As of June 13, 2014, the Physics and Astronomy Reading Room will be replaced with a new Data Science Studio funded by a $37.8 million grant. You can see the University’s statement about the initiative here, as well as a quick video a I made about it in my latest ’60 seconds at the President’s Desk’:
This change has been met with some significant opposition by students that used the space for studying and its various texts and stacks. These discussions, and responses by administrators, are well summarized in this change.org petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/save-uw-physics-astronomy-library
My intent with this post is to propose a path forward for better student input in decisions like these.
In my view, the standard for student input includes opportunity for ASUW Student Senate, GPSS Senators, and the direct students affected to weigh in during early stages of decisions. On the other hand, we can’t critique the University for inefficiency in administration, as some often do with higher education in general, at the same time that we force them to ask for approval from hundreds of students before every decision that is made. So what’s the balance?
There needs to be an institutionalized and persistent place for administrators to go quickly to students for input on decisions that affect them. ASUW and GPSS exist because we maximize student influence in decisions like this – in the end, we are that persistent mechanism (and we are effective, by the way – last year we prevented program fees for Engineering and Business majors and played a role in the resident undergraduate tuition freeze). But there’s an even better avenue for direct input in decisions relevant to particular academic departments.
We recently created Student Dean’s Advisory Councils in just about every College – we call them College Councils. These allow for direct input to the Dean on decisions.
Because they are new, we are still finding all of the places that they can have influence: new course fees, building proposals, College budgets, academic advising, the list goes on. What I believe will be an effective solution is to engage College Councils with space considerations as well. There are usually 10-14 students from various departments on these councils, as well as an ASUW and GPSS representative. The latter representatives report to ASUW and GPSS leadership with agenda items that are being discussed.
Therefore, if these College Councils are consulted, we can identify concerns early, and students can take charge in informing students that need to know, as opposed to conceding that responsibility to administrators. I believe this will be an effective solution going forward, and in the next meeting between Council Chairs, ASUW, GPSS, and the Provost’s Advisory Committee for Students, I will bring this up as an agenda item.
The replacement of the Physics and Astronomy Reading Room was a sudden announcement to those that cared most about it. It should not be this way; as students, we are now paying upwards of 70% of our cost of education, and our opinion on these issues matters. Many if not all administrators realize this (all the good ones do, anyway), but they are often void of easy channels for communication. That’s why we need to present tangible and practical solutions for communication, and I believe College Councils can serve as a means to that end.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.