A Time for Transparency

About two weeks ago, the University notified the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) that all new fraternity pledges would be required to take a one-unit course on “Alcohol and Health in College Life.” In his email reporting the new policy to fraternity officers, IFC President Nik Milanovic ’11 expressed his frustration that this decision — which creates serious scheduling and logistical problems for pledges — was undertaken by the administration “without [the IFC’s] involvement.” The actions of ResEd and the Office of Greek Life in this case are yet another indication of the University’s total disregard for transparency and student input on policies impacting life on campus.

In the past few years, the University has repeatedly failed to solicit meaningful student input on policy changes, and has neglected to give students much, if any, advance notice of changes under consideration. New guidelines from ResEd about the management of Row House finances have been widely denounced by Row Financial Managers as confusing and unwieldy, with some FMs complaining that they had never been officially informed of the new policy, let alone consulted about its implications.

When the deadline for RA applications was moved earlier this year — a move which has seriously disrupted the selection of Row RAs — RAs and managers across campus protested that ResEd had made the decision without seeking their input.

The abrupt creation of the widely hated Roble Package Center this fall was greeted by complaints from students (and the ASSU executives) that the administration had once again failed to consider the issue from a student perspective. The various administrative departments seem blind to the fact that the student body would like to hear about policy changes in advance and have an opportunity to offer meaningful feedback.

The University does deserve some credit for initiating Town Halls regarding some major issues (such as the modifications to the Draw that came into effect in Spring 2009), and for allowing student representatives to sit on various University committees. But these outreach efforts are far from enough. Most issues never see the light of a Town Hall, and the administration should know enough about the lifestyle of Stanford students to realize that probably four-fifths of the student body likely will not be free to attend such a discussion on any given day.

And while it’s great to have students on committees, they are no substitute for a real, campus-wide discussion about the various “student perspectives” on University policy. The administration should make a concerted effort to reach out to campus communities—like the Greek system or Row staff — that are likely to be affected by their policy changes. The University should also make much more of an effort to publicize potential changes in campus media while they’re still up for debate.

The administration and faculty spend an awful lot of time telling us how smart we are, and how they want to treat us like the grown-ups we are (or ought to be). But if the University really considers us rational, valuable, adult members of the Stanford community, it needs to radically rethink the brusque and condescending manner in which it proposes and implements policies on student life. As a private, voluntary institution, the University has every right to determine its own policies, but those policies could be quite a bit saner and more productive if the administration was truly committed to transparency and student input. Yes, the professionals who work for ResEd, SAL, and other departments have unique and valuable perspectives on the way Stanford operates… but so does the student body.

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