Communicating changes

Recent decisions reveal troubling trend that students have a role in correcting.

By Jeanne Lieberman

Four days before the start of classes, students closely associated with the UCSC—Summer Links, Seeds of Justice, and former participants of the now restructured Community Service Leadership Training Corps (CSLTC)—received an email. Subject line: Changes within UCSC. The message’s content added to a long and accelerating line of drastic changes within the University over the past two years.

These changes are underscored by their abrupt timeline. To start, the most recent UCSC turnover leaves the center entirely in the hands of a relatively new staff, none of whom have been with the UCSC for more than five years. Moreover, the change disrupts some of the UCSC’s most highly-regarded programs—including Volunteer Referral, Seeds of Justice, and Summer Links—which former Assistant Director Trudi Langendorf managed. More disturbing is the fact that this recent student life decision does not stand as an isolated incident. Instead, it builds upon a recent history of student life decisions being made opaquely with little to no direct student input.

Earlier this summer, UChicago Careers In Journalism (UCIJ) and UChicago Careers In Arts (UCIA) were condensed to UChicago Careers Journalism, Arts, and Media (UCIJAM). This decision, also announced in an email, left many students to ponder the following: Are the budgets of UCIJ and UCIA condensing? Is there now just one adviser? (Yes). Are the same programs, fellowships, and intern opportunities going to be available? While UCIJAM’s effectiveness has yet to play out, this change points to a larger issue of communication. There is a gap between the administrators responsible for spearheading ‘progress’ and the students actually affected by their purported innovations.

Equally obscured was the process behind ORCSA’s announcement regarding changes intended for Hallowed Grounds, which left students shocked by the announcement of the intent to downsize Hallowed Grounds in order to make RSO advising offices. Threatened and worried for a space that many an essay-writer has called home, students immediately petitioned and organized to save their space. As of now, the future of Hallowed Grounds is still unclear and still in the hands of ORCSA administrators.

For the many affected by the UCSC restructuring, this is a far from ideal start to autumn quarter. Rather than focusing on pressing social justice issues, school, or RSO work, many students are instead trying to make sense of these obscure administrative decisions that were made without their input. Moreover, in failing to include input even from student employees, the University risks disorienting the very constituents it claims to serve.

The larger trend should be worrisome to all UChicago students, no matter what their major, extracurriculars, or interests: The UCSC restructuring is a conspicuous example of profound problems behind administrative decision-making, intentions, and outcomes. These silent deliberations and last-minute announcements hinder student involvement and pull the rug out from under affected students, leaving them scrambling rather than supported. Quiet overhauls such as these serve to make mission statements espousing an “intention to serve students” appear as an insubstantial facade.

There is no remedy for the losses created by many of these specific decisions, but that is not a justification for inaction. Rather, students should pursue channels of open dialogue between themselves and the College administration. We—and our future peers— should be stakeholders in campus and student life. We should take it upon ourselves to transform mere mission statements to veritable missions supported by actions. It is the very concept of the “life of the mind” that enables students to take on greater responsibility. We can effectively, knowledgeably ask the pertinent and critical questions needed to develop and test administrative ideas.

We are not opposed to change; we just believe we should have a say in shaping the forces that in turn shape our daily lives and education.

Alexa Daugherty is a second-year in the College majoring in international studies and philosophy.

Jeanne Lieberman is a second-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.