An administrator at the University of Chicago with some sense of valuing human conversation:
I think the most impressive example is from a few weeks ago at a meeting over budget cuts to student services. Although Goff-Crews was blind enough to student culture to propose shutting the equivalent of the student union on Sundays, she did respond openly to feedback: “We were seriously thinking about shutting down the Reynolds Club on Sunday. When we ran the numbers, that seemed to make sense,” Goff-Crews said. “But the students thought there was something about keeping it open that was culturally significant. And that’s more important than the numbers.” (From http://www.chicagomaroon.com/2009/2/20/goff-crews-outlines-possible-budget-cuts)
A second, less obvious example, comes from last week’s Chicago Maroon story on student health: “Some students from the Our Health Counts coalition said that the issues the report identified matched their own criticism of the care that the University provides. “I want to applaud you guys for being really responsive to student voices,” fourth-year and Our Health Counts member Christina Melander told Goff-Crews. “To me it seems like what students are saying and what the consulting firm said are the same.” (From http://www.chicagomaroon.com/2009/2/27/dean-goff-crews-lists-potential-health-care-improvements.)
Of course, having said something nice, I have some caveats, too. What gets mentioned much lower down in the story about closing the Reynolds Club on Sundays is that the subordinate to Goff-Crews, Sharlene Holly, director of the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, who quite possibly proposed the closing in the first place, clearly reserved the right to make further decisions based on more number-crunching: “Holly said her office will conduct a quantitative survey this week to determine precise student use of Reynolds Club per hour. Based on those figures, she will re-evaluate the building’s hours.” Although Holly heard the same responses that Goff-Crews did, she clearly didn’t respond the same way. As Student Government President Matt Kennedy put it, the point is not to close the Reynolds Club at all, or even reduce it’s hours! The whole point of the strongly negative student response was that the numbers don’t matter: it’s an issue of culture.
Similarly, why was it necessary to bring in outside higher education consultants to propose many of the same things as the students presented at the later, second meeting with Goff-Crews over student health? Why not educate the students about the issues and involve them in a political, democratic process that teaches them more than how to give gut-level responses to prearranged sets of ideas. In fact, the entire rhetoric of seeking “pushback,” as Goff-Crews puts it, or of “feedback” in general, is an apolitical stance toward students as citizens of the university. They are not mere biofeedback loops or socially conditioned animals! That sort of treatment by the putative “leaders” of the university merely conditions students to be little more than walking neural networks, responding to stimuli without understanding or freedom.
More to come on why President Zimmer is much less skilled than Goff-Crews at leading a community.