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‘Time to give a damn’

Robert Carpenter: Students and faculty need to take responsibility for A&M’s future

Published: Monday, October 24, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

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Photo illustration by Jay Kapadia and Evan Andrews — THE BATTALION

When a think-tank offered policy suggestions that threatened the research structure at A&M this summer, University faculty were up in arms. At a May 26 Board of Regents meeting, mechanical engineering professor Jaime Grunlan took to the microphone and responded with a passionate speech about the University's future.

"This [university] should be protected from those seeking to harm it," Grunlan said. "With our leadership and our world-class faculty… we can create our own best improvements for areas where we need to improve."

The standing-room-only crowd of faculty gave Grunlan a minute-long ovation, complete with whoops and only silenced when Regents Chairman Richard Box disingenuously thanked the faculty for their "participation."

This passion and commitment to A&M, however, was short-lived.

On Oct. 5, Grunlan took the microphone again — this time, before a faculty audience.

"It's time for faculty to give a damn."

More than a few of those in attendance appeared annoyed or insulted by Grunlan's remarks, and perhaps deservedly so. After all, they already gave a damn. Those listening took the time to attend this faculty-specific installation of the Commitment to Excellence Dialogues, a series of discussions between administrators and university stakeholders about how to improve A&M.

But Grunlan wasn't speaking to them.

He was speaking to the empty chairs in the room, which outnumbered faces at a ratio nearing 3-to-1. Of the 2,800 faculty at A&M, roughly 100 showed up. Less than five months after Grunlan told the regents "we can create our own best improvements," few had time to do just that.

It is little wonder that Box didn't appear to take Grunlan's first speech seriously.

Later that evening, I attended an undergraduate-specific Commitment to Excellence Dialogues event. Grunlan should have shown up to this one, too. There was room to spare alongside the 15 students and smattering of administrators in attendance.

Fifteen undergraduates among 39,000-plus. And notably, most were underclassmen. The juniors and seniors — the "campus leaders" — were no-shows.

Students at A&M take pride in their leadership ability. It is remarkable how much work and dedication go into organizations like SGA, RHA, Bonfire, the MSC, Greek Life, the Corps and Big Event. But when the administration asked students to attend this Dialogues event and help direct the course of the University, empty seats showed up.

Which leads to a question: when it comes to caring about A&M's future, is this student body just a bunch of empty seats?

We students gripe when professors obviously don't care about students. And about those who's English we can't understand.

We gripe about textbook prices, parking prices and exorbitant charges in our tuition and fees.

We complain that A&M can be a hostile learning environment, that freshmen feel lost when thrown into impersonal 200-student lectures, or that classes in our core curriculum waste our time and money.

We complain that the administration isn't changing any of this.

But who do we complain to? The only people genuinely powerless to bring about change: each other.

Now, the administration is giving us its attention. As Loftin-et-al reevaluates University practices in pursuit of Vision 2020, now is our chance to ask for student-friendly policies.

If 10,000 students attend the campus dialogues event tomorrow, I can't promise that University President Bowen Loftin or Provost Karan Watson will make one decision differently. There's simply no way to know.

But if students expect the administration to listen to our voice, we have to first speak. Tuesday's Dialogues forum would be a good place to start.

I believe students do give a damn about this university and the education we receive. It's time that we show it.

Robert Carpenter is a senior applied mathematics major and Editor in Chief of The Battalion

 

Commitment to excellence

"Our shared responsibility" dialogue: 1-3 p.m. Tuesday in Koldus room 110

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