Senior Sura Lutvak and junior Jori Shapiro started a survey this summer to gauge how students feel about the campus climate at UR, specifically what they feel are unnecessary hassles in lines of communication between the administration and students.
“We felt really frustrated with all of the different lines of communication and things that don’t get resolved,” Shapiro said.
She described encountering numerous communication barriers between the administration and students and not knowing how to follow up with various campus entities like Facilities after experiencing a problem in a dorm or with deans after having a complaint about a professor.
“We started the survey to see if other students have these same issues and, in fact, they do,” Lutvak said.
The survey, which Lutvak and Shapiro shared via a Facebook event posted in July, has received 241 responses to date, with 100 in the first day, numbers that both Lutvak and Shapiro said they found shocking.
They said they were the most shocked by the huge amount of students who responded quickly to the survey, but also by the number who also responded thoroughly, filling in almost all of the comment boxes with “really good ideas,” Shapiro said.
The survey, which can still be accessed and which Lutvak and Shapiro are still monitoring for feedback, begins with the question “On a scale of one to five do you feel UR is using your money to meet your needs?” It goes on to ask students to rate their overall experience at UR, what they think of professors and if they think that their voice can adequately be heard on campus.
Shapiro said that the first two questions were focused on tuition because they felt frustrated by having to essentially pay for improvements that they personally would not be able to benefit from and were unsure where to voice such a concern.
Prior to disseminating the survey, Shapiro sent an email to UR President Joel Seligman, who advised her to meet with Dean of Students Matthew Burns. They then posted the survey and met with Burns, presenting him with responses. Shapiro explained her decision to start at the top as a result of feeling frustrated by the “run around” — or unclear channels of communication in departments and between departments, attributable in part, she believes, to the fact that UR is a more “de-centralized” university.
“We have issues with each department, but the real issue is the run-around,” Shapiro said.
Burns said he thought that the survey seemed to contain an “eclectic mix of issues” and said that much of what Lutvak and Shapiro brought to him filled him with more questions than answers. He also acknowledged that going to the president to start rather than going directly to the source was “probably counter-productive.”
“It seems like a round-about way of addressing things,” he said, adding that he thinks it is a common mistake made by students to go right to the top and that he thinks this is perpetuated by the fact that many students have the erroneous impression that the administration is inaccessible.
In response to the question of whether or not many of the issues that Lutvak and Shapiro brought forth can be resolved, Burns said he thinks some can and some cannot. Particularly complex issues like dining and tenure are difficult to resolve, he said.
Although Burns believes that one of the strengths of UR as an institution is the fact that it has a de-centralized governing structure, he thinks there is some room for improvement in communication.
“We need to get the message out that [the administration] is available,” he said.
He added that from looking at the survey results, it was clear that some students had tried and been unsuccessful in communicating issues to the administration, while other students were more vague in expressing their issues. This led him to wonder if perhaps they were under the assumption that the administration is inaccessible or if the answer that they had received from the administration was not one they liked.
Burns is considering holding lunches with random students to solicit feedback, since often the most vocal students on campus are leaders whose voices are frequently heard, rather than voices of students who might be the equivalent of UR’s “Joe the Plumber” student.
Lutvak and Shapiro have fewer ideas when it comes to concrete solutions in addressing what can seem like a largely ephemeral problem. Lutvak said she can envision having a place online where contact information for specific issues is clearly delineated, but she says they are largely aiming to address the “knowledge gap” she sees within departments and foster such broad ideals as transparency and accountability.
One student who responded to the survey suggested creating a task force of students chosen by GPA or campus involvement, Shapiro said. The group of students would change to ensure transparency and would serve as representatives to the administration of students’ ideas.
Shapiro in part highlights this anecdote because of what she describes as a frustrating experience when attempting to launch her project — the usual route of discussing issues with Students’ Association senators and various committees yielded unsatisfying results, she said, leading her to believe that her goals cannot be accomplished through traditional means — what many would assume to be the SA.
SA President and senior Roshal Patel said that he reached out to Lutvak and Shapiro via email over the summer on the day that the Facebook group was made, encouraging them to use the SA to accomplish the change rather than going directly to Seligman.
Patel said he did not feel bothered by it, but rather was unsure “how effective it would be to go to the top” and wanted to explain the purpose of the SA.
“We wanted to encourage them to use [the] SA because that’s what it’s there for,” Patel said. “We can be the most effective when we are getting the most student feedback.”
Patel said that he supports improving communication “because it can always be better” but noted that “we would encourage them to do it through us, because arguably that’s the most effective way of doing things.”
“We do applaud them for being passionate about a student issue,” he said.
Neither party, however, say that they have plans to join forces.
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.