Minutes before 7 p.m. on Thursday, fewer than fifteen students fill in the rows of seats in the Northwestern room of Norris center. In the front of the room, a panel of three administrators face the sparse audience and ready themselves to speak and answer questions in the first of a two-forum sequence to give students an opportunity to hear and question the people who shape their Northwestern experience.
It was a nice idea in theory, but the forum was rather disappointing from the minute it started, the major letdown being Dean of Student Affairs Mary Desler’s absence. ASG publicized the event as “ASG to Hold Open Forums with Mary Desler, Other Top Administrators,” but the headline speaker was not sitting at the panel table. In her place sat Director of Judicial Affairs Jim Neumeister, who explained that Desler had a family emergency. That is completely understandable, but although Neumeister spoke about the topics that she had planned to cover, the forum should have been pushed back to a later date if Desler could not attend. The advertisement should fit the product, but the forum seemed to be missing a key component in Desler.
Almost as disappointing was the weak student presence at the forum. As the panelists were getting ready to start the forum, the few students in attendance looked around and asked in whispers why this event wasn’t more publicized. According to the event coordinator, Visraant Iyer, in a press release, “These two forums give students a chance to talk to administrators, one-on-one, and finally put faces to names they might have heard. These forums are all about bringing students and administrators to talk about our school, and see how we can make it better.” However, with so few students, there wasn’t much substantive dialogue between the two groups. The panel did a lot of explaining, but the questions asked weren’t very probing.
Unsurprisingly, what the panel did talk about did not seem particularly revealing. Sarah Pearson, vice president of alumni relations and development, spoke about how Northwestern holds on to relationships with its graduates, but students were mostly interested in how the university attempts to raise money in the hurting economy. Pearson tackled these questions by answering that she tries to make Northwestern a top priority for those who donate.
“Part of the American identity is to give, and what you give to during a recession depends on your values … Our job is for is for NU to resonate with their values so that if they can only donate to three areas, Northwestern is important,” Pearson said.
That’s nice. But how is this done, exactly? How does Alumni Services keep Northwestern a priority to benefactors? Where Pearson should have offered concrete and successful examples of their “high-touch, low-tech” method of raising money, she offered the abstract. She expressed their goal, but the actual practice of procuring donations was left unclear. Especially now, with this economy, Pearson should have been more prepared to answer economy-based questions.
Director of Health Education for Health Services Michele Morales mainly covered issues regarding alcohol and drug safety on campus. Although she thoroughly explained the alcohol and drug trends the health center sees, it was Neumeister who fielded more of the questions regarding alcohol on campus.
One trend that Neumeister saw was the rising number of reported alcohol-related emergencies on-campus every year, but neither Morales nor Neumeister knew why. Neumeister expanded on the three possible reasons behind this increase — the presence of CSOs in residence halls, the Evanston Police, and more students and others making phone calls during emergency situations.
Students wanted to learn more about Northwestern’s stance on alcohol amnesty. Neumeister discussed this issue at length and described why alcohol amnesty — is not the sole answer.
“What we really need to do is make sure that students know what alcohol poisoning is and what to do in emergency situations. Alcohol amnesty may part of something, but it’s not the answer,” he said. It’s a policy they are discussing but haven’t come to a decision on quite yet. Though, if medical amnesty can potentially help and so many other universities have implemented a form of the policy, why hasn’t Northwestern? Neumeister noted accidents like the death of a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the loss of Matthew Sunshine, so the administration knows that students too frequently die from alcohol poisoning. Morales even cited a statistic of more than 1,000 student deaths nationally per year during the question-and-answer session.
Besides learning that SafeRide has been providing a record number of rides in the past couple quarters, I did not find this forum particularly enlightening into any aspect of the Northwestern administration. If there had been more students to ask a wider range of questions, perhaps the discussion would have been propelled to deeper depths, but the information disclosed seemed relatively shallow compared to what ASG advertised in its press release.
Before the forum fully came to a close, several students left early. Maybe they had an engagement to get to or a lot of schoolwork. Or maybe the forum was just a disappointment.