September 1, 2010

Creating an Effective Dialogue

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President Skorton declared in his most recent Sun column that “most important … this year is our communication with each other.” Ironically, he wrote these words five days after the University imposed major changes on the Greek system without any student input or dialogue. In fact, the lack of student input and dialogue has been an enduring theme in decision making on campus. The lack of effective communication between students and administrators is a pressing issue that must be addressed before any major policy changes or initiatives can be taken. This communication breakdown is one of many issues I hope to bring into focus every other Thursday in this column. You, the reader, have a responsibility to be informed about campus, local, national and international events and changes that affect you.  My goal is to encourage you to take initiative and take a stand on things that matter. Of course I think my opinion matters (who doesn’t think their opinion matters?), but I think it is most important that you take away something of your own from my line of reasoning and develop a personal, focused perspective. With that communicated, I now want to focus on what has not been communicated to you, the student, by the administration.The series of events that ensued since the University mandated Greek leaders make fundamental changes to their self-governing systems takes me back to my high school days on Long Island. Naturally, the issues at hand were whether or not seniors could wear masks on Halloween and the danger of allowing Chinese delivery rather than the consolidation of libraries and the future of Greek life. The song, however, remains the same. Decisions were made by administrators, and their idea of communication with students was to simply inform them of the changes and their rationale. Students expressed anger and petitioned but were ultimately powerless (although, if my memory serves correct, we were able to preserve the availability of curly fries in the middle school cafeteria). One would expect to be treated as a partner in decision making at Cornell. Instead, I find students here are treated as children just as we were at Great Neck South High.Of course, the University touts exhaustive efforts to open lines of communication between students and administrators. President Skorton never fails to remind students of his e-mail address and Travis Apgar would tell you to attend the open forum on the Greek system changes scheduled for Sept. 8. And the last major administrative initiative, “Reimaging Cornell,” had a student feedback feature. I do acknowledge that I have never tried e-mailing President Skorton, but such methods of feedback are rather informal and do not allow for collective action or collaboration. As for the open forum, it has been presented as a discussion about changes that are final. It is also worth mentioning that Sept. 8 is the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, so many students will be unable to attend. My reservations about e-mailing President Skorton extend to the student feedback element of “Reimagining.” It was informal, involved little opportunity for follow-up and was reactive rather than proactive.As a member of a fraternity, I am upset that the administration did not ask us to weigh in on how we could make changes to our system to make it safer. I am most upset, however, as a student that such actions were taken unilaterally and unexpectedly. Despite walking past Day Hall every day en route to class, it feels like a distant and unreachable domain. The administration is not entirely to blame for this mindset. The Student Assembly has a communications committee yet does not provide students with a platform with which they can address their concerns. The S.A. also fails to actively publicize meetings, resolutions and resources for student action and collaboration with administrators. The onus has effectively been placed on The Sun, an independent publication, to communicate the actions of both the administration and the S.A. Back in high school, we did take action to increase effective communication between students and the administration. We invited our Principal to Student Government meetings and she invited students to schedule meetings with her to discuss issues. We worked together, and while this was easier to accomplish at a high school with 1,300 students than a comprehensive university with 13,500 undergraduates, I think it is indeed possible to improve communication between administrators and students here at Cornell.Perhaps President Skorton and other administrators could make an honest effort to include students in the decision making process. For example, they could hold more frequent office hours and regularly schedule focused forms. They could also invite relevant student organizations to meet with them and work with them when creating new policies. In addition, the S.A. should breathe life into its communications committee and effectively involve the student body in its decision making. Perhaps liaisons from major student organizations could regularly be given a platform to address the S.A. Maybe you have a better idea. By all means, share it with me and with decision makers on campus. Regardless, Cornell needs to be not just a caring community but also a collaborative and communicative one.  Jon Weinberg is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at jweinberg@cornellsun.com. In Focus appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg