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ISSUE 121 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2008

Possibility for campus change neglected

By Max Davenport
Contributing Writer


Friday, April 11, 2008

I received an e-mail from the administration requesting me to submit my opinion with a subject line reading "St. Olaf wants your feedback!" In response, I decided to actually write my opinions out and voice them through this article. I believe St. Olaf needs to learn that the needs of the students are the needs of the College. All too often we, as students, feel alienated from the decisions of the administration about our own educations. From program development to abroad programs to tuition increases to living off campus, our concerns are voiced, but rarely heard. Maintaining the image of the College is important to the identity of who we are as Oles. However, this should never inhibit our ability to develop ourselves as young adults. Restricting choices (both academic and socially), mandating specific GE's and designing faculty lineups to exclude specific areas of study can rarely lead to personal growth. For example, the history department has five professors teaching some variation of American history, but we have nothing on Africa, the Middle East and only one professor specializing on East of the Urals. While all of these professors are qualified people, this decision to tenure and hire professors with similar backgrounds can only hurt the College and the students by unreasonably restricting what the students can learn. What does the college define as a "global perspective" when there are over 40 religion courses on Christianity and only six on all other religions? This same comparison can be applied to literature, philosophy and almost anything related to Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Latin America (save Professor DeLaney in the history department) and Oceania. Can abroad programs (none of which are considered for financial aid other than loans) be considered the route to a global perspective? If so, then St. Olaf fulfills this mission; however, it should then address the problem of those St. Olaf students who cannot afford even the least expensive of international off-campus programs. Where in our curriculum does St. Olaf provide us with the deep, broad, global perspective that is so integrally important to the very mission towards which the college claims to strive? I personally find it hard for my peers and I to be "responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world" when so little of our academic lives are committed to issues outside of our small, closed community. Social issues are also restrictive, problematic and obvious on the St. Olaf campus. While tuition skyrockets (from $30,950 my freshmen year to $42,200 only four years later), the administration has hindered the college's ability to raise enrollment by further limiting students' choices of where they would like to live by having new rental agreements and off-campus authorizations. With over 96 percent of students already living on campus, is it necessary to further herd the remaining 4 percent back into the dorms or would it be better to give these students a taste of what living in the real world is like while still enjoying the comfort of such a tightly knit community like St. Olaf? Students deciding to live off campus should be allowed the choice because it fosters development and a broader sense of community by allowing students to better understand both the St. Olaf community itself and how that community fits into the broader communities of Northfield and Minnesota. Please consider that despite who assigns the grades and degrees, the students will always be the deciders and, in many ways, the directors of any educational institution. We need a community that thrives on our success and is structured around a culture that promotes growth as a dynamic, inclusive and knowledgeable community. We need an administration that not only understands our needs but listens to our input and genuinely considers it. And lastly we need an evolving and progressive institution that understands that communities are made of people, not places or archaic ethos. While I doubt many of my suggestions will be heeded, I hope you at least recognize that my doubt is, in many ways, a product of my four years at St. Olaf. From the sale of WCAL to the talks of the sale of the land near Highway 19 to a 36 percent tuition increase in four years, our voices, while beautiful at Christmas Fest, are rarely ever heard. Sadly, with the exception of our tuition, change at St. Olaf seems all too often to be stagnant.


Max Davenport '08 is from Williams Bay, Wisc. He majors in history and Asian studies with aconcentration in management studies.


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