Let's Talk About Real Issues
By David Zheutlin '11, columnist
Did anyone else see the top story in last week’s Student? The title was “College Council Examines Student-Faculty Sexual Relations.” At Amherst College, where all kinds of fascinating things are happening daily, the front-page story of the week, evidently, was about sexual relationships between professors and students. My immediate reaction, as yours may have been, was: are you kidding me? Professor Grillo, quoted in the article, seems to have it right " the idea of professors and students having sexual relationships is far from the mind of just about every person on campus. So why, in the name of Tony Marx, is the College Council so concerned?

The article mentions that the “examination came as part of a general look at College policies in light of the changing President.” I was happy to see that the College is reviewing its policies " but it made absolutely no sense to me that this policy would take this prime spot in the Council’s discussion. Are student-faculty sexual relations such a pressing issue? Does the College Council not have anything else to talk about? I really have no idea why this has come under such scrutiny, especially since there are so many more important issues on campus meriting discussion.

Though I didn’t even know about the existence of a collegiate council until a few months ago, I know that they have an influential role in the decision-making process of the College. It seems pretty strange to me, then, that a group with a limited amount of time to talk through on-campus issues would spend a significant portion of their time devoted to this seemingly inconsequential concern.

There’s so much to talk about, yet student-faculty relationships get the story. Not sure why, because I haven’t heard about any of these relationships (and they’re definitely not Facebook official…). One conjecture of mine is that the College Council has failed to adequately gauge the issues that bother and affect the student body. After all, with only a few students on the committee, it’s hard to gain a broad perspective. Perhaps, as well, the Council plans to further evaluate college policies and simply began with this topic. But I think it’s more than that. The average student at Amherst has little to no say in any of the goings-on in the upper levels of the administration. At a small school with a tight-knit sense of community, as we have, this shouldn’t be the case.

So, this past week’s front page, coupled with four years of Amherst experience, has motivated me to start a weekly column for The Student in which I will highlight some issues on campus that should be addressed, policies that I think might need a revisiting, and elements of student life that could be improved. I don’t know if it will make a difference, but I think it’s essential that some of these points get out here. And I think I have a pretty good feel for what types of issues students here care about.

We Amherst students complain about things that bother us all the time, but it seems that there is no clear avenue to get one’s voice heard among the larger Amherst community. The AAS serves this role in part, as does the Dean’s office. But neither is as effective as it should be in opening conversation between those making decisions (the Administration, the Board of Trustees), and those affected by these choices (the students and the faculty).

As a small example of what I mean, I noticed the other day that the Johnson Chapel bells were an hour off (you may know that the number of bell tolls signifies the time of day " pretty cool). Whom would I possibly speak with to get that fixed? I actually have no idea. But that’s a really minor example. There are many larger concerns that actually need to be addressed.

Lots of Amherst students aren’t satisfied with a number of things going on around campus. And it’s not that Amherst students aren’t happy " because I really believe that students here are the happiest of any college anywhere. We love our school. But sometimes it becomes easy to feel that the College could do a better job supporting its student needs.

Do you ever wonder: why does the grill at Schwemm’s close so early on weeknights? Why are there no soap dispensers in the bathrooms of the Socials? Speaking of which, is anyone planning on cleaning the bathroom in my suite in Pond? Why are dorm damage fines so high? Who had the idea for a “Ramblin’ West” day at Val (and what was ramblin’ about it)? Why has Seligman, one of the most gorgeous houses on campus, been closed for the last three years?

I’m wondering too. I think the College " and, more specifically, the College Council " should begin to focus more broadly on campus life and how to improve the well being of our students. Let’s start talking about what really matters, and stop worrying so much about the mythical phenomenon of student-faculty sex.

Issue 17, Submitted 2011-03-02 04:17:52