Two weeks ago, I was at a dinner celebrating the accomplishments of a research group I am involved with on campus.
One of Lehigh’s most senior administrators was at the event and gave a few introductory remarks to the audience. The individual spoke about how proud they were of Lehigh’s progress in the past year, rattling off a renovated Chandler-Ullmann Hall, the opening of the new SouthSide Commons residence and a new College of Health soon to open on campus next fall.
It soon became apparent to me, as I listened to the administrator who refused to answer any of my questions this semester, that the speech was clearly reused from previous events. No effort was made to tie back the remarks to the specific research program he was speaking to or to connect with the specific audience on that night.
It was also clear to me that this administrator defined Lehigh’s success purely in terms of numbers and buildings.
I’ve spent a significant part of this semester talking with an array of individuals across campus in all sorts of different roles, from the deans of Lehigh’s colleges to staff members, students and professors. You learn a lot from listening.
I’ve listened enough to know that our acceptance rate rose 10 percent in just one year. I’ve listened enough to know Lehigh cut its sustainable development minor program while in the midst of the creation of a new college and a $1 billion fundraising campaign (without a formal announcement or responses to my requests for comment). I’ve listened enough to know that counseling services has been asking for a new therapist for five years and has had roughly the same budget for 30 years, while Lehigh places more emphasis on recruiting students who come from demographics that are more likely to require mental health services while at school.
Does that sound like a Path to Prominence to you?
Needless to say, the administrator’s speech that I sat through fell flat to me.
It reminded me of a different time this semester when I was speaking with another administrator about how student growth might or might not be impacting this person’s job. A reasonable question, I thought, since this year’s first-year class was about 125 students larger than the previous year’s class.
“You’re chasing the wrong story,” the administrator snapped at me.
Besides the fact that this only further validated I was chasing the right story, I asked the individual if they had taken the time to go and listen to staff members in counseling services, to students in the Graduate Student Senate and to faculty members in the sociology department. They, contrary to this administrator’s opinion, might have a vastly different reaction when they are asked how student growth is impacting them and their jobs.
These issues look differently depending on where you sit. When you’re the one getting to decide where all this new tuition and fundraising money gets to go — when you can securely split up the budget pie from your conference table in Alumni Memorial — I bet you’ll have a different perspective than the staff member running a small office responsible for servicing an ever-growing student body with no knowledge of how much or when that money will trickle down to you.
So to you, reader, I say, bear with us at The Brown and White.
These are complicated times. We’re here. We see you.
And we’re listening, even when it might seem nobody else is.