Presidential review should prioritize student input

When the University announced the comprehensive presidential review that began this semester, University President Thomas LeBlanc said his participation in this review shows unique transparency for a university president.

But while undergoing a review is a good first step, the University is not giving students – the constituency that should be most important to officials – enough opportunities to give feedback.

In an email sent to students announcing the start of the review, administrators expressed their desire to obtain feedback from students. The student body, which includes more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students, was given just two hours total in two open forum sessions last week in the Jack Morton Auditorium to provide feedback in person. Officials conducting the review also sent an online feedback form and will hold individual and group interviews as part of the assessment, but two open invitations to hear student concerns are not enough.

Cartoon by Tara Peckham

In addition to not providing enough times to gather feedback, the forums were also at inconvenient times, which hinders students’ ability to give feedback. The first forum was held from noon to 1 p.m., which conflicts with many classes and work schedules.

All of the forums were held on the Foggy Bottom Campus, which also limits who can attend because it may not be feasible for all students – especially those that live on the Mount Vernon Campus, or graduate students who primarily use the Virginia Science and Technology Campus – to attend.

The University has attempted to mitigate this particular issue by providing a live stream of the first forum, but access to the footage is simply not enough because it does not allow watchers to give any feedback. While students have an opportunity to send feedback through the review page, they had no way to interact with the conversation in real time.

Just six total students attended two feedback sessions last week. While we cannot be sure whether the problem with turnout lies in the inconvenient times, location or another factor altogether, a myriad of issues contributed to the unsuccessful listening sessions and officials must do more to make these events more worthwhile for both parties.

Administrators already seem out of reach to many students. While LeBlanc does make an effort to reach students through his monthly office hours, it is important that individuals conducting the review of him reach out to all types of students to make it clear they want to hear about their experiences.

Regardless of the reason for low turnout at this week’s events, officials need to take note of their failure to get appropriate student feedback and open up additional sessions to be sure they hear from students. Students have different needs, and limiting the feedback sessions doesn’t explore all possible experiences students may have had in the past year.

To truly be an accessible and transparent leader, and get the most out of this review, officials need to remove the barriers that may prevent students from voicing their concerns about LeBlanc and the University as a whole.

Limited accessibility runs counter to the review’s mission of transparency. Officials are trying to make it appear as though they are hearing student feedback, but being heard by officials is a privilege only afforded to students who could attend the forum or are one of the few leaders tapped for an individual or group interview during the review.

The University seems more concerned about creating an appearance of listening to students rather than actually making sure their voices are heard. Taking the effort to actually listen to students can be as simple as hosting a forum on the Vern or offering more listening sessions in the evening. Students should not simply be able to see and observe the actions of the University – they should have an active role and stake in decisions made at the highest level of the University. By making it difficult for students to voice their concerns, administrators fail their most important constituents – the students.

Student feedback should be at the center of everything the University does, especially with reviews of top administrators. LeBlanc cannot properly guide and shape the University without input from students, and this review needs to incorporate vast input from the group that LeBlanc was hired to serve. The student body deserves to and must be heard in order for the University to fulfill its promise to prioritize our experience at GW.

Jack Murphy, a freshman majoring in philosophy, is a Hatchet columnist.

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