By William Gupton
Dear Administrators of Willamette University,
I am writing this in the hopes of communicating some of the thoughts, perspectives, hopes and frustrations that many students feel in regards to their relationship with you. We often throw out words like transparency and responsibility, but I am not sure that these adequately convey what we mean. So, it is my hope to establish a mutual understanding from my own perspective with the intention of bridging some of the gap between us.
When we say transparency, what we mean is that we want to know what is going on as close to when it is going on as possible. Transparency does not mean we want to know something months after it has occurred, or after the decision has already been made. Anyone can be transparent if it means they don’t have to change any of their current behavior to satisfy this request. The students want behavioral change that allows us to be a part of the conversation — not as a voice to be heard and then ignored, nor as the dominant voice necessarily. In our eyes we are adults who have made the decision to enter into a financial relationship with the University, and thus have a right to be equal partners in that relationship.
Think about it, if your spouse suddenly decided to sell the car you are paying the bills for without consulting you, you would rightly need to have a serious conversation about it. When a university administration makes a monumental decision that impacts the student body directly, they have a right to be partners in that decision making process.
But, at least right now, the students do not feel that this is the case. The fight over Bishop isn’t totally about health care, though a large part of it is. The students are upset because the relationship we are supposed to have with our partner has broken down to the point where we feel ignored, unconsidered and talked down to.
And, at a school small enough where it is realistically possible to know the names of every administrator, it seems to students that the gap between them is so far apart that the administrators are nothing but hooded figures rolling the dice for our future.
Cookies and Conversation at the Bistro this last month was a step towards lowering the hood slightly, but it isn’t accessible enough for the student body as a whole. You’ll find that eight in the morning on a weekday doesn’t work for many students. Perhaps the goal was to make it something nice and casual — it’s just the student, the president and some coffee. But, when things are scheduled in a way where the majority of students cannot or possibly should not make room for — it makes us think that there was malicious intent in the planning. It seems to us that it was scheduled so there’s an event in place that makes it seem like transparency is happening, but in reality it was planned so that as few students as possible could make it there. Whether or not that was intentional is no longer the point; this is how it is received.
Students want to know the people in charge of our investments (time and money), and want to be sure that our futures are in good hands. I strongly encourage more events like Cookies and Conversation for the future, scheduled at more available times for students because it is unreasonable to ask a student to wake up extra early or miss class during the week just for this.
But, I also know that these events are not enough. Students want more, we want to be able to have serious conversations about real issues and get actual answers that are honest, not condescending. I have a friend at another private college where twice a year the president of the university holds a town hall for the students and attempts to answer every question as honestly as possible — which takes serious guts. Things like that are difficult and humiliating for administrators, which I am aware of, but it builds unbelievable trust between the students and the administration. I’m not saying we have to do exactly that here at Willamette, but we need to be thinking more along those kinds of lines.
Because when we finally get to a place as a University, students and staff, where this kind of trust exists, then we will start to live out our motto.
Not unto ourselves alone are we born.