Bravman says, “The Bucknells of the world are not designed to be economically efficient… [but] educationally eficacious”
In an effort to foster transparency between the University administration and its students, and to disrupt the ever-propagating/proliferating rumor mill, University President John Bravman and President of Bucknell Student Government (BSG) Amanda Battle ’18 hosted an event called “A Night with the Presidents” on Nov. 5 in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. The event included general remarks on campus affairs from each president, and both a Q&A session in which Battle asked Bravman questions submitted by student organizations prior to the event, and an open forum in which students could ask questions to Bravman directly.
Battle asserted that the “conversation that we begin tonight is one that will continue forever as a University and as students” and that it is the “first step” in resolving issues that stem from a lack of communication and differing perceptions of campus issues.
“It’s incredibly unique to Bucknell that students had the opportunity to ask any question they wanted to their University President and could hear him speak so candidly about these complex problems,” Battle said.
Battle and Bravman began by highlighting the positive changes enacted by both student government and the administration, including establishing an emergency training program for the faculty, formulating a response to the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, and the completion of the “WE DO” fundraising campaign.
Bravman asserted that, following the campaign, the administration is currently in strategic planning mode, thinking about the next 10-15 years, but affirmed that “there will be no change in much of the fundamental aspect or character of the University.”
One question Bravman addressed specifically was why private education is so costly, and why the rate of tuition increases faster than the general rate of inflation. He argued that the rate of inflation is not a comparable measurement with the rate of a university tuition, and that changes over time, such as the decrease in the student:teacher ratio, are expensive. About 62 percent of the University’s expenses are faculty and staff salaries, for example.
“Nonetheless, we are of course very concerned about what we can actually charge students and families in the future, and we work on that every day. But, the fact is that this is a very expensive proposition…The Bucknells of the world are not designed to be economically efficient…[but] educationally efficacious,” Bravman said.
Bravman highlighted the University’s renewed commitment to civic engagement, and how the Provost is working to increase its role in our educational programs.
He also discussed the implementation of the new branding initiative, “By Way of Bucknell,” and stressed the importance of effective marketing despite an intellectual aversion to commercialism, expressed by some faculty members.
Before moving into the Q&A section of the event, Bravman reminded students of the importance of critical thinking, and stated that he hopes this skill is what endures after their time at the University.
Issues that were addressed ranged in severity from carbon neutrality to a lack of parking.
In regards to sexual assault, Bravman referenced the recent allegations of date rape drug abuse at an off-campus house.
“We should not be surprised, unfortunately, that the ills of society are not absent from this or any other campus,” Bravman said. He expressed his outrage at the thought of anyone taking advantage of another student, describing it as a matter of dignity and respect, and encouraging students to be active bystanders on campus.
On drug abuse, Bravman said he is discouraged, but no longer surprised. He hopes for a communal effort to eliminate the use of drugs on campus, maintaining that the issue is about choice, and education is limited in terms of effectiveness in reducing drug abuse.
When asked to give his honest opinion on Greek life on campus, Bravman reaffirmed much of what he stated in an interview with The Bucknellian last month, lamenting the fact that Greek organizations are almost “uniquely associated” with the social scene. Although Bravman did not acknowledge a specific alternative for social life, he refused to accept it as impossible to conceive.
He again rejected the claim that Greek organizations have been regulated more strictly recently by citing data that of the 13 instances in which a fraternity or a sorority has left campus since 2000, only 2 of those were the result of direct University action. He also asked the students to acknowledge the fact that the Greek community is not unique in its infliction of sanctions, referencing the recent sanctions imposed on the swimming and diving team and the Bison Chips a cappella group.
When asked about off-campus housing, Bravman referenced a series of decisions beginning in 1998, 12 years prior to his arrival, that led to the recent decrease in students permitted to live off-campus. As the University moves to increase its student body by about 200 over the next five or six years, the Board of Trustees will decide by April whether to accommodate this increase by building more residence halls or by repopulating downtown.
The “Plan for Bucknell” was established in 2006 and was comprised of five pieces, one of which addressed the reality that the University was lacking in diversity for both the faculty and the student body. Bravman gladly affirmed that the last three years have seen the entrance of the three most diverse classes in University history, and acknowledged the need for the entire community to work on advancing this effort, or else “the University will be diminished.”
Nearly 400 students attended the event, which Battle hopes will become annual. BSG will be debriefing the event in the coming weeks to make recommendations for next year, one of which is to have more administrators participate in the Q&A.
Student feedback about the event was generally positive. Laura Bart ’19, a member of BSG, was pleased with the attendance because “it was a crowd of people that usually are hard to get representation from at these kinds of events, but it’s really important to hear from them.” Bart believed Bravman fielded the questions “openly and honestly and to the best of his abilities.” She hopes this event will become a tradition in future years.
Matt Glenn ’18 agreed that Bravman was candid and objective in his responses, even when they weren’t “necessarily what people wanted to hear.” He added that Bravman offered “an insight into how he deals with other people that have conflicting views, especially with Greek life, and how he deals with people that are very critical of it.”
The wide range of topics covered left some students feeling unsatisfied with the individual responses, however. “Although it was great to have our questions answered and voices heard by the administration, I feel like there are still questions left unanswered and wish there was more consistent transparency with the student body,” Olivia Benson ’19 said.
“I’m sure there were times in the event where students may have not liked the answers they received, but students got answers to questions which they may have not otherwise —and they got those answers directly from their University President,” Battle said.