Empty chairs at empty tables

Tyler Hoffman, Executive Editor

During the week of Feb. 11, students were invited to attend a student-focused forum on tuition, room and board rates, and improvements planned for the next academic year. The problem? When the event arrived on Friday, Feb. 15, the rows of seats filling Strosacker Auditorium were mostly bare.

Provost and executive vice president W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III hosted the forum, and it aimed to provide “an update regarding 2013-2014 tuition, room and board rates, as well as program improvements planned for the next academic year,” according to The Daily, Case Western Reserve University’s official newsletter produced by University Marketing and Communications.

Unfortunately, this latest attempt by university administration to connect with students resulted in the same background noise that tends to frequent similar events, such as president Barbara R. Snyder’s annual State of the University Address and the semi-annual open forum held by the Student Executive Council: the sound of chirping crickets.

The provost’s forum is indicative of an increasingly prevalent — or, more alarmingly, tolerated — trend at this school, which anticipates students will not attend informational events about institutional issues.

To be fair, our predominantly academic-focused student body should share in the blame. After all, for many students, mountains would have to move before they could justify looking up from their textbook long enough to hear information that will not affect them until next year.

But this isn’t to say university administrators shouldn’t put their backs into moving some boulders.

The communication strategy leading up to the provost’s forum was ineffective at reaching students. The Daily published an article about the event on the Monday preceding it, while a banner advertising the forum was published on the homepage of case.edu.

The short notice of the forum aside, the majority of students I know instruct Gmail to filter The Daily out of their inbox and haven’t visited case.edu since the day they enrolled in this institution. (The Observer was not informed of the event prior to its appearance in The Daily, which occurred after our latest edition had hit newsstands.)

Meanwhile, the text chosen to advertise the forum did not have students in mind. Phrases such as “one-hour meeting” and “reviewing proposed charges” made the forum sound like a lunch date with a dry accountant rather than an engaged conversation between students and CWRU’s second-highest ranking official .

The next opportunity for the university to connect with students will occur throughout a series of panels comprised of members from CWRU’s strategic planning working groups. As of press time, two of the forums had been scheduled for the week of Feb. 25.

I certainly hope university officials will work to ensure as many students as possible attend these forums. This means explaining in no-nonsense language why students should tear the textbooks out of their hands long enough to be present, and then mobilizing campus and social media to convey the message. In turn, I hope students recognize each of these forums is an opportunity to help stear the direction of the institution for the foreseeable future.

At a time when our university is undergoing a significant transformation, connecting the administration to its student constituency couldn’t be more important. Bridging such a long-standing gap will not be easy, but it won’t be impossible, either. We just have to get good at moving mountains.

Tyler Hoffman
–EXECUTIVE EDITOR