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Observer Editorial: Time for transparency

| Friday, September 6, 2019

Transparency is becoming increasingly rarer. This is a reality found in many cities, states and nations in today’s world. It’also a truth in our own community — and recent events show it’s only getting worse.

The Notre Dame administration needs to fundamentally reform the way it goes about implementing major changes in our community. Making unforeseen, hushed decisions in the Main Building and standing idly by while a confused uproar flares across campus cannot be the way our leaders respond to student’s concerns.

The latest residential life change illustrates this point. On Aug. 19, the Office of Residential Life announced to the campus community that it had stripped student ID cards of access to all dorms. Students were given no more explanation than “greater safety and security” despite the controversy that erupted in its wake.

This was only the most recent installment in a series of abrupt changes to residential life policy. First came the six-semester mandate, which was unexpectedly announced in an early morning email with a “presentation and questions” scheduled less than 24 hours later. Then came follow-up changes announced this past April — the most controversial of which excluded off-campus students from many significant on-campus dorm activities.

Taken together, these announcements stirred student participation to an extent we haven’t seen in our community in quite some time. At least 1,000 students protested in front of and inside the Main Building. Petitions urging policy reversals collected thousands of signatures. Student Government leaders pledged to advocate on behalf of students to find a compromise or clarity on these issues.

But just like with so many other issues, the protests and advocacy eventually died out. The fury wore off. Students got tired.

And we saw our community left in the dark on the mechanics behind major policy changes. 

We could focus on the lack of continued student participation, as we did in March. But the manner in which campus-wide changes continue to be made in our community shows there is another issue at the heart of this problem.

Students are unaware of the power their voices have on our campus — in part due to the lack of transparency within the University’s decision-making process. 

So far, protests don’t appear to have swayed a single administrative mind or brought about any further campus-wide clarity. Our leaders ignore petitions. There is little information given about the “student-led focus groups” that are said to justify some of these changes. 

We invest our time and money in this institution in the hopes we’ll leave better educated, informed and equipped to venture into the real world. Creating an environment conducive to conversation and participation is vital to this goal.

But with the way our administration has responded to our concerns, student participation only seems to be hindered. With changes like the student ID card restrictions, we have seen little indication our leaders truly listen to our voices, thoughts and concerns on issues students have clearly said matter to them.

There are concrete ways the administration can ensure greater trust among the student body — many of which have been sporadically utilized in the past. Meeting with student groups, holding listening sessions and analyzing campus surveys are all practices the administration has employed to handle certain issues. 

But it must go further. These should be established standards for all major University decisions that impact students — especially those that result in mass confusion and frustration.

 Maybe then students will truly believe our voices are being heard.

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