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Students apathetic toward Paxson

Most polled reported not knowing enough about the president’s strategic plan to form an opinion

Nearly half the student body has no opinion on how President Christina Paxson has handled her job as president, and about 65 percent of students either had not heard of the strategic plan Paxson released in draft form last month or did not know enough about it to offer an opinion, according to The Herald poll conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 1.

About 48 percent of students expressed no opinion on Paxson’s job performance, a figure that remains mostly unchanged from last semester, when 49 percent of students reported having no opinion. Over 40 percent of students approved of how Paxson has handled her job, with 32 percent of students indicating they somewhat approve and 11 percent responding that they strongly approve. About 7 percent somewhat disapproved of Paxson’s performance and 1 percent strongly disapproved.

Roughly 45 percent of students approved of Paxson last semester, according to results from The Herald’s spring poll.

Students expressed a high level of apathy toward Paxson’s draft of her strategic plan, “Building on Distinction,” which was released Sept. 18. About 49 percent of students responded that they were aware of the plan but did not know enough about it to offer an opinion, while roughly 16 percent said they had not heard of the plan.

Nearly 21 percent of students somewhat approved of the plan, and about 5 percent indicated they strongly approved. Roughly 7 percent responded that they somewhat disapproved of the strategic plan, and about 2 percent strongly disapproved.

Many students likely did not report an opinion of Paxson’s job performance because she is still relatively new to campus, said Todd Harris ’14.5, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students.

“Students and President Paxson are still working to get to know each other,” Harris said. But he added that he believes Paxson has done a good job reaching out to the student body.

“She has been incredibly receptive to student input and student opinions in her forums,” Harris said, adding that this approach is vital to cultivating closer ties with students.

That a majority of students expressed no opinion of the strategic plan does not reflect a lack of accessibility to the plan’s details, said UCS Vice President Sam Gilman ’15.

“Students have the opportunity to engage with the information if they want,” he said, adding that UCS hosted an open forum with Paxson earlier this month to give students the opportunity to provide feedback on the strategic plan.

At the meeting, UCS members and other undergraduates expressed opinions on issues such as the plan’s treatment of advising, financial aid and the role of undergraduate education, The Herald reported at the time.

UCS also hosted meetings with student group leaders to get their opinions on the plan, Gilman said.

Apathy about the strategic plan correlated with a lack of opinion on Paxson’s job performance. About 74 percent of students who had not heard of the strategic plan offered no opinion of Paxson’s performance, while 59 percent of students who said they had heard of the plan but did not know enough about its details to have an opinion also said they had no opinion of Paxson’s performance.

Approval of Paxson diverged by class year. Seniors were the least likely to offer no opinion of Paxson, with about 44 percent responding that they had no opinion. Roughly 52 percent of juniors — the highest portion of any class year — offered no opinion on Paxson, while about 51 percent of first-years and 45 percent of sophomores responded that they had no opinion of Paxson’s job performance.

Harris linked the plan’s “broad nature” to student apathy.

“(The plan) leaves out goals for the future of Brown, so I think that if there were more specifics, there would be stronger reactions on both sides,” Harris said.

Some students said they do not believe there was enough readily accessible information about the plan.

“I feel like there aren’t enough venues to find out about it,” said Kieran Berry ’16.

Other students said the University has provided ways for students to learn about the plan but noted they have not taken advantage of these opportunities.

“I just haven’t taken the time to read about it,” said Kyle Yamada ’17.

Madalyn Metz ’14.5 said emails have been a constructive way for administrators to spread awareness about the plan, but she added that she still does not know a lot about the plan’s details.

Some students said they want the plan to emphasize improved advising services and universal need-blind financial aid as key priorities. Metz said the plan should devote more focus to advising for students, an area she said needs enhancement.

Collins Cheruiyot ’16 said he approves of Paxson’s support for increasing financial aid, adding that he is glad the plan endorses continued efforts to move to a universal need-blind admission policy. The plan does not lay out a specific timeline for adopting a need-blind policy, but the draft stated the University will “work towards” this goal, The Herald previously reported.

Patrick Loftus ’16, said he does not know much about Paxson’s daily work as president, but he added that he is aware there is a lot of “change happening really quickly” at the University.

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