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The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of TechNews or Illinois Tech.
I ended the fall 2018 semester with an article in Volume 190, Issue 11 of TechNews titled “Being student-centered: failure(s) to launch.” In this opinion piece, I presented my perspective as a single student of this university about how I believed that there is “a key issue that the university thus far has not adequately been able to address, yet it is very easily and simply stated: the university is bad at communicating with students.”
Understandably so, very little has changed in the past semester to make me consider reevaluating that statement. There are many legitimate reasons for this, after all. I’m just one college newspaper writer. A single slam piece from me isn’t exactly revolutionary in any way or commanding of any actual change, especially not on this campus, where cynicism and endless complaints about administration almost seems to be the raison d'être for some students. There’s already enough voices calling for all kinds of radical changes to be made on both sides of the field; mine isn’t any different or somehow more important.
I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that just because I’ve been part of a student newspaper for a long enough time that it suddenly makes my opinion more correct or more legitimate than anyone else’s here. I’m also not going to spend another 500+ words pulling examples of students not being listened to just because I think it’ll drive home some conveniently unseen point about how we’re being wrongfully ignored.
Instead, I want to discuss why I think any of this is even worth thinking about in the first place; it’s because the end result of my initial claim and its ramifications on the lives of everyday students is what really matters at the end of all my ranting. That university-wide decisions are made on a regular basis without adequate inclusion of the student voice (or without proper communication in general, really) has shown, time and time again, that students end up suffering as a result.
This initial article pulled in numerous examples from the fall 2018 semester about how improper communication from on high has led to easily-avoidable situations that lead to frustrated students, at best, and glaring strategic oversights, at worst. At the time, the most documented example of such a communication oversight was the botched opening of the Kaplan Institute, wherein undergraduate students found themselves told they could not enter the new building until next spring despite the fanfare surrounding its opening ceremony that same fall.
Indeed, the more I have learned about the entire history of the Kaplan Institute through interviews and conversations with various staff and faculty members of the university, the more egregious of an example it seems to be in terms of poor communication. Beyond the already-mentioned example of the building’s opening being a confusing process for students, there is an even stranger story that has recently been relayed to me by several university officials.
When the initial three-story design of the Kaplan Institute by architect John Ronan was found to be financially infeasible by the university, accommodations were made to reduce the scale of the building, including an initial decision to keep the Institute of Design (ID) at its current home in the Downtown Campus instead of moving it into the new building.
Of course, that initial decision was somehow never communicated to all involved parties, perhaps in part due to its controversial nature and its clashing with donor contract stipulations, leading to some very confused glances when the groundbreaking speech made later on still included a mention of the building as the future home of ID. For many at the time, a question as simple and as important as “where is ID going to be housed next year?” was way more difficult to get an answer to than you’d think it should be.
In the ensuing confusion, we finally ended up with the current version of the Kaplan Institute we see today, a less ideal and compromised version with ID still housed on the second floor and many original ideas (like, for example, many internal walls) scrapped. The sources that relayed this story to me have led me to the conclusion that many current tensions that exist in the building’s use, ranging from noise levels to concerns over the building’s liberal use of open-floor workspaces, are the result of this. Many of these pain points in the building’s current state, contributing to tensions and difficulties between ID and undergraduate students, can be seen as direct ramifications of what are essentially, communication failures and compromises made to try and accommodate them.
Confusion, misdirection, and rumors: all the trademark results of a communication failure that us undergraduates are unfortunately so familiar with mark this single story about the Kaplan Institute’s history. And what’s worst about all of this? Who suffers the most because of them? It’s the students. When decisions, events, and other processes proceed sub-optimally due to whatever kind of unforeseen circumstances and transparency suddenly flies out the window, the result is always a situation that makes students sigh and chalk up another reason to give in to the cynicism black hole this university seems to be built upon.
But, like in my original article, I want to end with the point that I truly do not believe there is any one person, office, or group at fault for these kinds of “failures to launch.” There is no grand conspiracy to keep us down and out as some kind of university minority. In fact, maybe there aren’t even problems at all. I could be entirely wrong about everything I have said, or be completely misinterpreting university actions. I simply don’t know. I’m just one student here, typing away at a final article instead of doing my other homework or trying to find a job after graduation.
However, if you ask me and actually care about my thoughts, Illinois Tech is continuing to face the consequences of what I see as a cultural stagnation. This university is staffed by many wonderful people that I have had the pleasure of working with in some form or another on various classes, projects, events, and other opportunities both for TechNews and otherwise. They are all genuinely interested in serving this university and its students (at least, from my experience and interactions. I understand this may not be the reality for many other students out there, and for that, I am sorry).
Rhetoric about “being student-centered” can be thrown around as much as we want, but such radical notions require action behind them to hold up to any kind of scrutiny. Until there is a concerted action to drive that sort of thinking, with students seen as equal stakeholders and with transparent communication made a priority, we will continue to see these “failures to launch” mire what should be momentous and proud occasions in our history.
Of course, I’m just one newspaper writer on my way out the door. While I’d like to think I played some role in driving that change, it isn’t my place to judge, and now it certainly isn’t my place to dictate or decide what is correct. I’ll entrust those decisions to the future generations.