Aiming for Accountability

We at The New Paltz Oracle would be fooling ourselves and administrators if we said President Donald Christian could walk through a crowded Hasbrouck Dining Hall and be recognized by every student. However, our president wants to change that.

The various discussion groups Christian has organized for students, faculty and staff prove he is dedicated to being a more open and transparent president — and the campus community should seize any chance to bring their concerns to his attention.

After attending a training session for new presidents, Christian decided to start a program in residence halls that he is calling “Hot Chocolate and Hot Topics.” Over the course of the semester, the president is inviting students in each building to bring whatever topic they wish to his attention in an open discussion. The first few sessions in Crispell and Gage Halls revealed that Christian isn’t taking any items off the table. From complaints about advising to questions about course availabilty, Christian has listened to what the 60 or so students who turned out for the program had to say without directing them to someone else.

This program is not the only one of its kind. Christian also developed a student advisory group last semester, comprised of all types of athletes, commuters, undergraduates, graduates and more, to become more in touch with the wants and needs of the entire campus community. His choice to include students who are in different positions on campus was an important change in the way the office of the president relates to students. Christian no longer only hears from elected Student Association (SA) officials: he examines concerns more directly.

We hope that students raising issues “Hot Chocolate and Hot Topics” session and at meetings of Christian’s advisory group will justify initiatives undertaken by student government officials and help convince administrators to cooperatively assist them with different projects.

This wish may already becoming true, in relation to students’ dissatisfaction with academic advising. SA Vice President of Academic Affairs and Governance Ayanna Thomas said she is working on an evaluation for faculty advisors. Considering this, his own personal experience as an advisor and the concerns he has heard from students this far, Christian said he thinks this would be a great project. His support of this kind of change introduced by students reflects that administrators will care what we have to say.

Christian and other college officials can only listen to what we have to say, though, if we aren’t telling them what is one our minds. We at The New Paltz Oracle encourage all students to take advantage of the opportunities our president is presenting us with to talk to him. We should not complain that we are being closed out of classes or that our advising is poor in hindsight when we had the chance to tell the school’s top official that things need to change. About 60 students attended the first “Hot Chocolate and Hot Topics” session, but many more live in the residence hall. We need to be active members of conversations about the direction this university is heading.

While the president proved he wants to get students talking, we hope Christian will do more than just listen. We want him to act. Discourse is only valuable when it produces tangible change. Christian should take serious note of what students have to say to him so he can introduce policies that meet their needs.

If Christian and the student body take these discussions seriously, Christian could be recognized anywhere on campus as both the president and a catalyst for change.