By Jessica Knutzon, Co-editor
In an effort to become more involved in the merger, students have vocalized their need to communicate more with the administration and become a part of the discussions about the changes and future of Thunderbird. Throughout the week, students were asked to submit questions for the town hall meeting and were invited to a student-led meeting the night before in order to discuss and prioritize the list of questions. These questions were used to direct the scheduled town hall meeting on Friday, October 2, 2015, at 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. MST.
Approximately 100 participants were at the student town hall. Students, staff and faculty came together in Yount 100 to take part in the town hall meeting. Jay Thorne, Executive Director of Communications, started the town hall meeting, “Something terrible happened yesterday on a school campus…it has happened all too regularly around this country,” he continued, “it was nine, the last I heard, students lost their lives on their campus in rural Oregon. So, we all think we have problems…that’s what tragedy looks like. So I just want to start with a moment of silence.”
After the moment of silence, Thorne passed the meeting along to Dr. Allen Morrison to lead the meeting and answer the questions, which were projected on the wall. Morrison began by addressing the purpose of the meeting, “We are going to do our best to respond to some of the issues and concerns that you have.” The first fifteen minutes were dedicated to providing a background on the merger. The meeting, which lasted approximately one hour and fifteen minutes, ignited a dialogue between staff and students. Morrison announced the teach-out students will not have to pay for parking and that he is still working on the health insurance issue addressed in the questions. Foreign students who purchased insurance for their time in the United States were not allowed to waive the $900 insurance fee. It has since been reported to Das Tor that the issue has been resolved.
During the town hall meeting, Catie Crain, MBA ’15, stressed the importance of quality communication over quantity of communication to Thorne, “You talked a little about having several wins. I think part of the problem is that we do not really hear about the wins – maybe this is in the alumni newsletter that you are now working on getting to the students. There was a comment made earlier about us being too busy studying and that maybe we are confused about sources of information. I think we are all here to stress to you that this is very very important to us. Like another student pointed out earlier today, some of us have the knowledge and experience that allows us to integrate lessons from the merger into our studies. As you look forward to your new role as communications director and what you share with the students, I think some of the substance behind the decisions might be more important than more frequently communicating the decisions themselves. I understand that for most universities in America this is probably not the status quo, but as it already has been mentioned, there aren’t a lot of universities in America that are undergoing mergers and acquisitions. The amount of substance that some other stakeholders are getting is probably greater than the amount of substance we are getting. Even if the decision seems insignificant, you could have a student you help you decide if it is worth communicating to the student body, you could garner some more goodwill. This way we can know more about is going on from a process point of view.”
Thorne responded that Crain made some good points and added, “I think it would make a lot of sense to have a student participating in the marketing and communications department. You would help us. You would learn some things, I hope…and you could help us figure out the best way to feed information back to students. That’s a great idea and maybe part of that role is determining what has value in terms of the wins, progress and how we arrive there.”
Morrison wrapped up the meeting by thanking participants for being at the meeting and engaging. “Thank you for thinking about these things and trying to figure out not just what’s going on but also figuring out how we can create a better institution,” he continued, “We have amazing students, amazingly talented, smart people, and a challenge when you work with smart people is that they have ideas and they have ambitions and we really need to do better at tapping those insights. I’ve learned a lot, not only throughout the last nine months or so, but I’ve learned a lot just as we have gone through this dialogue, which kind of started on parking but evolved into other issues. And I’ve learned that some of things that I thought we were communicating, we probably weren’t, and other things that I realize we need to start communicating very differently and in different forums.” Morrison added, “Let me conclude by saying that Thunderbird is absolutely on a roll these days. And you’re in the middle of it, you don’t see it all, but we see it out there…the market knows you and is excited about where Thunderbird is going. Thank you for engaging, this is absolutely part of a longer term process of engaging better, and maybe more effectively, as we go forward. Thank you.”
Below are the thoughts of some students who attended the meeting. If you attended the meeting and have additional thoughts, please provide them in the comment section below.
“Friday’s town hall meeting was concerning, helpful, and encouraging all at the same time,” said David Roman, MBA ’15. Roman explained, “Concerning because the faculty’s role was downplayed. Helpful because progress and status was revealed for several current issues. Encouraging because Jay Thorne demonstrated humility, collaborative spirit, and readiness to take action.”
Alina Buzgar, MBA ’16, shared her thoughts, “During times of change, vision and strong leadership are needed. But without constant over-communication and strong collaboration, those affected by change become frustrated. It’s understandable. They don’t feel included, heard, or respected. While the town hall was a start, it lacked the substance we were all hoping for. I look forward to the many important questions still open and pending to get answered in the near future and for our voices to be heard and respected.”
Drew Himmelreich, MBA ’15, shared, “In the past we have asked how students can take a proactive role in helping with the transition, and Dr. Morrison disappointingly replied ‘Just have fun.’ When asked again at the town hall what are some actual ways students can feel they are making a positive contribution, unfortunately Dr. Morrison’s reply was, once again, ‘Have fun.’” Himmelreich added, “I have definitely had a favorable shift in perspective and am looking at things from a much broader perspective in the last week or so. The new figure, Jay Thorne, seems to provide a capable and sympathetic conduit for students to work through, which is very reassuring. Dr. Morrison made some good points in the town hall but frustratingly did little to address the questions posed to him directly. He selectively pinpointed aspects of questions that would give him a platform to make more general statements or assurances to the student body.”
An incoming student, Lauren Herber, MAGAM ’17, added her thoughts as well, “I thought that Dr. Morrison was a very talented and powerful public speaker. However, I felt that our questions were talked around instead of actually answered. I am very glad that Dr. Morrison took the time to meet with us, but unfortunately I walked away from the meeting feeling like not much was accomplished. But I do think that meetings like that are a start; now I would love to see evidence that Thunderbird students have been heard not just by Thunderbird, but by ASU as well.”
“Actions are going to speak louder than words, we can be cautiously optimistic, but the administration has yet to give us any solid proof they intend to follow through,” Brendon Biegel, MBA ’15. Pia Oestlien, MA ’14, MBA ’15, agreed with Biegel, “Couldn’t have said it better myself. And I feel the same way.” Oestlien added, “I’m a legacy, like you [the author], so I have more of a vested interest in some ways. I don’t want to see the school deteriorate because of politics or bureaucratic barriers. One day, I want to be able to have my kids come here too if they want.”