The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Hoff Awards changes reversed after faculty condemnation

The Aaron O. Hoff Awards were established in 1991. (Graphic by Elisabeth Seidel ’26 for The Lafayette)

Changes made to the annual Aaron O. Hoff Awards by the Division of Student Life prompted faculty backlash last week, resulting in a pledge to reverse the edits. 

“I think there’s a general danger on campus of just changing things without knowing what you’re doing and also … not respecting what exists,” said Joshua Miller, a government and law professor.

As of Thursday, the event was dubbed the “Division of Student Life Awards” on OurCampus instead of its original name. The website for the award ceremony notably excluded any faculty awards – 12 awards for administrators, students and programs were listed instead, down from 21 awards the year prior. Of the awards axed from the event were the Superior Teaching Awards and the John T. McCartney Excellence in Diversity Education Award.

Miller was one of almost 30 faculty members who signed a letter sent to faculty committee chairs on Friday after the changes were discovered. The letter called for a restoration of the awards to their previous iteration, citing the exclusion of important Black figures at the college and the lack of communication from the Division of Student Life. 

Hoff was the first Black student of the college, enrolling in 1836. The nominal awards were established in 1991 to honor him and his campus contributions, as well as “highlight the achievements” of college community members, according to the awards website.

McCartney was also an influential Black member of the Lafayette community. Before passing away in 2012, he was a part of the college for 26 years as a government and law professor and chair of the Africana studies program, according to his obituary.

Neither the faculty nor Student Government, which traditionally administers the Superior Teaching Awards, were consulted about the changes before they were made.

“Prior to any changes to the Hoff Awards or the traditional ceremony held annually since 1991, all relevant committees must be consulted,” the letter concludes. “Should this require the Division to extend the nominations period, this would be far less harmful than the impression currently being given that Lafayette College as an institution is unable or unwilling to stand up for diversity education and Black scholars.”

Robin Rinehart, a professor of religious studies and signatory of the letter, said that “sometimes it seems that decisions are made and communicated to people after the fact without consultation.” She cited increased staff turnover and a letter criticizing administrative communication sent by faculty members last year to highlight recent communication complications between faculty and administration.

“When I contacted the Provost, he emailed that ‘Student Life lost track of the awards’ and when I contacted the VP of Student Life, [associate vice president for student life Mark] Sapara responded that ‘something got lost in the shuffle’ and there was ‘a shorter timeframe in which to pull it off,'” head of the anthropology and sociology department Caroline Lee wrote in an email, echoing Rinehart.

Lee spearheaded the faculty efforts, penning the letter and alerting the faculty to the changes.

Provost John Meier did not respond to a request for comment.

The removal of the Aaron O. Hoff and John T. McCartney names was among the primary motivators for faculty signing onto the letter.

“To eliminate these at a moment when diversity education and Black scholars specifically are under attack in this country is unthinkable for the Lafayette College I know,” Lee wrote. 

“McCartney and myself were pivotal in introducing a lot of diversity initiatives that have now been institutionalized on campus,” said professor emeritus of economics Rexford Ahene, a close friend of McCartney’s.

“I would have been livid if I knew who had made the decision to remove it,” he said of the award. He was unaware of its changes or the faculty letter at the time of the interview but said that he would have signed onto the letter.

Several faculty members who signed onto the letter declined to comment, citing a need for more information about the situation, or did not respond to requests for comment.

Hours after the letter was sent, vice president for student life Sarah Moschenross responded to all signatories and recipients of the letter, announcing the reversal of the changes to the awards.

Moschenross’ email stated that she and Sapara pursued “changing the name of the ceremony at which the awards in honor of [Hoff] are presented but never with the intent of removing the Hoff name from the program itself.”

Moschenross did not respond to several requests for comment. Sapara forwarded questions emailed to him to college spokesman Scott Morse.

Moschenross’ email also confirmed the continuation of the John T. McCartney Award and Superior Teaching Awards.

“I apologize for the confusion,” the email concludes. “Most of all, I regret that our consideration of this change implied in any way that Mark and I are not fully committed to the work of inclusion and diversity, for that vital purpose is fundamental to our values as individuals and administrators.”

In an email, Morse confirmed that there would be “no change to the name of or approach to the Aaron O. Hoff Awards.” Morse also stated that the Superior Teaching Awards will continue to be part of the Hoff Awards, but the McCartney Award would be presented at the Faculty, Administrator and Trustee Dinner.

Additionally, six awards were removed from this year’s event “because they were duplicative of other awards,” Morse wrote, though next year’s awards will be “carefully considered” by multiple administrative offices.

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About the Contributor
Selma O'Malley
Selma O'Malley, News Editor
Waiting for someone to write a sitcom about a college newspaper.

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  • M

    Monica Salas LandaApr 16, 2024 at 7:23 pm

    And the obvious anti-Blackness that the Hoff Awards changes reveal.

  • M

    Monica Salas LandaApr 16, 2024 at 6:19 pm

    As a faculty member, it is disheartening to witness the incompetence—and I truly believe it is incompetence—and self-centeredness of the current administration, along with their disregard for faculty, student initiatives like the Menstrual Equity Project, and staff.

  • A

    AlumniApr 12, 2024 at 5:12 pm

    Moschenross is straight up destroying Lafayette from the inside out, especially when it comes to the most marginalized groups on campus. Get her out.

    • A

      Alison BApr 22, 2024 at 9:00 am

      Hurd and Kahr are helping to destroy the campus too.

  • J

    Joshua MillerApr 12, 2024 at 10:05 am

    I appreciate Selma O’Malley’s article on the Hoff Awards. I am sure that Selma quoted me accurately, but I worry that my words might be misconstrued. I wish that I have chosen my words more carefully. I am quoted as saying, “I think there’s a general danger on campus of just changing things without knowing what you’re doing and also … not respecting what exists.” I did not mean to imply “incompetence.” My meaning is in the last four words. I wanted to make a “conservative” point, i.e., while change is often necessary, it is important to know the history of what is being changed and to appreciate the value of what exists.