Letter to the Editor: Things I Learned from My Brown Bag Lunches

One of the outcomes from the Great Colleges survey was that administration needed to communicate more effectively with campus, and one of the recommendations from our continued data collection in the fall was that the Provost should host a series of brown bag lunches. I thought that was an excellent idea and scheduled four of those to occur throughout the spring semester. I found them highly useful and engaging, and based on the suggestion of the YSU Excellence Steering Committee, wanted to share with the community some of the things that I learned through this activity.

To begin, I learned that our campus community is highly engaged with discussions that are occurring on and around campus. Each of our lunches covered a wide range of topics. And the topics were highly dependent on recent actions or discussions on campus. During one session, we spend considerable time talking about the changes in the graduate assistant funding model, with special attention to the impact that decreasing the number of GAs would have. At another session, we talked about budget priorities. This past week, the focus was on faculty and staff hiring.

While we had an excellent discussion in each of these cases, I learned that the specific topic wasn’t the most important feature. Yes, I received some good input from faculty and staff. I also came to understand how decisions I make or we make collectively as an administration, done for what we believe to be in the best interest of the university, could lead to specific challenges for faculty and staff wanting to do quality work for their students. It brought to the forefront some of the challenges that each and every one of our faculty and staff face every day.

These discussions also gave me an opportunity to explain the decision-making process. We discussed the importance of our strategic goals in allocating resources. We discussed the difficult choices that we need to make, because there are not sufficient resources to accomplish everything we need to do. I observed more than once during these lunches individuals who would ask a question or raise an issue, as for example with the decrease in GAs, leave not necessarily any happier, but with an understanding of why that decision had been made. Perhaps they still disagreed with the decision, but at least the understanding of how we came to that outcome provided some level of satisfaction. At least, it appeared that way from my vantage point.

In sum, the best thing that happened with the brown bag lunches was the beginning of a dialog. I got to learn from faculty and staff, and they got a little more understanding of how decisions are made or resources allocated. It is my hope that taking some of the mystery out of the process will begin to create more openness and inclusion. So we’ll continue these events next year and proceed along this journey to improved communication on campus and better shared decision-making.

Thank you to all of those who have attended one of these lunches and thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

Martin Abraham, Provost and VP for Academic Affairs