SGA brings discussions between students and departments

By Connor Carynski, Campus Editor

Kevin Tiongson
Students asked Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department members about course discontinuations during the department’s Dec. 6 town hall meeting.

The Student Government Association finished its first semester of hosting academic department town hall meetings designed to give the Columbia community an opportunity to discuss departmental and collegewide changes.

All departments in the college have conducted town halls this semester except the Music and Photography departments, which have been delayed because of scheduling issues.  Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Steven Corey also conducted a town hall for his school in February.

During the meetings, department chairs, faculty members and college administrators addressed student questions and concerns.

SGA President and senior business and entrepreneurship major Malik Woolfork said the group first presented the idea of department town halls to chairs during an August luncheon and started scheduling the meetings earlier in the semester. 

“Columbia is at a crucial time of change and it is important for the administration to hear students and for students to hear the administration,” Woolfork said. “It is [also] important to keep the line of communication clear between both sides because for Columbia to continue to be a successful college, the students have to be just as invested as the administration is. It has to be a fair and equal partnership.” 

SGA does not keep track of student attendance from the town halls, Woolfork said, but attendance varied from three or four students to up to 30. The Cinema and Television Arts, Humanities, History and Social Sciences and Communication town hall meetings had fewer than five students in attendance, he noted. 

SGA plans to schedule future town hall meetings during times most students do not have classes, so more students have the opportunity to attend, Woolfork said. 

At the Nov. 28 Communication Department’s town hall, only a few  students attended. Suzanne McBride, the department’s chair, said students asked about department communication with students, the outcome of its program review, its merger with the former Radio Department and the department’s new email newsletter, during the meeting. 

Although the meeting was advertised in the department’s newsletter, McBride said the low attendance could in part be attributed to the meetings taking place near finals week when students are busier. Even if only a handful of students attend the meetings, McBride added that she and other faculty members’ time is well spent if they are able to answer their questions. 

“SGA is doing the right thing by empowering students to meet in these settings with department chairs and be able to ask whatever question they need to ask and get the information,” McBride said. “I would like to see them happen more often and like they said, at a regularly scheduled time where people grow to expect it. A little free food might help too.” 

Fashion Studies Chair Colbey Reid said her department’s town hall was split between two days because the different disciplines in the department required separate attention. About 12 merchandising and business concentration students attended a Nov. 29 session, and 15 students in design and product development attended a session on Nov. 30. 

Reid said she was pleased to have the chance to address student concerns and questions face-to-face and that she enjoyed the experience so much, the department will now be hosting the town hall meetings monthly. 

“One of the great things about the town hall experience was that the students got to see how much we want to be their advocates and how badly we want to connect with them and create a really rich community experience for them in the department,” Reid said. “They saw that we were authentic and sincere about that, and it created a different tenor of conversation.” 

Jazmin Bryant, executive vice president of SGA and sophomore cinema and television arts major, said SGA plans to schedule dates with department chairs before the semester starts so students have more time to plan their attendance. 

“We need to think about our strategic planning when it comes to dates, class schedules and people’s schedules in general,” Bryant said. “[We need to] make sure we allot time from everybody’s schedule.” 

Bryant said after the department town halls, SGA plans to schedule town halls with all three school deans to address topics chairs are not responsible for, such as department mergers. 

 Woolfork said SGA requests departments host a town hall at least once a semester, but some chairs and deans have now decided to host them on a monthly basis. 

“We’re leaving it up to the chairs and deans to see what is needed, but we want to get this started and make sure the students feel heard,” Woolfork said. “There should never be a student who [feels] like they don’t have a place to go where their voice can be heard.”