When was the last time you high fived an administrator? For me it was yesterday. I walked out of the SCC and saw President Lawrence going past. I jogged over, held out my hand for a high five (because why not?) and he awkwardly grabbed it exclaiming, “Good to see you!”
Good to see me. It must be, considering that the last time we saw each other was during Orientation. Truthfully, it doesn’t bother me tremendously that I don’t high five our president with regularity. I mean, I enjoy a high five as much as any other Brandeisian, but I can get them from my friends virtually whenever I want. I’m sure he’s got a lot of other trustees, heads of state, potential donors and other dignitaries higher up on his high five list than a simple first-year like myself. I’ve never really felt an express need to high five him; I did so yesterday on a whim, and it was completely by chance. It was the first time I had seen him personally in months. What I do care about is when I might actually need to high five the president.
Analogy aside, what is important to me is being able to get in touch with my administrators now and again and knowing that they have some of awareness of me, knowing that they’re at least somewhat cognizant of me, my concerns, my feelings, my interests.
Too often is it said that the university has made an important, impactful decision based on me, but what does making a decision “based on me” even mean? Is it based on what I would enjoy? On what the university thinks would be best for my education? Or is it just what will make best financial sense for the university? I have no idea, and that’s actually a little demoralizing. It’s upsetting because there is no way that the university can make the best decisions for me when they don’t know who I am beyond the statistics. This should be fixed.
Earlier in the year, a couple of open-discussion events were held. One was on race, during the Michael Brown and Eric Garner developments. The other was a town hall on free speech, and it was held just a few weeks ago. Administrators presided at each, and students were given a platform from which to speak their minds and have their voices heard in person by fellow students and university executives. Although the discussions were productive, they never continued, and the meeting format was never applied to other issues.
What I propose is this: Hold regular student discussions during which a rotating group or panel of administrators could hear student voices directly from the source. It would be a town hall-style discussion with interested students and faculty, focused on whatever concerns the participants raise. The issues may be at the center of campus attention, or they may be subjects that go unnoticed and under-appreciated. The administrators would hear what we have to say, and we would hear the story from their point of views too—in public.
After all, I know it’s an impossibly tall order to ask for every student to be able to meet with top administrators to the point that they know each of us by name. Our university is the size of a town, and there’s not enough time in the day for everyone to always be heard all the time. That is a fact, and it is immutable.
Yet there can be steps taken to better open the ears and eyes of the administrators at the top to the thoughts and feelings of the students at the bottom. Maybe that way they would truly know how we feel when there’s an action taken against Chum’s, or when the meal plans are changed for the following year without warning. Maybe that way we would understand why a specific decision was made, or for what reasons specific campus operations change or stay the same.
Maybe starting a steady, ongoing open mic dialogue between the administration and the students would be a good thing. Maybe we wouldn’t have to wait for one side to anger the other for voices to get heard. Maybe, for the sake of high fives all around, it’s worth it.