On Wednesday, the Slippery Rock University administration released an email, signed by President Cheryl Norton, announcing the abandonment of a controversial proposal to move underrepresented student groups from the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL) to the University Union once it is renovated and rebranded the “Student Success Center.” In the email, Norton offered praise to students who rose up and voiced their opinions on the plan, which many believed would widen existing divides between minority groups and those who are well-represented. Those who stood up to the administration should feel proud of themselves and happy that those higher-up were willing to listen. However, the administration should have been listening all along.
A good company is a servant of its customers and, in the grand scheme of things, the university’s customers are the student body. This isn’t high school. We don’t have to be here. Many of us applied to and were accepted by a number of institutions toward the end of our high school careers, but we chose to commit to Slippery Rock because of numerous qualities this school has that many others do not. Many others who had already begun their college careers elsewhere heard of the benefits of a “rock-solid education” and chose to transfer here to become their best selves. Because we are here by choice, the administration owes to us a certain level of democracy.
A lack of democratic governance was clear in the administration’s proposal for the Student Success Center. Feb. 22’s student government meeting seemed to be the first time students and many faculty were informed of this plan. This resulted in anger and bad public relations for the university because people felt left out of the process; they felt as if their leaders were headed in a direction they could not follow. This anger took the form of the plan’s rejection by SGA, the near-unanimous disapproval by the student body and the announcement of an APSCUF member, Cindy LaCom, that the faculty union stood with the students on this issue. The overarching theme of this discussion is that this negative reaction could have been prevented if the administration had only had an open ear.
It’s to the benefit of all of us that the administration listens. Five individuals make up the university cabinet and, when data crunching comes into play and faces become numbers, a good deal of insight is lost. This isn’t necessarily the administration’s fault; it’s impossible for them to know all 8,000 of us. It’s in the administration’s best interest, however, that they begin viewing the university community as their greatest knowledge-gaining resource. We have many faculty whose tenures far surpass those of the president and provost, both of whom are still relative newcomers. We have thousands of students, all of whom have developed slightly different views of the university. We have devoted staff who have committed their careers to serving this school’s goals. The administration cannot say they are wiser than this knowledge-base. So, they should begin paying less attention to national trends and the flashy success centers of other universities and more attention to what their immediate community thinks the issues are and how to best tackle them. Doing so will result in better governance, better servitude to the university and greater approval from those served.
“Separate is inherently unequal” goes beyond this issue. When the administration fails to seek student, faculty and staff input in their decision making, they separate themselves from the community and make the rest of us feel unequal. To be fair, there’s little evidence to suggest that the administration is innately prejudiced against minority groups. However, the fact that they believed separating these groups from those that have traditionally been supported shows a significant lack of insight. The CSIL will remain united, but this movement should not die off. Students should remain aware of what their administration is doing and speak out when proposals lack community insight, which should never come after the fact. Slippery Rock is 8,000 strong; we are the university and our will cannot be overlooked.