Section: Opinion

How do we love transparency? Let us count the ways

In a blog post on Wednesday, President Sean Decatur proposed collaborating with students to redefine their rights and responsibilities “in a context relevant for 2016.” This is a welcome sign. We are open to a discussion of student rights and responsibilities, and encourage our peers to remain passionate advocates for their right to participate in the College’s decision-making processes.

Decatur’s choice, however prompted, to conduct an open meeting in Peirce Pub this Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. is surely a step in the right direction. Still, it is unfortunate the meeting falls on a Sunday — Valentine’s Day, no less — when other members of the community, such as faculty, Villagers and staff, may be less likely to attend. That is why, while we encourage everyone — not only students — to attend Sunday’s meeting, we think these should be ongoing conversations about the lack of transparency and failure to incorporate the input of students (and others) in College decision making.

There exist several obvious solutions to the problems we’ve outlined. Some of these are solutions the College could implement tomorrow, including one we’ve recommended before:

1. Open Board of Trustees meetings to the student body and the media. We anticipate the criticism: Chair Brackett Denniston III ’69 has said conversations at board meetings must remain frank so that meetings can’t be “constrained by what somebody’s going to say in a newspaper.” But do we honestly believe the kinds of conversations Kenyon’s trustees are having are any different than those at public universities, which are open? Rather than point to our peer institutions and look at what they’re doing, what if we actually took the lead? What if we said, “Kenyon, while a private school, values transparency and will show how we come to the decisions we make”?

2. Install a student representative on Senior Staff. While it’s true students are here to learn, not to administer, what would the harm be in having a student — possibly elected by the student body — sit in on meetings of Senior Staff while it helps craft the budget? How innovative would it be, how in keeping with the 2020 Plan, which advocates “experiential learning,” to have a student learning from administrators about how they do their job and having a say in those conversations.

3. Restructure the current systems of student governance. Campus Senate is woefully inadequate, as Dean of Students Hank Toutain said at Sunday’s Student Council meeting: “Campus Senate is dysfunctional and everybody knows that.” The College could use a majority-student oversight board, with teeth, that would ensure policies adopted by Student Council are upheld and College decisions get made with student input. We hope students will come up with ideas for how such a system could work and express them on Sunday.

How hopeful are we any of these ideas could gain traction? They need support — insistent and consistent support — from students and other community members who are passionate about knowing how and why Master Plans are approved, budgets adopted and tuition raised.

It’s time for a change, one that will only be achieved through steadily questioning and lobbying the administration to include students as full and equal members in its decision making. We have an amazing opportunity now to institute reform. Let’s take it.


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