By Cayla M., Arts and Culture Editor
Last semester, I participated as a student leader in an administrative meeting during which a senior administrator attempted to convince skeptical students of the administration’s genuine commitment to the welfare of the student body. While the administration’s determination to convey its concern is clearly promising, it will take more than mere words for the administration to make its case.
The most pressing issue in my experience is that the administration needs to address the lack of adequate communication on critical matters relating to student life. For example, students first learned that the cost of eating has increased significantly when they showed up to the cash register this semester. Many students literally cannot afford the increase in price. Meanwhile, on matters of public safety, for instance, when students have been assaulted outside Brookdale Hall or dormitory buildings have been broken into, students were not given details by the administration until after an article appeared in a major media outlet.
Better communication is not only important on critical need-to-know matters but also reflects respect for students by informing them on matters about which they would want to know. In fact, it is profoundly inconsiderate to have students using repeatedly broken elevators for extended periods of time without any explanation or the providing of a projected timeline for resolution.
One recent Commentator editorial suggested that “before we judge YU [regarding changes,] we need the facts.” I suggest that YU needs to be willing to provide them. The example discussed in the editorial, in which days of winter break mysteriously “disappeared”, causing upset (only to be found later allocated to other vacations) would not have caused upset if someone had communicated to the student body that the calendar was changing and why.
In order to successfully convey a true sense of concern for the student body, it is also imperative that the administration refrain from communicating in a manner that ultimately undermines its credibility. For example, in response to criticism that the university’s Title IX officer was not independent, the university finally promised a “restructured Title IX office” and implied an all-new independent officer. As it turns out, the university did not change the Title IX officer–it merely appointed a deputy Title IX coordinator. This kind of disingenuous communication, particularly in such a sensitive area, profoundly impacts the student perception of administrative genuineness.
Mindful conduct is also essential if the administration is to effectively transmit a sense of caring. When the president of the university repeatedly talks about the greatness of his basketball team without regard for the deep hurt on Beren Campus about the manner in which the administration failed to address allegations of assault by a member of that very basketball team, students on Beren understandably become skeptical. The administration’s ignoring a letter from 50 RIETS students in which it raised this very lack of sensitivity and requested a meeting only heightens the skepticism of the student body.
So where do we go from here?
I’d like to propose the creation of a position (perhaps in OSL) who would bear responsibility for consistently and promptly notifying students of all matters of quality of life, including changes within YU. Prices should not be changed anywhere, including the cafeteria, until this office is made aware and students are notified in advance. Security concerns relevant to student life should all be communicated to this representative who would then be required to proactively inform the student body (before we read about it in the newspaper). When student space is reallocated, students would not find out by showing up to encounter workers with tape measures planning the division of their floor, but would learn of the impending change in advance. Students encountering broken elevators would at least have some sense of when the matter will be addressed. (Facilities would be required to provide updates to this representative for dissemination!)
In addition to the proposed position, I suggest that all administrators whose functions are relevant to students (e.g. the president, facilities, and members of the provost’s office) visit both campuses regularly and host office hours. Though some administrators primarily located on the Wilf campus do visit Beren campus on occasion, it is often not enough. Many students cannot identify administrators by face because of how infrequently they are present. If unable to be there in person, Zoom office hours may be established with a link taped to the door.
We are a small school. On Beren campus, we number less than 1,000. That’s smaller than many public high schools in New York City. In a college of this size, implementing the above proposals is likely to have a far greater impact on student perception than any words offered at a meeting with student leaders.