A new academic year, but the same old tune for student rights
Three posts this morning, two of them about football, highly appropriate for the weekend of the first home game. One post is sad: the expansion of the UNC football scandal into the Afro-American studies department. Another is hilarious: a Brodhead Administration's sell-out on Tailgate. The almighty dollar $$$$. Be sure to scroll down
✔ ✔ ✔ Good day Loyal Readers and all Dukies who are new to this blog and the university. This is FC. Probative. Provocative. Pro-Duke. The blog that is read first thing every day in Allen Building!
On the third day of the new semester -- which is to say, in record time -- the president of Duke Student Government, Pete Schork, confirmed that the Brodhead Administration had made major decisions directly affecting students without consultation.
The decisions involve student dining.
First decision: changing the way the "merchants on points" program works, which is to say sharp, new limitations on how a student's pre-paid meal plan can be used with off campus eateries, including those that deliver to dorms. Said Schork: "We were taken aback... just like you were.”
Second, there were also changes involving two on-campus eateries, the Tower and the Devil’s Bistro, news to Schork. "It is certainly troubling... You have to consult students first. It’s not okay to act first and notify students later.”
All this must be particularly frustrating for Schork for a number of reasons.
This is the same Pete Schork who has focused on "campus services" during his entire political career here, becoming the student government's vice president in this area as a sophomore, insuring he is totally familiar with dining options and might have been an excellent resource for administrators.
This is the same Pete Schork who drew this headline in the Chronicle during his junior year campaign for president: "Schork looks to increase student stakeholder voice." And who told a reporter his goal is to see students "empowered in ways they haven’t been before.”
The reporter wrote, "He also plans to improve the way... students help create policy."
And this is the same Pete Schork who now has a new vice president handling housing and dining policy -- mirroring the latest configuration in Allen Building so communication and consultation should be a given constant.
✔ ✔ Schork's predecessors got run over too by the Brodhead juggernaut. But not in the first week of the semester.
It was in December before president Awa Nur was rolled over, ironically also on a dining issue, two years ago. Her words: "I want to make my position on that clear... There is no way in hell that I am going to support that."
FC applauded her determination. She enjoyed all but unanimous student support. But it did no good; Allen Building rolled as it wanted.
✔ ✔ There are many other examples too.
Students returning two years ago for the fall semester discovered weekend housekeeping in the dorms had been eliminated -- no consultation -- assuring that vomit deposited on Friday night festered until Monday.
Yes, 2009 was a banner year. Duke Conversations, which allowed students to invite speakers for, of all things, a dinner round-table which sounds like precisely the atmosphere the administration seeks, was sliced and diced by 33 percent. No consultation. The impact was actually more than one third: fully half the Conversations had to be cancelled, and there was no more dining in the gracious and expensive Washington Duke Inn, although our Trustees feasted there on Duke's dime later that very week.
The administration also "merged" International House and the Center for Multicultural Affairs with great insensitivity to both students and staff, closed the student health pharmacy making a hassle to get a prescription filled, and even reduced the level of campus cop patrols while Durham hoodlums were having target practice with Duke students.
The granddaddy in FC's opinion was the construction of the new Keohane Quad dorm. We have no idea how this bubbled up as top priority. But when it did, The Supreme Undergraduate Dean Steve Nowicki (who apparently no longer tells freshmen to "Call me Steve") appeared before Campus Council with great fanfare, to invite students to join in the planning. Three weeks later, the guy down the Allen Building hall, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, let slip that the architect was all but done with his work -- contributions of students be damned.
We subsequently wrote Steve, telling him we wanted to do an essay on student contributions to the dorm, what ideas had been accepted. And guess what, Loyal Readers, we're still waiting to hear from him three years later. Shame on you, Steve.
✔ ✔ The latest dining changes are the culmination of a lot of juggling and power-grabbing.
The story begins when Trask canned his vice president for campus services, Kemel Dawkins. T3 -- his initials and the insider's handle -- of course did not use the word "canned," but anyone who studied the arcane federal tax Form 990 could see what was happening to Dawkins salary. Oh you didn't study the 990? Luckily you have a Deputy Fact Checker on your side!!
The next to go was Eddie Hull, executive director of housing. Dispatched with great warmth by the Brodhead Administration's principal spokesman, Michael Schoenfeld: "He's chosen for personal reasons to move on to some new opportunities. If there's anything more specific, you'd have to talk to him about it."
✔ And now Jim Wulforst, the respected 15-year director of dining. Vice President for Student Life Larry Moneta spoke, parroting the words of Schoenfeld as if they have become part of this administration's operating manual: “It was a personal decision on his part to leave his current position. I can’t speak for his reasons.”
Wulforst actually listened to students. Not only that, he sent an e-mail to FC when we first started this blog, giving us contact information if at any time we had a question about dining. Unprecedented. I mean, unprecedented!
Wulfhost might have sensed trouble when L-Mo (Moneta, for people new to Duke) picked up some of Dawkins responsibilities, reorganized them and basically sought to give a new person the same job title as Wulforst. Sadly, nasty in fact, T3 and L-Mo and their ilk -- surely knowing what was afoot -- made Wolforst sit on the search committee to find his executioner.
✔ ✔ As Loyal Readers know, Wulforst was killed off last week. Timetable for departure immediate. By now, the man the search had uncovered, Rick Johnson, from that well known culinary masterpiece, Virginia Tech, had been on the job for nine months.
When Johnson first came in, he sat for an interview with the Chronicle's thoughtful and perceptive columnist, Gregory Morrison, who earns even more FC praise because he was the only op-ed contributor last year who regularly showed signs of actually doing research. Morrison served this university and his fellow students well as executive vice president of student government as a junior. He told FC he tired of elective politics and thus did not seek the presidency in his senior year.
In the Devil's Bistro, Morrison listened and then wrote: "Johnson will take a 'student focused' approach, in which incremental changes are tested with students to 'make sure we’re going in the right direction.'”
Hey, don't blame Morrison. That's what Johnson told him.
✔ ✔ We can't resist inserting here the comments of Campus Council Programming Chair Betsy Klein, who sat on the search committee. She revealed what she liked most about Johnson: in the words of a Chronicle story, "a commitment to incorporating student opinions into his future plans."
Klein e-mailed the Chronicle a response to its questions: "I could tell that he cares a lot about the student voice, and I think he will take our opinions into account for every major decision he makes."
Right on, Betsy, right on. You sure read Johnson right.
✔ We conclude this essay with more from Morrison. He had advice for the student government when one of his columns took a long-range philosophical look: "A good DSG president should have perseverance in the face of adversity."
He also had faith in the new administrative structure, housing and dining together, as L-Mo described it, putting "a huge chunk of student life under one umbrella." Morrison liked the student government response, as noted above, with a new vice president with a similar role.
Wrote Morrison: "I wonder what type of plans the two might hatch together?"
Yes, we wonder too, and it is Duke's loss that we are highly unlikely to find out during the tenure of the Brodhead Administration.
Thank you for reading FC. GO DUKE! Defeat Richmond.