Forum encourages conversation between administration and students


Photo: Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

President Steven Leath talks with Jared Knight, president of the Government of the Student Body, and Warren Madden, senior vice president of business and finance, at the open forum hosted Dec. 5.

Elizabeth Polsdofer

The first of many of what Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost, calls “great conversations” took place when students were able to address top administrators of Iowa State in an open forum.

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Wickert, President Steven Leath and other administrators joined together to address questions and concerns from students in a town-hall-style open forum in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union. 

“I think what tonight’s open forum really showed is that there’s a great conversation starting up on this campus between students, faculty and administrators,” Wickert said.

The forum lasted about an hour and a half. Students were able to address a panel of six administrators at Iowa State. The panel members were Leath; Wickert; Tom Hill, senior vice president for student affairs; Warren Madden, senior vice president for business and finance; Nancy Levandowski, director of Campus Dining Services; and Pete Englin, director of the Department of Residence.

Angie Carter, graduate student in sociology, came to the forum because she had concerns about transparency in administration at Iowa State.

“Considering the AgriSol scandal from last year, the current hire of Joe Murphy and the current controversy of the Harkin Institute, I’m really concerned about what the university is going to do to remain transparent and accountable,” Carter said.

The sponsor of the forum was the Government of the Student Body. Jared Knight, president of GSB and senior in political science, said he began arranging the forum after one of his staff suggested the idea.

“I’m just hoping that students can ask directly and hear directly from administrators about the direction of the university,” Knight said. “We all have a stake in [Iowa State]; we’re all heavily invested financially and emotionally.”

A struggle, Knight said, is simply communicating when students have problems on campus. The issue is not that administrators are apathetic, Knight said, but that students are not communicating their concerns, and thus administrators are unable to resolve the issues students are experiencing.

“It’s not only good for administrators and students,” Hill said, “but it also gives students an opportunity to hear what their fellow students are saying [and] thinking. I don’t think you can go wrong communicating.”

During the forum, a graduate student said students may not feel comfortable communicating with administrators. The forum erupted with laughter when the graduate student pointed out that she believed most students thought of Leath and Wickert as gods, making the administrators unapproachable to the average student.

Throughout the forum, Wickert was insistent that students can come to him with their concerns, even though he holds the office of provost and senior vice president.

“There really is absolutely no barrier,” Wickert said. “I come to work every day for you and all of your colleagues on campus; the opportunities to interact with faculty and administrators are many.”

Leath said he also tries to get to know as many students as he can and that he hopes more students will find him approachable when they see him interacting with students.

“I try to get to a lot of the students,” Leath said. “I eat in the residence halls some; I eat in the Union some, but I walk to work most days, so I try and talk to students along the way. I think if other students see me talking to people in the line at Subway or walking to work, they’ll realize I’m easier to access and more approachable than they thought.”

Both Leath and Wickert strongly encouraged students to interact with them when students see them around campus. Wickert, in particular, was especially adamant that students get in touch with him, telling the audience to come to him if they have problems with a class.

The forum was important for students like Carter who believe that, despite their best efforts to communicate with administrators, their voices have been ignored.

“We’ve asked to meet with some of these people before as students and they’ve been too busy to meet with us,” Carter said. “It was great that we could bring our questions here.”

Both the administrators and the students were hopeful about the future of forums where communication can take place between the two parties. When asked what he thought was most accomplished during the forum Leath expressed that opening the door to the communication between students and administrators was important.

“I think establishing the whole precedent of where students can get top administrators in the room, ask them anything and get advice,” Leath said. “Hopefully get some things changed that need to be changed.”

Leath said that he hoped more people would attend the forums in the future and encouraged GSB to continue the idea of setting up town-hall-style meetings between students and administrators. Knight said he hoped that the forums would continue to happen at least once per semester, citing hopes for having another similar forum in the spring.

“I think tonight’s town hall meeting was an absolute success,” Wickert said. “This exceeded my expectations by far; I thought it was a great conversation, and the questions the students asked were great questions.”