Every step of the way

University should solicit student input when making long-term decisions.

By Maroon Editorial Board

From recent, long-term changes, it is clear that the University has made a commitment to building a community that embraces collaboration. In his Fall 2013 “Welcome and Update” letter, President Robert Zimmer cites the University community’s “devotion to…an intense and open exchange of ideas” as one quality that makes this campus a unique destination in academia. Collaboration, the lifeblood of a large research institution, is a current focus of the administration as it looks to the long-term success of this university. For example, the Institute for Molecular Engineering, which takes an “integrative approach” to its work, and the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, which already attracts interdisciplinary scholars, are both founded at least partially upon a philosophy of collaboration. Yet, the administration’s visible commitment to collaboration does not seem to carry over to recent changes in student life.

Recent decisions made in the College community—which are arguably beneficial in the long term, but affect students in an immediate way—have been sudden and opaque. The University Community Service Center (UCSC) restructuring was announced only days before the start of fall quarter. Even though administrators say that they solicited student input while developing the changes, it is deeply concerning that several students and employees affiliated with the UCSC were unaware of the restructuring until after it was already decided. This summer, over 1,000 students signed a petition against ORCSA’s plans to downsize Hallowed Grounds, which had not yet been publicly announced by August even though they were set to take place by the start of the academic year. Only after the petition and accompanying uproar was a student advisory committee created to consult decisions on design and furniture for the repurposing project.

This is not to say that the University has entirely ignored student input in recent years. The design for the residence hall that will replace Pierce Tower followed up on many student suggestions raised during the preliminary stages of the project. However, this model of asking for input during the decision-making process, rather than after the fact, remains the exception when it should be the norm.

Understandably, there will be instances where the University’s long-term vision does not match up with students’ concern for immediate benefits. But this should not serve as an excuse for the administration to exclude student input from the decision-making process—including students would allow them to avoid potential problems as well as get a valuable perspective. The administration often has been able to cope with the aftermath of controversial decisions by incorporating student input as a reactionary measure: The Housing office held a town hall meeting last year after announcing the Pierce demolition, and UCSC Director Amy Chan and Assistant Vice President for Student Life Elly Daugherty (A.B. ’97) are meeting with individual students concerned about the UCSC reorganization. However, University officials could render these actions unnecessary by letting students know of plans in the works earlier in the process. Perhaps if students had known of the plans to repurpose Hallowed Grounds before they appeared to be moving forward, administrators would not have had to waste time and resources pursuing a plan that many students did not support.

And even when current students will not enjoy the benefits of a change, their perspective is still valuable now. Whether it’s how they prefer to live in a dorm or study in a coffee shop, students are the ones who know this campus best. While students may not always understand the economics behind investment decisions or the legalities of contracts, they provide on-the-ground perspective that  administrators cannot. We place our faith in the University to reconcile those two perspectives, and such a balance can only be struck when both sides are heard.

Change is, quite understandably, inevitable and crucial to the progress of the University—in whatever way the University wishes to measure progress. But change should not be secretive, nor should news of it be sudden to the public. Students who wish to engage with their University in a meaningful and impactful way should be given the opportunity to do so.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.