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Open Letter to Dean of Students

Approved by the Student Caucus

As students and a body representing the student voice of the college, we rise with concern and disappointment regarding the recent decisions made in the Student Life Office. We are less concerned about the decisions themselves and more that students have not been adequately involved in the decision-making process. This letter summarizes our grievances and introduces a set of corresponding recommendations for improvement. We cite the following as examples of practice changes that have been afforded neither adequate opportunity for student participation nor time to adapt and respond.

Grievances:
Area Coordinators: Students were not adequately involved in the decision to introduce the area coordinator model, nor was the idea brought to Student Caucus or Staff Forum for consideration during its development. After a brash and heavily contentious open meeting and several Student Caucus meetings about Area Coordinators, Public Safety, and a perceived increase of enforcement we are convinced that this model should be reconsidered or at least evaluated and adapted with a wide margin of student and staff participation.
Residence Life Staff Changes: Recently there have been significant changes to the compensation and expectations for Residence Life staff. These changes were allegedly discussed with a few select students and subsequently presented to current Residence Life staff as a new practice for the next year. When the changes were briefly discussed in Student Caucus the Dean of Students explained that the decision to implement them had already been made and that Student Caucus was not consulted because there had not been a policy change. While, the Dean of Students was correct in stating that the changes dealt with practice not policy, it is unacceptable for practices that are integral to students’ experiences to be changed without student involvement. Decisions that lie so close to a student’s living experience should not be made behind closed doors.
Hiring Process for Residence Life Staff: In 2007 Student Caucus passed a mandate requesting that the hiring process for Residence Assistants and Residence Directors include a community feedback portion. The Residence Life Department recently requested that Caucus review the mandate and discuss changing it to allow for a more fair and transparent hiring process. Caucus took up the topic and discussed it briefly during one meeting and made no formal action. But, despite Caucus’s desire to continue to discuss the topic, it was made clear by the Residence Life Department that the mandate would no longer be followed and community feedback would not be solicited for the hiring process for the 2011-2012 academic year. This action directly usurped the principles of the shared governance structure and denied the input of Student Caucus.
Student Life Staff: A somewhat more delicate topic of recent is a number of changes, removals, and departures within the Student Life Department. If we value diversity, student support, and community we should demonstrate that by supporting the departments and individuals who uphold those values with adequate resources and funding. Further more, if we really value and prioritize transparency and community living we should discuss significant changes using methods more respectable than announcing sudden staff departures through brief emails indicating their replacement. Our campus cannot engage in deep, critical thinking and dialogue about race, diversity, multicultural affairs, student safety, and sexual violence with such a rapid staff turnover.

Response:
Students want and need to be part of the decision-making and discussion portion of these topics. Changes such as these should not be bred and invented behind closed doors- they should be pushed up from students and sent to the Dean of Students and to her advising committee as designed by the current and proposed College Governance Structure. If the Dean of Students has ideas, those should be presented and discussed with students in proper and formal arenas, including Student Caucus and Community Meetings- not to individual students or through unofficial meetings. Students can discuss it, adapt it, focus group it, love it, hate it; but regardless of their reaction, they should be given ample opportunity to respond to proposed changes that affect them. In a community as small as ours, and with a student body as active as ours, it is a mistake and a lost opportunity to not involve students in the decision-making and the practice changes that directly affect them. When decisions are made without student consultation and involvement, the decision maker has failed to provide an opportunity for more stakeholders to be involved and has thus failed to explore new ideas, considerations, or thoughts. If the Dean of Students does not recognize the importance of student participation she will continue to lose trust and credibility amongst students and staff. We can learn from the failed implementation of Area Coordinator positions; when students and staff do not support or understand a position, the person’s job becomes a lot more challenging. Thus, it is difficult for them to appropriately serve and support the community.

Students are an integral part of this campus’s success and sustainability and despite a transient student body, our values, loyalties and commitments remain constant: we come to work, to learn, to serve, and to get our hands dirty. We come because we want to be part of a community, because we care about sustainability, and because we know that in a community of such an intimate scale, we can hear and be heard.

Resolutions:
We ask the administrators, especially the Office of Student Life: when you have big ideas that affect our lives, we want to know about them, we want to be asked about them, and we want to be part of the process to implement them. We want stability in the Student Life and Residence Life Departments. We want transparency of information as it is developed, and trust from the Dean of Students in our ability to respond appropriately to changes.  We want things that continue to circulate in the rumor mill to be addressed and discussed. We want consistent and clear communication from the Dean of Students so that we might build a relationship of trust with her, based on which she can represent our voice in decision making with integrity and accuracy.

In resolution to the aforementioned grievances, Student Caucus hereby recommends and requests the following:
An open meeting with Deb Myers, Dean of Students, so that she can address and explain the various changes and adoptions that have been made in the Student Life office;
The Presidential Governance Task Force consider outlining a process for significant practice changes to be presented to the community in ample time for their consideration, recommendations and feedback, and that there be a clear process for determining when a practice is significant enough to elicit community feedback;
That the Dean of Students provide a monthly report to students about ideas, practices, and policies that might be considered by the Student Life office; and
That all significant practices and policies move through the proper venues of community governance and be given adequate time and opportunity to be discussed and adapted by the community.

[Correction: in the print issue, the letter was attributed to Lacey Cunningham. The letter was collaboratively authored by the Student Caucus and approved through voting procedure.]

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