My conversation with President Barbara R. Snyder

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

This past Monday, March 17, I attended a personal meeting with Case Western Reserve University President Barbara R. Snyder.

In mid-October, I walked into Office 216 on the second floor of Adelbert Hall and requested a meeting with President Snyder after being encouraged to do so by the Office of Student Affairs. After six months of being bounced around between various communications officials, my request was granted and I met with the president and Vice President for Marketing and Communications and Senior Adviser to the President Chris Sheridan.

Before I proceed with how the meeting went, before we even began talking President Snyder made it extremely clear that she has had her own office hours on Monday afternoons for any CWRU student, faculty, staff, or even greater-Cleveland community member who wishes to speak to her about anything for the past seven years. Immediately, I was confused.

Everyone I’ve spoken with before this meeting—from administrators to professors—had no idea President Snyder had designated office hours. The typical response I would get would be about past president Agnar Pytte’s infamous weekly hours where his door was literally open to any individual who wanted to talk.

Following her lead, I discovered there is a student meeting request swatch on her office’s website. However, I was still confused. If there was such an option, why was I not informed at the time of my request? Why didn’t members of other administrative divisions know about this student option? Why was I led to believe that this meeting was an impossibility?

Throughout this entire year, I’ve been working closely with the Office of Student Affairs, taking meetings with other administrators, consulting professors and listening to student feedback about our campus community. I’ve been offering suggestions, seeking answers and trying to help build a greater sense of community at CWRU. All of my work led me to President Snyder, the woman who oversees all of the constituents I had spoken with.

It seemed to me that there are three major threads of a campus community as seen by the president: first, individual responsibility; second, focus on the future; third, outside partnerships. But the emphasis was evidently that the presence of a strong community was on student shoulders.

“Community is something we create together, something we all engage in together. It belongs to alumni, students, faculty, staff, and future members,” she said. “Everyone has to own it. It’s not just my community, it’s our community.”

She continued, “We all need to ask ourselves, ‘What can I do individually to make the community better?’ We are all stakeholders.” She then cited my writing in this weekly space and our crossing guard, Officer Mark Chavis. “[Officer Mark] chooses to be engaged with our community. It’s up to each of us to build community.”

“We need to hear from [students] on how they want to foster connectivity and belonging. We are, of course, open to suggestions, but we can’t do it alone,” she said of the administration. “I see students all the time; I like the connection between students. But it’s a skewed sample of students who I see.”

Despite such a heavy focus on individualism, she did mention our university footprint on Cleveland. “We take service to neighborhoods seriously. We share borders with East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, as well as our larger University Circle home. We have obligations to these groups with partnerships, especially in University Circle.”

I went to President Snyder to learn and I did just that. There is no doubt she cares about CWRU and all of its parts and people. She wants what’s best for everyone that calls this university and its surrounding areas home. Her vision of community is ours, “Nobody wants to be at a place where their voice doesn’t matter, and I think we can do it better.”

Barbara R. Snyder was very pleasant. It’s clear she is an intelligent businesswoman and views the university as such, but she was humble and down to earth, and her office mirrored that. She seemed happy to meet with me and spoke freely, often without prompt. Essentially, the meeting was a good opening discussion to what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue between the president and me. Yet in the future, I also hope to go a bit deeper.

Jacob Martin is the senior opinion editor. He thanks President Barbara R. Snyder for her time this week.