Decision Makers Must Involve Students
Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs has announced that Senior House will continue to house undergraduates for the time being and that Ashdown House will only hold 50 undergraduates. As for process, Smith has also offered to hold a number of community-wide meetings to consider the trials and tribulations of the housing system. And residents have been assuaged by a pledge of intimate involvement in any renovations or new graduate housing.
The early attitudes of the administration and of the Strategic Housing Planning Committee appear to have changed. Hopefully the mishandling of the SHPC's deliberations has helped to educate the administration. Certainly Dean Smith's announcement reflects a better understanding of the nature and value of student input. But will they apply these lessons elsewhere? They must.
First and foremost, administrators need to define what "input" and "inclusion" they want. The managed, ex post facto dialogue planned by the SHPC was designed to fail. When students were belatedly asked to present their views, the result was both professional and productive. But there was no reason for students to be put in the position of reacting to administrative planning. They should have been involved in it from the start.
The supreme mission of "input" must be consensus. Within a community, consensus should be the test for any proposal - whether advanced by students, faculty, or administrators. It is unacceptable for the administration to allow tools for consensus-building to sit idle while secretive committees engage in "planning." Consensus must be engendered at every level.
Students have reason to wonder whether the administration will learn the importance of student input and consensus. The Potter report, the 1991 Dean of Engineering search, the flap over the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, and the SHPC - how many lessons does the administration need?
The thoughtful response of the Senior House-East Campus Action Committee demonstrates the value of student input. With the intermediate grades proposal and the search for a new dean of undergraduate education and students affairs on the cusp of consideration, they have two excellent opportunities to show their improved understanding of student input and consensus-building.