Burstein speaks on his experience with open office hours

By Mina Seo

A continuation of the termly open office hours offered by President Mark Burstein occurred Tuesday, Nov. 3. During this time, students were able to drop by Sampson House to spend a few minutes talking to the president without any appointment. We had an opportunity to interview President Burstein after this unique event .

Q: What is the original purpose of creating open office hours?

A: One of the important parts of being a president is to be able to keep in touch with what the students are thinking about both individually and as a community. Open office hours is one of the ways that I get to hear from students and what is on their minds. We started open office hours in my first year here.—so, in my first term. I still can remember some of the students who came to see me in my first open office hours.

Q: Do you think you have been achieving what the open office hours are supposed to do?

A: I have achieved more than what I actually expected. Many students really used this time. A lot of people come in to talk to me about their personal journeys at Lawrence as well as issues that are facing the university and giving me insights about them. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to understand the students and what is going on campus.

Q: Would you introduce us to some of the most intriguing experiences you had with open office hours?

A: One of the most impactful conversations I had with the students was about how complicated their financial support was at Lawrence. It was early in my first year. They told me that the financial aid that we provided was not enough for them. So it made them work close to 40 hours a week and take on a significant amount of debt to pay for Lawrence. That conversation as well as a number of other conversations and data started us on this effort to try to become a full-need institution, which is an effort to raise 75 million dollars so we have enough endowment income to support every student to a full-need level. That one conversation set us off on a path as well as other research in major educational issues.

I also had a number of students who came in and talked about sexual misconduct and our policies, which really impacted conversation we had at the end of the last year. There are also students who just come in and talk to me about roommate problems, boyfriend and girlfriend problems, pros and cons of declaring majors and whether they should become RLAs [Residence Life Advisers] or not. Those conversations are also valuable. We had an opportunity to participate in some of the Lawrence experiences.

Q: What are the practical changes the open office hours brought to campus?

A: A number of varsity athletes in different teams have come to talk to me about their own experiences and that has put a higher priority on hiring a full-time athletic director. They had a great fortune of having one of our coaches, Mike Szkodzinski, who is a hockey coach and also an athletic director. But given some issues, we realized the need to have a full-time person managing that part of this institution.

A number of students came in to see me in different times for allocation of small group housing. It raised an issue for me, as an important one for LUCC [Lawrence University Community Council]. This is actually a process that LUCC is responsible for, not the president or any members of cabinet. But it made me realize that it is also important for me to sort out and know for the next year’s selection. I think the students from different subgroups of the Lawrence community, and different cultural, ethnic or social groups have come in and helped me understand their diverse role they bring into campus.

Q: Are there other things you might want to talk about?

A: I treasure the interaction. There is nothing more important and energizing for me than interacting with students. That is what we are about, which is the student experience. I just want to thank students for being willing to come in and talk to me about anything.