back into her busy day of calls and meetings after this. She is always on the move and always working to make Bucks the great college it is known to be.

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A Sitdown with Bucks President Stephanie Shanblatt