Interview by Ian Flanagan
The Index: So, starting at the beginning of the year, were there any big changes, or any changes at all, that the Student Development Office was putting in place, that made this year different.
Westfall: Probably the biggest difference was the Student Activities Fee. That wasn’t just the StuDev Office but we were kind of the key player. So that’s probably the biggest thing. And another thing that we were a point of contact for that didn’t start at the beginning of the year, but happened around the middle of fall quarter was the transition in Sodexo to the new general manager and some other new people. Those, if I think back to the beginning of the year, were the two things that stand out for me.
The Index: Yeah. This was the first year for the activities fee. A: Right. Q: So you were trying to figure out how to allocate that?
Westfall: That’s right. How to communicate about it, how it would shake out. Looking ahead, we anticipated that because it was something new in the fall that we wouldn’t quite all get the hang of it, StuComm and all, and we anticipated that it would be a while until we got the hang of it. I think that has been borne out with experience. We’re better with it spring quarter than in the fall.
The Index: Yeah, definitely. Have you gotten the sense from students that they like the activities fee, that they like the events put on with the fee?
Westfall: You know, what I’ve hear is mixed. And I don’t know what the mix is. I tend to hear, well I should say this: the people who have spoken to me about this directly have had good experiences with it. And I know that there are questions about it, you know, some questions have come up through StuComm, and I’m aware of that right now, so I would say that there’s not a singular perception of it among students. And I’d say that about anything, there’s not a singular perception about anything among students. I think maybe the people who’ve benefited from it and have been able to try new things feel more strongly about it compared to people who haven’t had as much experience with it and still have questions.
The Index: That’s good. Will there be any changes in the way that the SAF will be administered for next year?
Westfall: I think. Here’s what I think: we had in the fall in the original plan there was a method for a group of students to have some influence—not StuComm, a separate body—over allocations, and we didn’t, we opted not to do that this first year, and we will be getting that together for next year. We’re working on how that might be. There have been conversations about how that might be. And there also might be a change: one of the areas of real growth this year was in club sports, a super amount of interest in club sports, so there might be some attempt to shift the allocation of funds to support that area of real growth, but some of that’s the evaluation that will occur this summer over where this money went. I assume StuComm will have records of what money went to who when, and I think that having both streams of information will be helpful to see in the first year what seemed to work, what we can improve on, where we can shift stuff.
The Index: Yeah, we’ve been talking in StuComm about what the funding policy should be for club sports. Because if it’s an unlimited policy, then club sports could take up a ton of the budget.
Westfall: They can eat up a ton of money.
The Index: The Frisbee team asked for like $8,000 this year, and there’s been talk of setting aside a certain amount of money—the figure of ten percent of the budget, and not more—came up, but there’s the question of how to allocate that. How much input do we have from club sports.
Westfall: It’s tough. If you’re in it, you have a very different view of it than if you’re not in it. And StuComm, as a funding source, might have a different view on it than Student Involvement as a funding source.
The Index: Which is putting in money too? A: Yeah, I believe it is too. So it’s kind of, it’s great, we anticipate that it there should be so much interest in it, but we don’t want to devote a quarter of the budget to club sports.
Westfall: Athletics has refused to fund anything. A: And they don’t have the money. Their athletic teams aren’t fully funded either, they have to fundraise for their own stuff. It’s not like their being stingy, they just don’t have the resources, the financial resources, that is. They’ve helped in finding coaches and field time and such, but that’s all they have the resources for. Money is not one of the ways that they’re able to help. They just don’t have it.
The Index: And then there was the Sodexo leadership change, and that one kind of flew under students’ radar. The SAF came up fairly often because of the events. Were there changes that came out of the transition in management?
Westfall: A little over a year ago in the spring of 2010, the college communicated the Sodexo some issues that were of concern to us. They were really responsive, for which we were grateful. In late August our general manager resigned and we were without a general manager until November. Until then we had a district manager, a more removed person who was very responsive to our needs. Susan Matheson joined us in November and then during the winter break our chief who’d been here for a long time also resigned. The changes occurred, the departures occurred during break periods, and I think that as a result of that we’ve gotten some fresh eyes on what we’re doing and people seem to be more happy with responsiveness on the part of Sodexo, in terms of vegetarian food, trying to get more local food in the cafeteria, and willingness to try new things, like the Meatless Mondays pilot, so what I’ve heard is that people like the incremental changes they’ve begun to see. Stacks is new, was new this fall, and that I think has been a benefit to students. It’s really popular. So we may be trying to rethink what we do with the Jazzman’s installation in the Richardson Room. That concept of selling sandwiches to students works so well that we’re considering expanding that, including soup and pizza and other grab and go things. It’s exciting to think about that and it’s part of our new leadership paying attention to what we’re doing.
The Index: Jazzman’s can’t really compete with Biggby’s in terms of coffee. If you want coffee, go to Biggby’s, if you want food, go to Jazzman’s.
Westfall: Yeah, that’s my understanding of things. I’m not a coffee drinker and I don’t know if there’s such a strong campus norm of going to library or if it’s just better quality. It’s a cozier setting; it’s been in place longer. Students are familiar with it. It’s more centrally located to some of the academic buildings. So that makes sense to me too. I think that our friends at Sodexo have realized that coffee’s not the horse that they want to ride on, because there’s already this other place here.
The Index: Does Sodexo run Jazzman’s?
Westfall: Yes, they do.
