Construction communication a nonexistent effort

Once again, Washington University in St. Louis has failed to communicate with its students about construction, both on a macro and a micro level. Most generally, the administration has failed to distrubute to its students—virtually, orally, visually and physically—its strategic plan, known as the Plan for Excellence. More specifically, it has repeated its lack of communication about Seigle Hall and the Danforth University Center with drastically sub-par dissemination of information regarding construction on the South 40.

Washington University, in fact, is executing a campus construction plan that is deeper than simply remodeling buildings. The so-called Plan for Excellence includes improving the University’s appearance and how it realizes its educational mission. A remnant of the 1995-initiated Project 21, the Plan for Excellence is a framework for building a more successful university over the next decade. The plan is expounded at http://theplan.artsci.wustl.edu.

The problem with the Plan for Excellence is that the above Web site is the only place where it is publicly expounded. Select groups of students such as residential advisors and administrative groups have heard the presentation on the plan and were able to glean a greater understanding of the construction and major changes the University has been making in recent years. However, current students have not been the beneficiaries of any major effort to disseminate information about, or to even mention, this plan.

Students at Washington University need to understand why the major inconveniences they experience each day due to construction and major University transitions are occuring.

Groups that have heard Dean McLeod’s presentation on the Plan for Excellence have emerged from the experience with a mind sympathic toward the University’s goals rather than antagonistic toward them. The University and its students both would benefit from a well-publicized, well-organized presentation in Graham Chapel, to which all students were invited, expounding the Plan for Excellence.

Students are eager to understand why the changes they experience each day are occurring and what changes will occur in the future, but only with the University’s aggressive promotion and publication of information about its Plan will this much-needed chain of communication gain its first link.

Students, particularly underclassmen, have been especially marginalized by the lack of concern for their knowledge about construction projects on the South 40. A “Construction News” link on the Residential Life Web site, to which concerned students were directed by Residential Life e-mails, presents three links: a construction map of the 40, Umrath demolition pictures and “Construction News.” The “Construction News” link contains the following comment, and only the following comment regarding the South 40: “Construction of the new Umrath House and the new Wohl Center Phase 1 will be ongoing throughout the school year. Construction should be mostly contained within the construction fence. Please use caution when walking near the construction site; there may be construction-related traffic in the area.”

We hardly need to say that this information is an insult to the students who will be spending their entire academic year in a residential area ravaged by construction. What is Wohl Center Phase 1? What will the new Umrath House look like? Will there be any new paths paved, so that our walks to class don’t take so long? I heard there will be a path between Beaumont and Ruby, but I can’t be sure. When will construction start and end each day? Construction will be mostly contained within the fence? Mostly?

Residential Life’s emphasis on creating a community for students, rather than just a place to sleep, is in direct opposition to the “try not to hurt yourself” attitude that the “Construction News” page presents. Though it may plead “lack of direct connection” with the construction company, ResLife is still responsible when water is cut off in Ruby, Lee and Beaumont just as freshmen arrive on campus, when construction fences are haphazardly left hanging open during weekends and when Brookings and Wayman Crow residential colleges are a 10-minute walk away from each night’s dinner.

Though the University administration and Residential Life can do very little to eliminate the inconveniences that major structural changes in the University cause, they can help students understand these changes. To this point, the effort to inform has been next to nonexistent. It is time, right now, for the University to help its students understand its present and its future.

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