I have been a proud active member of the University of Tulsa community for nearly nine years. It has been a privilege to see the campus physically and academically grow. With continued progress, however, new problems often arise. As I carefully examine where I think we can improve, I think the answer (though not necessarily the solution) is simple: communication.
When talking with members of the TU community, it is increasingly apparent that the more our campus excels, the less clear communication between staff and students becomes. Much of this is unavoidable; however, it is my opinion that not all of the gaps in communication are due to TU getting bigger.
Student-staff communication has been observably tense and variable at best subsequent to circumstances and interactions surrounding a recent student-staff harassment case. But these communication gaps are definitely not novel. I cannot count how many times I have been told by fellow students how frustrated they are that their tuition dollars go toward TU landscaping (which is actually not true). I also hear students regularly complain that their concerns about campus parking, even when formally addressed in student government settings, are reportedly ignored by administrators. I have had several conversations with TU staff members that reflect concern or frustration with student groups who disregard campus policies and disciplinary regulations, such as fraternities violating social probation. Additionally, I often observe students regularly ignoring (or even being rude to) TU service staff.
Unclear communication and/or reluctance to share information pertaining to campus operations, financial allotments, parking permits and lots, student conduct policies/procedures and even day-to-day frustrations of students and staff could one day grow to halt TU’s amazing progress. Students and staff both have a responsibility to admit their contribution to the problem, as well as work together toward addressing it.
I would like to suggest a few adjustments to how students and staff communicate that I believe could make a world of difference for the TU community. TU staff, let me first say that I greatly appreciate all the work you do day to day. Students and alumni do not show you the support and thanks you deserve. However, a large number of students I have spoken with feel as if their perspective and concerns are discounted or ignored when they come to you. Regardless of whether or not this is true, it may be beneficial to keep this in mind when students approach you.
Fellow students, I can empathize with how frustrating it is to have emails and phone calls to campus offices repeatedly ignored and our agendas left unacknowledged. However, taking our agitation out on any and all campus staff is equally problematic. We need to commit to no longer attributing our #firstworldproblems to single individuals (e.g., Stead, Mona, Stephanie) and acknowledge that we have it very good most of the time. We owe it to TU staff who serve us daily to speak to them respectfully (or even acknowledge them in a friendly way). This includes administrators, shuttle drivers, dining staff, bursar’s office workers and faculty.
When I was a prospective student visiting TU, Princeton Review ranked us as one of the top ten happiest campus communities in the nation. Within two years, we were no longer listed. While correlation does not prove causation, I am unsure it is a coincidence that potential communication limitations between students and staff have been reportedly on the rise. Regardless of whether or not respectful and thoughtful interactions help us raise our national stats, more importantly, prioritizing communication at TU will better allow us to be a supportive community that lives up to our mutually shared goals of wisdom, faith and service.