An interesting thing about college life is who we get to know while we’re here, but our president isn’t one of them.
At Columbia, there is a sense of community within departments. We know our department chair, a majority of the teachers in our major or concentration and other students, who are all good networking contacts. But few students can intelligibly comment on who our college president is, what he does or, in some cases, what he looks like.
In the Oct. 13 edition of The Chronicle, when I reported on Columbia President Warrick L. Carter getting an extension on his contract, I found that few of the students I talked to knew who Carter was by name. So, last week, I carried around a photo of Carter standing next to Jeremy Piven, an actor from “Entourage,” and I asked about 20 students in different student spaces on campus to name the two gentlemen in
The latter was an informal survey where students were not required to tell
their names or contact info.
The majority of students questioned could name, or at least recognize, Piven, but few could recognize Carter in the photo.
While asking students about Carter, I got some interesting responses. Two people thought he was a local politician, one person thought I was talking about ex-President Jimmy Carter and the rest confessed they either didn’t know who he was or recognize him in the photo.
The conclusion I’ve drawn from this sample is that most students are unaware of Carter’s existence and don’t sense his presence on campus. The students were also asked if they felt he was a visible figure for the students, and the consensus was no, he was not.
Carter is the man who oversees an annual budget of more than $200 million, approximately 80 percent of which is tuition money. He helps make decisions about raising tuition or soliciting
funding for new programs and facilities at
Columbia. Shouldn’t that be made clear to the students?
But I don’t think students should shoulder the responsibility of knowing who the president of the college is.
Sarah Oswald of The DePaulia, DePaul University’s student newspaper, estimated about 90 percent of the student body at the institution knows their president, Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, at least by name. But she said it’s because he makes himself available and visible to students.
Elmhurst College’s student publication, The Leader, polled students when their president announced his retirement last year, and at least 40 percent knew him by name, which isn’t that impressive, in my opinion.
Carter does show up to speak at events, such as convocation, commencement, the alumni reunion and the State of the College address, but the students I asked were unable to remember a time when he was just taking a stroll through campus, introducing himself to students.
This is a problem. Since the president is a figurehead to a college, I have a strong belief that he or she should at least be available or visible to the students in some capacity. I asked Micki Leventhal, the college’s media relations director, if in this extension Carter would be more involved with meeting the students. While it was admittedly a “cool idea,” Leventhal said she didn’t know because of Carter’s other responsibilities on campus.
“His job is to be the chief fundraiser for the college and be out there working on behalf of the college,” Leventhal said. “We’ve gotten too big and too popular and too important to not devote that level of his time to those kinds of things.”
She also said that it was his job to “sell the college on behalf of the students,” but the students don’t know he’s doing it. They have minimal say in what they want or what should be improved upon here at Columbia.
So is he selling on behalf of the students or the board of trustees?
Carter should get out there and meet the students, jump in the trenches and
be available to them. What is there to lose-anonymity?
I think he needs to meet the students to hear their frustrations, aspirations and struggles as members of the Columbia community. Because without knowing the students there is no way for him to
know who he is raising funds for.