On Feb. 11, Andrew Trexler ’14 sent an email to the student body announcing a new approach to student involvement in University affairs: a campus-wide question. In an effort to open new pathways of communication between students and administrators, Trexler worked with President Michael Roth to pose a question to the student body. This same question will be addressed at the next Board of Trustees meeting.
“It was a student initiative that came out of the open forum we had on need-blind financial aid in the fall,” Roth wrote in an email to The Argus through Editor and New Media Writer Lauren Rubenstein. “Some students wanted to have more open discussions, and I am very happy to participate.”
President Roth’s question related to the University’s commitment to subsidizing scientific research both in and outside of the classroom.
“What is Wesleyan’s obligation to subsidize this research?” Roth wrote in the email sent by Trexler. “It’s important to say, as we do, that we subsidize research because it improves the educational experience on campus. But don’t we also subsidize research because it is a good, a cultural good, in itself? Specialization in the academy means that the great bulk of work produced by scholars for other scholars will not find its way into undergraduate teaching.”
The question was posed to all students, even to those who do not actively participate in on-campus research.
“This does not apply merely to the biology major working in a lab researching the internal functions of a mitotic cell, but also to the government major who wants to research phenomena relating to a recent election,” wrote Jason Shatz ’14 in an email to The Argus.
This new method of student involvement was conceived as an idea to give students insight into Board meetings and processes.
“President Roth sends a question to the Board meeting attendees before each session and asks for feedback; a few months ago, I proposed to him the idea of sending that question (or a similarly open and important question) to the entire student body for input,” Trexler wrote in an email to The Argus.
Roth explained that he has received thought-provoking feedback since posing the question.
“It’s been interesting for me to see the reactions from different constituents throughout the University,” Roth said. “Some people were very worried that if we talk about [research], there would be less support for it, particularly among people who don’t do research…But in fact it’s been the exact opposite: people have been extremely supportive of the research. It’s a crucial element in the culture of the University.”
Roth added that he values research highly.
“[Research] brings culture into the present that would otherwise be lost,” he said.
Still, Roth mentioned that he hopes to maintain the balance between professors’ dedication to students and their personal research. He also explained that research puts some economic stress on the University.
“[Research] makes us better teachers,” Roth said. “But it’s not easy—it doesn’t come for free. People need time to do research, they need economic support. So I wanted to have a conversation about this.”
Since the recent escalation of the need-blind debate, students have been requesting increased communication between the administration, the Board, and the students.
“The WSA and many student activists have pressured the administration to be as transparent and in contact with the student body as possible in all matters pertaining to the University,” Shatz wrote. “This was most evident in the response to the administration’s changes to the financial aid model.”
The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) will collect students’ responses and communicate them to the Board of Trustees when it next meets. The question sent to students is identical to the one Roth sent to Board Members.
“Working with Andy Tanaka, Roth’s Chief of Staff, we agreed upon using this question (identical to the one sent to the Board) for an experimental run, which will include both the online component and the in-person component on the 28th,” Trexler wrote.
The discussion will continue in an open meeting between Roth and students at the end of February.
“Roth is hosting a forum on the 28th,” Shatz wrote. “If we can get a sizable turn-out or even a significant online conversation through Wesleying, Twitter, and other avenues, then we could call this a successful dialogue.”
Those involved in crafting the question see it as a means for students to voice their opinions to the Board, an opportunity that is rarely offered to the entire student body.
“I hope that this opportunity will allow students to actively participate in shaping Wesleyan’s future,” Trexler wrote. “I expect that student responses will contribute to the Board’s discussion in the same way that the Trustees’ responses, faculty representative’s responses, and student representative’s responses have done in the past.”
So far, students have not taken much action to get involved with the initiative, according to Trexler. However, those students who already responded to Trexler’s email have been very interested in the proposal.
“There have been few responses thus far,” Trexler wrote. “I am hoping to receive more in the next few days. Students are constantly clamoring for their (rightful) opportunity to take part in guiding Wesleyan forward, and I would be disappointed to see us throw this chance away. Those [responses] that I have received have been thoughtful, however.”
Some students believe that the initiative will not create much campus discussion, and that many students will ignore the email because it was campus-wide.
“I am fully aware that many students are not willing to respond to any all-campuses, so I do not know if the message itself will garner many responses,” Shatz wrote. “I wonder if that has to do with a perception that the question is irrelevant to one’s own studies, a negative response to all-campus messages, or a tendency to act at the last minute.”
This question was created as an experiment to test student interest. However, according to Trexler, if it is successful in encouraging a thoughtful discussion, it may become part of a series.
“We hope that you will choose to participate and make your voice heard; if this method of engagement is successful, then it may become a regular occurrence in the future,” Trexler wrote in his email to the student body.