Students have railed against Barnard administrators for not being transparent about policy changes and budget cuts over the last two years. But on Monday night, Barnard President Debora Spar said that communication is a two-way street, and that students could be doing more to communicate their opinions to administrators.
Spar was the administrative guest at Monday night’s Student Government Association meeting, where she discussed student frustration over this year’s housing crunch and the impending closure of the Barnard pool. Spar said that improvements need to be made in the way that SGA, students, and the administration communicate with one another.
“We do have a lot of channels in place for student input … We need to rely on you all, the representative system, so students have a place to take their concerns so they are fed to us,” Spar said. “I think the channels are there—we just need to make sure they’re used.”
Spar said that few students have responded to emailed surveys, and that there has been poor attendance at Dean Avis Hinkson’s office hours. Still, SGA President JungHee Hyun, BC ’13, said that sudden decisions over the last two years to eliminate part-time tuition and to require all students to purchase meal plans “got personal” for students.
“Students felt, ‘Why is it happening to us?’ Can’t there be a sounding board for student input?” Hyun asked Spar.
Spar said that she and Chief Operating Officer Greg Brown would like to form a group of students to provide feedback during administrative decision-making. She also noted the administration makes many decisions over the summer, suggesting that this gap is partially responsible for students feeling like they aren’t being consulted.
“How do we make sure you all are in the loop by the time you hit the ground? We need to send email at the end of the school year just telling people what’s going on,” she said.
Spar also described budget cuts that have frustrated students—including the decision to close the pool, and the elimination of part-time tuition—as necessary for moving forward with major campus renovations and expanding financial aid grants.
“The return to the full-time tuition policy was a big deal … Over time I think that it was a good and fair thing to do, although it always hits the students who are here at the moment most directly,” Spar said. “I can’t promise, but I don’t think we will face another cut like that one.”
Spar told Spectator last week that the series of budget cuts has been part of a concerted effort to slash up to $8 million from the college’s approximately $160 million annual operating budget. Twenty-five percent of the cuts will come from student programming, 25 percent will come from curriculum, and 50 percent will come from administrative budgets.
“There will be further cuts,” Spar told SGA members. “I do not think they will affect the student life in a significant way.”
After Spar left the meeting, SGA members discussed ways to encourage student communication with the administration, and to get more involved in administrative policy debates themselves.
“It’s on us to go to the students, and for students to come to us,” vice president of student activities Sarah Steinmann, BC ’13, said. “We need to figure out how to do it better, because we don’t do it well.”
“We all try really hard to communicate. At the end of the day, a lot of it falls on the student body,” junior class president Aliza Hassine said.
Vice president for communications Malvina Kefalas, BC ’14, is already working on new strategies to keep students up-to-date with campus news. When causes like saving the Barnard pool and supporting Barnard union workers start to gain traction among students, SGA “will be releasing statements to get rid of this elephant-in-the-room silence that has plagued SGA for a long time,” Kefalas said.
“We’re going to be a lot more vocal, and everyone’s going to love it,” Kefalas said.
Hyun said that student attendance at Tuesday night’s administrative town hall—which is being held tonight at 6 p.m. in the Diana Center Event Oval—will be decisive in laying the foundation for students and administrators to improve communication.
“This town hall is kind of the brain child of the progression of this month,” Hyun said. “This won’t work unless we have students there. If we can’t get students there, then what are we doing?”
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Spar and Hinkson's office hours, rather than just Hinkson's office hours. Spectator regrets the error.