Administrative bureaucracy threatens a student-oriented university

community editorial board

While we all painstakingly wait for the bi-weekly Qualtrics survey that promises Amazon gift cards, Duke should be involving campus organizations in their administrative decisions. Instead of adulating anonymous, unreliable survey data, administrators should consult those affected by their decisions – namely Duke students. This consultation should include direct conversations between the administration and groups of students who can provide a student-orientated outlook on the problem. Duke University governs by consolidating decision-making power into the hands of a small number of executives. While this small body of bureaucrats may improve efficiency in enacting policy, officials can lose touch with university groups and fall victim to serving large university donors and annual college rankings.

Shouldn’t such well-paid administrators be more beholden to those who are paying for their education? This lack of a student-centric mindset among the administration has resulted in hypocritical COVID-19 decisions, a hostility towards Greek Life leading to negative community repercussions, the decision to re-invent campus life with QuadEx and the mismanagement of Bryan Center student spaces. 

For instance, when students were able to attend basketball games, but not in-person class, what kind of message did this contradiction send to parents and students? Even now, students and professors cannot take full advantage of the traditional Duke classroom experience. Masks prevent proper social interaction and facial expressions are not as easily conveyed. Professors, too, have complained that masks make lecturing more difficult and prevent effective communication and education. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, lifted its mask mandate within classroom settings. If students and professors alike recognize the benefits of going maskless, what is holding Duke back from being consistent with mask policy? Why are administrators making decisions that don’t reflect the beliefs of the student and faculty body? A conversation between officials, professors, and students would help to align priorities on such an issue. 

When seven fraternities disaffiliated from the Duke Interfraternity Council, these fraternities cited a lack of consultation from Duke surrounding changes to their rush process. Furthermore, the administration decided to move these living groups off of West Campus’s main quads, further alienating Greek Life. While this disaffiliation of the fraternities may have been seen as a victory for Duke administrators, particularly Vice Provost Mary Pat McMahon who successfully diminished Greek Life at Tufts, it certainly has had adverse effects.

The shift of social events from on-campus venues to off-campus houses has had unfavorable outcomes within the Durham and Duke communities. Recently, Durham residents attempted to ban fraternities from residential neighborhoods, complaining that the houses were “public nuisances.” Furthermore, separating student social life from the university disconnects fraternities from Duke’s sexual assault prevention safe drinking habit resources.

Greek Life is undoubtedly responsible for unsafe behavior. However, the Duke administration must realize that a significant portion of the student body is involved in Greek organizations and that without a viable alternative to social life on campus, Greek life will continue to exist in the Durham community. Only time will tell whether Duke’s solution to the problem, QuadEx, will successfully revamp campus social life.

The decision to adopt the new residential model called QuadEx in Fall 2021 was shocking to many in the undergraduate student body. The Class of 2025 even matriculated without knowing that they would be the first class to experience the new living system. In this case, the administration only consulted students after the decision had been announced. When “Scan this QR code to share your feedback on QuadEx!” posters began appearing around campus, it seemed almost like an afterthought by the Duke administration. The futile attempt to gather student input after a major decision had already been made was blatantly ineffective and out of touch, leading to an immediate backlash among freshman and sophomores.

Another example of Duke officials acting without student input was when Vice Provost Mary Pat McMahon’s vacated office was given to the Career Center last semester. Despite “previously promising the space to multiple student groups who have been demanding more space for decades,” administrators seemed to have other plans. This decision was made behind closed doors and without any consultation from underrepresented cultural identity groups, such as Latinx students, Black students and Native American students. The disjointed nature of communication between officials and the student population further exacerbates what seems to be an alarming misalignment of the Duke administration’s priorities and its students’ priorities. 

Managing Duke’s student body, workforce and bureaucratic divisions is certainly difficult, and we do not expect the administration to consult every student, professor or employee on decisions. Additionally, we recognize that Duke officials have attempted to receive student input, such as through the town hall that was held on December 9, 2020 pertaining to QuadEx. However, it is important to note that these actions were only conducted after significant decisions had been made, not before or during. 

As members of the student body, we expect the Duke administration to actively seek out conversations from the relevant student groups before making decisions that will have overarching implications on campus life. It is important, too, that university leaders speak with a diverse group of students that reflect the values and beliefs held on campus. Administrators who talk to students that simply echo their own personal convictions may only gain a one-sided outlook. By speaking to students directly rather than posting anonymous surveys, Duke will inevitably enact changes to university policy that are representative of student goals – not simply the wills of donors or individual officials. 

The Community Editorial Board is independent from the editorial staff of the Chronicle. Their column runs on Tuesdays.


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