Wellesley College seems to have created a committee, task force or body for nearly every aspect of campus life. From the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) to the Commission on Ethnicity, Race and Equity (CERE), the administration has formed a committee to address ostensibly every issue that might arise. These groups are created with worthwhile missions and noble goals. For instance, CERE states on its website that its aim is to “establish a vision of what a truly equitable community might look like; determine what would be necessary for Wellesley College to achieve that vision; establish a plan for shared understanding of the impact of race, ethnicity and equity at Wellesley and develop a plan to guide and report on its work over three years.”
Although these administration-created bodies are formed with good intentions, they often do not impact the Wellesley community in any significant way. While many committees start off strong, over time they often become less effective. We truly appreciate the time and effort faculty members and our fellow students put into these committees, and we acknowledge that the issues these bodies focus on are crucial. The responsibility does not lie with the committees themselves or their members. It should, however, lie with the administration, which continues to create new task forces to placate a frustrated student body without giving those task forces the power to actually take action. The issues these task forces address, such as the lack of social life on campus or the disenfranchisement of low-income students and students of color, have been present for years and have seen little improvement. It is time for the administration to stop creating new committees and start creating change.
Several committees appear to have taken no action over the past year, and many committees’ purposes seem unclear to the rest of the college community. For example, according to one of TAC’s members, the group has not met at all this academic year. Despite the issue of transportation being common across several frustrations—social life, financial hardship, treatment of both students and drivers—the committee has yet to hear the voices of any student representatives. In graciously creating student representative roles on committees, the administration grants a modicum of power to the very individuals it supposedly serves and empowers. But that goodwill means nothing when committees fail to hold regular meetings, include student representatives or create palpable change on campus.
Yet even when committees are effective, their work is often unrecognized. For instance, CERE gave a presentation at Senate on Nov. 27 in the hopes of reintroducing itself to the campus. CERE, whose purpose overlaps with other committees such as the Diversity Coalition and the newly-formed Committee on Inclusive Excellence, has undoubtedly accomplished tangible action items since its creation in 2015. American Studies professor Michael Jeffries explained at Senate that CERE has dealt with issues such as campus police at protest gatherings; tension between people of color on campus and the town of Wellesley and Laura Kipnis’s talk, entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” last spring, which caused much strife in the community. However, even when bodies, such as CERE, are truly effectual, the time and effort expended by students and faculty often goes unseen by the majority of the college. Most important to note is the undue burden the administration places on valuable members of the community to solve issues that have arisen, oftentimes due to missteps by administration.
Faculty-led committees like TAC and CERE, while ubiquitous, do not have quite the same presence at Wellesley as student-led organizations such as College Government (CG) and Senate. Even with weekly Senate meetings and the deluge of emails soliciting feedback and suggestions, it has become increasingly rare to see the work of senators and CG officers reach the greater student populace. This is not entirely the fault of these students; the tight leash the administration holds on student leaders hinders most discernible action. When Senate formed an ad-hoc committee on social life, the chairs, Executive Senators Crystalina Guo ’20 and Huzaifa Ejaz ’20, returned a full semester later to present on three action points. All three—subsidizing the Senate bus, repurposing unused campus spaces and reviewing residential hall policies on parties—were denied or obstructed by bureaucratic red tape. In an email titled “Spring Budgeting Results,” Student Bursar Natalie Jin ’18 emphasized that “[the CG Treasury] can only pinpoint specific cost cutting measures, make targeted rules in Senate and wait for these rules to pass, all of which takes nearly a semester to complete.” Indeed, a ballot question to compensate members of College Government with three percent of the student activities fund was passed in 2016-2017, but the first cabinet to be paid will be in 2019-2020.
Small steps toward accessibility, inclusivity and transparency between students, faculty, staff and especially upper administration are handled in the same manner as tooth-pulling. It is not a wild leap to ask for such things as a healthy, communicative relationship amongst all members of this community and an appreciation for the work that these committee members put in. The current environment, however, does not lend itself well to either. Committees made up of overworked faculty, staff and students can no longer be regarded as a panacea for all of the College’s woes.
There are many ways to address these issues. First of all, it would be worthwhile for President Paula Johnson—and high-ranking members of her office, such as deans and provosts—to willingly hold more open office hours in which students can meet with them. According to the Office of the President’s website, President Johnson’s only office hours this term are on Wednesday, Feb. 21 from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday, April 3 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.. Giving students more time to talk with the administration in person would help make communication between the student body and the administration more clear and direct. Second, open committee meetings, such as those for Academic Council and Honor Code Council, should release publicly available and easily accessible minutes from their meetings to demonstrate to the student body exactly what was done, what issues are being addressed and what action is being taken. Finally, at the end of each academic year, the college deans should review each committee, what it has accomplished that year and its efficacy of addressing its goals. If a committee has failed to address its goals or is no longer effective, it should be disbanded. This will ensure that the committees that remain are those that are most crucial to campus life and do the most to address issues at Wellesley.
Again, we would like to emphasize that we are not at all blaming the students on these committees; we value the work they put into these groups and acknowledge that they are freely giving their time and labor to achieve the undoubtedly important goals of these bodies. But creating committees to placate students, and then failing to help those same committees accomplish anything or recognize them when they do so, is an ineffective way for our administration to address problems on campus. We would also like to acknowledge that, since we are not on most of the boards of these committees, we are not privy to what has been discussed at their meetings. As such, they may be doing work of which we are not aware. However, we believe that transparency between these bodies and the student body is important to demonstrate to students whether these committees are still effective and working towards their intended goals. Even if progress is slow, indicating to students that work is being done to combat important issues on campus is crucial to ensure that these problems are truly being addressed and not just swept under the rug in the neverending creation of new committees.