Warren Wilson College has made an effort to include the campus community in important decision making processes. Direct participation in planning processes and opportunities for community feedback are the habits of the college and seem to be reinforced in college policy.
Particularly with the recent strategic planning process, community participation has been expansive and exciting. The President’s Advisory Council (PAC) will now receive feedback from those who directly participated in the process and those who witnessed the process unfold. The primary outlet for community feedback is the online survey provided by Zoomerang.
Although, through technological outlets such as Zoomerang, feedback from the campus community risks over-efficiency and sterility. Although more messy, a regular community forum that would include the diverse constituents on campus would provide a more immediate and honest opportunity for feedback.
Community meetings have worked well in the past. At the beginning of the strategic planning process, the campus community met as a general body, as well as in smaller groups, from which some of the most instructive feedback and commentary was received.
As Dean Paula Garret said in Staff Forum Wednesday, other institutions do not even approach the level of community engagement Warren Wilson saw in the Strategic Planning process. The success of that process should encourage us to promote that standard of engagement in regular practice.
Although the governance bodies serve as a venue for community feedback, they are too narrow in their focus. That is, students only receive student feedback, faculty only receive feedback from colleagues and similarly with staff. There is minimal opportunity for each governance body to exchange feedback across communities.
If community meetings became a regular practice, there would be a space for information dispersal across campus affinity groups. This would alleviate the responsibility of governance bodies to communicate news, empowering them to spend their energy on active decision making, as is their design. This effect would produce a cycle where the more efficient governmental bodies would generate progress based upon and then discussed in community meetings. A more progressive, well-informed community at large would result.
Zoomerang surveys and other more modern schemes for aggregating feedback are certainly more efficient than community meetings. But, community and diversity are not clean; that is something we want to preserve and represent.
Furthermore, the information collected from online surveys has been sterilized. That is, the emotion with which the commentary was made has been lost in the process of aggregation.
According to Don Ray, director of institutional research, assessment and planning, text commentary collected for the recent strategic planning survey will be arranged by question and laid out for PAC to read. Ray summarized the review process as a lot of reading.
The tedium of reading hundreds of comments from various community members could be alleviated by hosting a monthly community meeting. Commentary and feedback would be immediate and personal and would resonate more completely with those who are receiving the feedback.
To set aside a time when the whole community can meet seems logistically possible. Currently, community members make time to go to the governance meetings, which are held weekly and bi-weekly. Each of these governance assemblies are held for one hour. This monthly community meeting could be held for one hour as well from 4-5 p.m. — a time that is free for most people on campus.
The meeting of the entire community could express a sense of a durable and connected campus community. Staff, faculty and students could retire to their constituent assemblies when these forums are regularly held. But, these communities could convene monthly and interlace the campus by providing feedback, reporting on information from their constituent assemblies and reinforcing bonds.
A monthly community meeting would be another obligation for a busy campus. But, the forum would be intense; it would be exciting. Community members would be able to immediately see the reactions and expressions of those that receive feedback.
In a college at which community participation is an important feature, a monthly meeting that includes all sectors of campus would only enhance this community participation.
Furthermore, it would realize an ideal.