Administrative Transparency – Obstacles & Opportunities

Since my post in December 2014 on administrative transparency, I’ve been trying to actively step up my participation and engagement with my school. My post led to conversations with several peers and colleagues in which they basically encouraged me to get more involved if I felt so strongly about school issues. While I still think that major decisions (e.g. major curriculum changes, school mergers, etc.) should be more publicized and openly discussed by school administrations, I definitely took the encouragement of my peers and colleagues to heart – there are many engagement opportunities that I wasn’t taking advantage of and, thus, I was not as informed as I could have been.

Keep calm, yo.

True of Wikipedia *and* your LIS program. (Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 3.0)

Over the course of the last two months I have found many ways to become more engaged with the administration of my library school. Also, happily, over the last six months the Student Affairs office at my institution, under the leadership of a fantastic new Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, has really stepped up its game in terms of facilitating student access to and general knowledge of information regarding important school decisions, meetings, and issues. Thus, I’ve drafted a list of action items, developed from my own experiences and from the new actions of my student affairs office, that you can use to spur engagement at your own institution:

Get to know your student representatives (if they exist – and they should)

At my institution, there is a student representative on almost every committee: curriculum committee (a Masters rep and PhD rep); diversity committee (Masters, CAS, & PhD); doctoral studies committee (a PhD rep and an international PhD student rep); faculty meetings (Masters, CAS, & PhD). All of these students take time out of their busy schedules to show up at these meetings and make student voices heard. So go find out who they are! Make sure that all major committee meetings at your school are open to students (as allowable – our executive committee meetings are not open) and that a dedicated student representative is present for every meeting. Make sure that their contact information is frequently publicized through student channels of communication (online bulletin boards, email listservs, social media, etc.). Consider volunteering for one of these positions yourself or at the very least meeting with your student affairs department to see if some sort of handbook or set of guidelines is in place to make sure that these positions are effectively filled.

Make sure your student reps are expected to get to know you

Just because student representatives have been appointed and go to meetings doesn’t mean they are being as effective about spreading information to students as they can possibly be. Investigate the ways (if any) that representatives are disseminating important information as well as gathering student feedback. Are they accessible to students? Do students know who they are? Is there are place for them to publicly post meeting minutes and information important to students? At my institution, the student affairs office has set up a space on our online course management space called the “Student & Student Reps Forum & Reports” where each student representative can post meeting minutes and solicit student input and feedback. This has been a great portal for information (that could still use additional publicity, as I’m not sure of how many students are aware of it).

Go to faculty/administrative meetings (if you can)

Many committee meetings are open, especially at public institutions. You may not be able to stay for “executive sessions,” which can remain closed, but students are often welcome during the general part of many committee meetings (even if you aren’t a student representative). Are you especially passionate about LIS curriculum or diversity? Go to the appropriate meeting! Find out what faculty, staff, and other students are saying. Contribute to the conversation! It’s a great way to feel more involved in the inner workings of your institution. And if you can’t make the meeting, at least try to read the minutes (if they’re publicly available – if not, start contacting folks until you find out why not).

Talk to someone about making more information public

Can’t always make it to meetings? Or even if you can, do you wish that more of the information at the meetings was more widely disseminated? Work through the appropriate channels to let that info see the light of day more often! Agendas, minutes, pre-submitted reports – all of this and more could be waiting! Something to keep in mind is that academic institutions often experience a great deal of turnover, both within faculty/staff and the student body. So sometimes information is left buried or ends up in a place that is hard to find or not widely publicized. Go find it! Ask around! In my experience, while I knew that faculty meeting agendas and minutes were accessible on my school’s website, I didn’t know that there is now a page on our course management website devoted to the pre-submitted reports at such meetings (which make up a great deal of the content). This is great information to have and I hope to help publicize it to more students in the coming months, as I feel like most students are unaware of its existence.

Voice your opinions and concerns effectively

When you have a concern to bring to your school’s administration, whether it be through an individual email to an administrator, as a comment to your student representative, or as a comment at a relevant committee meeting, do so with forethought and grace. This is not your high school student council. And this is not a dish session with your friends. These are people who are taking time out of their day (oftentimes in a volunteer/service capacity) to try to make your institution a better place. You might not agree with everything they do or with their methods, but you should respect their goal, which is usually the same as yours: to develop and improve your school.

*****

Moving forward, I’ve interacted with many people who are working hard to improve my institution. Some of them are even working very hard to improve the lines of communication and engagement between students and the administration, for which I am very thankful. There are big changes on the horizon for my institution and I hope that students will be increasingly involved in the conversation.

How do you engage with your school’s administration? Do you feel like student representatives have an effective voice in committee meetings? What are your suggestions for more student engagement with large institutional decisions?

1 reply

  1. Another opportunity to learn about university-wide policy changes is to explore your university-wide graduate student association/senate. This provides opportunities to get to know graduate students outside your program and meet players outside your department: students on university-wide governance bodies generally have regular meetings with provosts, deans, and even university presidents. For prospective academic librarians, this gives an inside look at how faculty governance and committee service work.

    At my university (Catholic University of America) the Graduate Student Association also has funding available for student travel to conferences and pots of money for students to invite lecturers. Generally, only PhD students engage with these groups – but if you pay a student fee at your university, it’s generally managed by an elected body of students.

    University-wide service can be an opportunity to expand options for students in your department – if LIS at your school hasn’t been represented in a university-wide association, sometimes departments will fall between the cracks and miss out on money/opportunities from your graduate student senate.

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