Section: News

Students push for more transparency

To first years at Kenyon, the words Cove, Summer Sendoff and the Black Box Theater might not mean much. But for some students, these words are representative of the tensions between Kenyon students and administrators.

“There was a feeling on campus [last year] that the students couldn’t really trust the administration to make decisions for them,” George Costanzo ’19, sophomore class president, said.

President Sean Decatur, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 and Student Council felt this anger had to be addressed. Following a campus forum on Feb. 14, a Governance Working Group was created and began meeting regularly in March.

The group — composed of Bonham and eight students, including Costanzo — met five times over the course of last semester.

The group’s responsibilities included “recommending long-term solutions for issues surrounding communication between administrators and students, collaboration between students and administrators in decision-making processes, and transparency in governance,” as stated in their Preamble to their proposals, provided to the Collegian by working group member Colin Cowperthwaite ’18. The group sent these proposals to a number of organizations on campus for appoval, one of them being Student Council.

The Governance Working Group was not meant to facilitate changes, but rather to make recommendations regarding issues of transparency and communication on campus between students and the administration, according to Cowperthwaite. All groups charged in the proposals “should have taken a look at our proposals and taken a look at ways they can implement them,” Cowperthwaite said.

One group charged with increasing transparency is the Student Council. Phillip Gray Clark ’17, Student Council president, received an email from Cowperthwaite in August outlining the proposals and the working group’s expectations: asking administrators to hold regular and public office hours for anyone one to attend and deploying Campus Senate to act as a liaison for increasing communication between several factions of the College. 

Student Council was the subject of five specific charges, including cultivating healthy relationships between student and administrative groups. “One of the main things the Student Council is trying to do this year is make ourselves more approachable and friendly,” Clark said. Specifically, this means making office hours available and publicizing the fact that Student Council meetings are open to all students.

Regarding the administration, Clark points out that Phoebe Roe ’16, former Student Council President and member of the Governance Working Group, was able to arrange regular meetings with an administrative liaison to “inform them of anything coming up in Student Council a lot, and they are supposed to inform [us] of any major changes to the College,” Clark said.

Bonham, the lone administrative member of the Governance Working Group, cited the establishment of administrative liaisons as a key success in efforts to increase transparency and communication. “Liaisons are an opportunity for [the administration] to connect directly with students to help us anticipate student concerns and understand what we might do to try and enhance communication,” Bonham said.

When asked about the changes in the relationship between the administration and the students from last February to now, Bonham called the atmosphere more collaborative. “It certainly seems like we are headed in the right direction,” she said.

Four members of the group will reconvene with Student Council and the administration in February 2017 to conduct “a review of these recommendations and the progress thereof,” the Preamble says.

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