Last week, our staff editorial urged the Rensselaer community to attend President Shirley Ann Jackson’s annual Spring Town Hall Meeting, which was held last Thursday. For the past few years, the meeting has garnered robust attendance from cabinet-level administration and Environmental and Site Services employees, but we think the meeting has fallen short of what should be its intended target demographic: students.
There will always be students that don’t care about goings-on around campus, but there are a large cohort of students who do. But then, why did our article’s writer and photographer see very few—fewer than 10, that is—students at the meeting? Why was the student turnout so low?
The biannual event has a few logistical problems. First of all, for the past many years, the meetings have been held right around midterm week. Rather than holding it at the beginning of the semester and subsequently setting an almost pep rally-type tone for the term, the president’s office has scheduled the meeting during students’ second-busiest and stressful week. We realize that there are some announcements made at the spring meeting that couldn’t be made earlier (e.g. budget numbers and Commencement speakers), but those announcements could be made in other ways.
Aside from being held during a major testing period, this year, the meeting took place on a Thursday afternoon, unlike the Wednesday dates it previously had. As most RPI students know, Wednesday is usually a light class day, due to the Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday schedule that most classes follow. Furthermore, why would the office of the President organize an event at 1 pm that students are encouraged to go to when most of them are in class? We feel that an evening meeting (with dinner served afterwards, perhaps) would increase student attendance dramatically.
Once held in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Concert Hall, the forum is now held in the EMPAC theater. While a nice enough venue, the latter is a much smaller space, and filling it is much less difficult. The president’s office can take credit for a standing room-only crowd, regardless of the fact that the meeting is in a room one-third the size of its first locale.
Jackson has always fielded questions from the community at her meetings. The timing of the meeting caused low student turnout, and low student turnout often means low question volume. On Thursday, not a single member in the audience asked a question, even though the student populace likely had questions. Students have traditionally been the voice of the community, when no students attend, no questions get asked.
In the end, for students, it is important to make an effort to attend and be informed, and for the administration, it would be best if meetings such as this were scheduled at better times so the student population could be better informed.