What needs to change, part 2: administration

Dave Broker

Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once said, “The best way to deal with bureaucrats is with stealth and sudden violence.” When talking about the problems with bureaucrats at Lawrence, I can’t say I would be too comfortable with it coming to that. Hopefully the pen is mightier than the sword, and what I am about to divulge might actually make a difference.
Where to begin with the LU administration? Unfortunately there is no way I can possibly reveal all of the problems I see, but I’ll explain several observations I’ve had over the years.
1) The administration can be lazy.
Have you ever put a work order in with Physical Plant? Getting them to fix something is a nightmare. I once waited four days for my heater to be fixed in the middle of January – the temperature was under zero the entire time. It was like living in an icebox and it’s a miracle I didn’t get sick. On top of that, I’m sure many of you are thinking “four days? How on Earth did you get them to come so fast?” I simply cannot believe that they are as understaffed as they would have to be for their slow response rate to be excusable. So sometimes the administration can be lazy, and that needs to change.
2) The administration can be inefficient.
The nurse’s office is not open from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays. Sometimes people get sick on Wednesdays and can only find the strength to make it to the office during those times. I’ve been in that position. So when I inquired as to why I had to return hours later, rather than sleep off my illness, I was informed that on Wednesdays the employees there have a meeting between 10 a.m. and noon. Then at noon they go to lunch. Do lunch meetings not work around here? Can these administrators seriously not eat and work at the same time? It would appear so, anyway, because every office on campus is closed during lunchtime. The administration can be generally inefficient for stupid reasons, and this needs to change.
3) The administration is less than honest about their communication with students.
Remember the fraternity kitchens debacle? For months administrators met with fraternity representatives to tell them everything would be okay, which the students accepted without suspicion. Then they released the actual budgetary figures to the frats – figures that proved the new meal plans would not be viable for fraternity kitchens – only after a contract was signed with Bon Appétit and nobody could do anything to change it. When alumni and parents called and emailed in outrage, they were told it was the students’ faults because they had been in dialogue with the administration the entire time. To this day, the fraternities are in financial disarray thanks to the administration’s decision.
How about the infamous fall term schedule-change disaster? They had this idea to move the trimester back, saving money on heating in December. In order to make it look like they had student approval for the plan they rounded up a group of students they knew would agree with it and put them into a committee. Not surprisingly, the committee approved. So the students were happy, right? Of course not. The administration had to revise the decision in the midst of serious backlash. In the end it didn’t even work – the school didn’t save a whole lot of money. The truth is, the decisions they make don’t have any real student input, and that has to change.
4) The administration can be cruel and unfair.
Now, I would have considered that claim to be pretty over-the-top not too long ago. Yet recently the university fired our house’s custodian, Clint, for not fulfilling his duties. On top of that, they’re now trying to deny him his unemployment benefits. This is outrageous. Clint did a fine job. When you asked him to clean something, he cleaned it. Furthermore, he would do what was asked of him by the end of the day. That’s more than I can say for the majority of employees here. In fact, I would go so far as to say compared to the rest of the people working on campus, Clint was a model of efficiency. Firing him was unfair and denying him unemployment insurance is cruel. This sort of thing needs to change.
But what can we do about it?
Last week, I noted how my biggest concern with LUCC was that they didn’t have enough power. Most of these problems could be addressed if the following solutions were seriously considered.
First, LUCC should form an Oversight Committee that has the power to subpoena administrators and offer suggestions to the administration. This committee should be given budgetary figures for each administrative office. As our elected student representatives, they should be able to see how much we’re paying to offices like Physical Plant that students are dissatisfied with. Members of the Oversight Committee would be charged with getting suggestions from students that offer common-sense solutions – for example, introducing that wild lunch meetings concept – and hearing protests over decisions like firing and maligning a good janitor.
Second, LUCC should form a Student Input Committee. While administrators are in a decision making process, the committee would find the relevant student groups and parties that would be affected – adversely or otherwise – by the decision, and initiate a dialogue between the administrators and students. This would begin serious discussions between the student body and administration, rather than the current sorts of discussions that are for appearances only.
Will LUCC be able to do these things? I don’t know. Even if they did, would these new committees actually solve the problems I’m talking about? Again, I can’t be sure. But it’s worth a try. After all, I’m still not comfortable with stealth and sudden violence.