The Index: You mentioned the Student Life Advisory Committee (SLAC) before. Can you talk about some of the other issues that have come up in there, some of the other issues that have been discussed.
Westfall: We’ve talked on and off about dining. I think we spent three meetings talking about the reentry stuff through the winter. We talked about the new calendar that will start, moving a week earlier. One of our earlier conversations was about our exam schedule, so we were asked for input on that. We talked about the Student Activities Fee off and on throughout the year to see what was going on. Reentry. And there was a lot of reporting out about things that were happening: a new director of LandSea. We talked about some students of color feeling a lack of support at the institution. That’s what we ended the year and what we’ll start out on in the fall. Our conversation came up at the end of the year. Some students feel there’s not a lot of faculty/staff support for events that they do. Some concerns about what’s included in the curriculum, support for programming, and efforts of different student groups on campus.
The Index: did you have a sense from Meatless Mondays that it will continue in the fall.
Westfall: There’s one more pilot this spring, and then I don’t know what the next chapter is. Effort to find out what the data means. The pilot was meant to determine what students’ reaction to the program is. Trying to find out if there’s enough interest to do this on a daily basis. Could be twice a month instead of every week.
The Index: How will the calendar change affect students next year?
Westfall: In general, exams will start sooner than they typically have. Some exams will start on the weekend, when historically they haven’t. The premium is being placed on trying to finish finals in a reasonable amount of time to get the longest break we can get, so we can finish before Thanksgiving if people need to travel, and the same holds for spring break. We’ll have about 10 days of spring break, instead of a week. Some years it’s 9, some 11-12. Trying not to put too great a load on students or faculty.
The Index: How do you think the increasing size of the student body over the next several years impact the operations of the Student Development Office?
Westfall: The issue of increasing the student body has come up. We anticipate that we may need some more resources in the Health Center, the Counseling Center and Security: direction one-on-one service. There really isn’t an issue with housing. The trajectory of the K experience is that students become more and more independent if they get here. There’s room to house all the first years even if we reach our housing goal. We can house all sophomores, and any juniors and seniors who want to live on campus. Right now it’s not feeling like we’re going to need more residence hall space. Most terms we’re between 93 and 97 percent capacity. We’ve also added living learning units over the past few years, so that’s added to some of our housing capacity. Juniors on campus are the variable at play. Juniors can be kind of a safety valve. Now, everyone lives on campus through junior winter, which pertains to about 100 juniors. It seems to work well that a lot of juniors when they come back want to move into the community. If we need more juniors to live off campus, we think they’d be ready and willing to do that. We’re a residential community and we value the residential experience, so another option is to build additional housing. But we’re not at the point where we’ve decided that that’s where we want to go. Land is at a premium. This class is the first graduating class that in many, many years lived in all first-year dorms.
The Index: I wanted to ask how reentry worked at Crystal Ball.
Westfall: I would say it had kind of a null effect. Crystal Ball was the largest event we’ve ever had. We estimate that there were over 1,050 students in attendance, which was bigger than Monte Carlo. It was very successful in terms of the number of people there. I don’t think that reentry increased attendance. About 70 unique individuals took advantage of the reentry policy. That’s a fairly small percentage of the number of people there. There weren’t a lot of positive or negative effects. Some people left to smoke, some people left to make sure that the policy worked. 990 people didn’t reenter. It was also the case that we staffed up for it. We had extra security people to staff that. We had a couple of people try to sneak in because they had been removed or because they didn’t want to register as a guest, but that was just a couple people. And we staffed up to make sure that we could handle it. I didn’t see any problems with entry and reentry. I think we’d have the same policy for next year. We’ll review more over the summer when we have more breathing room. My sense is that the things we might tweak will focus on logistical things like where is the entrance. There was more space in the Banquet Hall than in the Stone Room. A bigger space like that might be more desirable for Monte Carlo next year. One of the things we’re concerned about is the number of people in the building in case we need to evacuate the building. The thing that was different about Crystal Ball was that all the rooms in the building weren’t used in contrast to Monte Carlo. I haven’t heard any complaints from students about reentry problems. I think it was fine. The process to get there was not a helpful or productive one. I think we could have gotten to the same end with a lot less durm und strang. There was a lot of unnecessary negative energy that was discharged around that. I still don’t fully understand it. I’ve really been reflecting a lot to find out what happened. After Monte Carlo occurred and SLAC started discussing it, that’s when real progress started. Open discussions in which everyone could share their concerns. That was the piece that was missing earlier, which helped give this topic a negative charge. I wish the whole thing had happened differently. It cast a negative shadow over the whole of winter quarter.
The Index: Did discussions about transparency in the Student Activities Fee come up?
Westfall: Meredith has talked to Brian about that.
The Index: There was the forum on tuition.
Westfall: As you think about the arc of this economic downturn, I would have expected more of an issue with this two or three years ago.
The Index: Students of color not feeling support came up in StuComm too. Not enough minority representation in the faculty.
Westfall: The opportunity in the faculty is that, when we do have openings, how to we ensure a diverse pool of candidates, how do we ensure that the faculty represent the whole of the student body. What’s the overall student of color population? It’s been growing: 18 to 20 percent of each incoming class. The breakdown in each class is different. Our retention rate for students of color is the same as for white students. Typically, at majority-white institutions, it is difficult for minority students to stay. And we also have the highest graduation rate for African Americans in the state of Michigan. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do to make the campus feel more inclusive. We want to continue to be a place where students of color can come and do what they want to do.