Recent comments made by Dean Hutchinson compel us to condemn the current state of communication, transparency and responsiveness between the administration, faculty senate and student body. The faculty and administration ignored the opinions of students, dismissing them with grandiose statements highlighting Rice’s “student-run senate” and “transparent administration” throughout the entire approval process.
During Orientation Week advisor training, Dean Hutch hosted a “fireside chat” so that advisors would be able to inform the new students about the “proper” reasons for which the proposal was passed. The chat, advertised as an open conversation between Dean Hutch and advisors, began as a monologue of why the administration — specifically Dean Hutch — fought for the credit limit. It was a thought-provoking speech. Many of the advisors still opposed to the credit limit found themselves, if not pleased with its passage, able to understand its purpose.
Why was the opportunity for such a dialogue not available before the Faculty Senate voted to pass the legislation? When asked, Dean Hutch argued the university should not stop what it is doing simply because the student body disagrees. He also asserted that he attempted to explain the proposal at Student Association Senate, but found the student body unreceptive.
This answer epitomizes the error in the administration’s approach to engaging the student body with the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum proposal. When a critically important and controversial proposal arises, it is the shared responsibility of the administration and the
student body to properly communicate. The administration must do more than attend more SA senate meetings. When 87 percent of the surveyed student body takes issue with a proposal, they deserve to be the target of a meaningful communication strategy, be it by attending college cabinets or sending an email to the student body before the proposal was passed (the provost’s email delivered after the CUC passage deserves attention here, but to be brief we characterize it thusly: Yikes, man).
Reducing student stress is a noble goal, but it is clearly not the CUC proposal’s main objective. When asked why the Faculty Senate wasn’t addressing department degree hour requirements themselves, Dean Hutch offered the lukewarm encouragement that hopefully this new limit would allow him to convince departments to lower graduation requirements. This response deeply alarms us, especially because we were not given the opportunity to further question it. Does the administration really condone “experimenting” with students’ academic schedules, likely limiting their educational pursuits, simply to “send a message?”
Advisors also wanted more information about appeal process in the proposal, though they were not given the opportunity to question Hutch about it. Students called for a specific appeals process throughout the approval process and the administration repeatedly tabled the request for after the proposal’s passage. Apparently the administration felt it unnecessary to consider the appeals process before passing the proposal though it played a critical role in marketing the proposal to students, and will be crucially
important to the future success of many incoming students with unavoidably intense credit requirements. Considering that little if no student feedback was incorporated in the CUC proposal and Dean Hutchinson’s recent remarks, we fear that students who intend to give direct feedback to the appeals process will better spend their time on Fondren seventh.
There should be serious discussion between the administration and the SA about changing how the Faculty Senate is allowed to function independently of the SA, and how the administration and student body can better communicate with and respect one another. Fostering legitimate interaction (rather than the meaningless veneer of such interaction) between the Student Association and Faculty Senate is the first step in this process. Rice students were just ranked the happiest in the nation — but how happy can students truly be, and how long will the happiness last, when they don’t trust the administration?