President Alison Byerly hosted on Monday the first town hall meeting in the college’s recent memory, providing a platform for campus-wide concerns to be voiced.
A group of approximately 70 students, faculty and staff gathered in Colton Chapel as Byerly stood at the front receiving questions, addressing issues and commenting on concerns that were raised to her.
Students asked about sustainability and Greek Life on campus. Faculty brought up part-time professor salaries, the new Title IX coordinator and plans for the new integrated life sciences building. Staff brought up the capital campaign, socioeconomics on campus and office space moving down the hill.
Byerly said that the town hall meeting was not only supposed to keep her informed about what members of the community are thinking about, but also so those people could learn about their community.
“I think part of the value of a town hall setting like this is for people to hear each other,” Byerly said. “It’s for faculty to know what staff are thinking about, staff to know what students are thinking about, students to know what faculty are thinking about.”
Some members of the audience were satisfied with the type of forum the Byerly created as she responded to answers over the 45-minute meeting.
“Often you sit in committees, and basically you preach to the choir, so to speak,” said Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger. “But I really felt that this was something that should be heard by everybody.”
Lamb-Faffelberger said she believes the town hall meeting was the appropriate place to bring up her concerns about low wages and lack of benefits for part-time professors. Lamb-Faffelberger, a full-time tenured professor, said that this issue is of particular concern to her, as roughly a third of the total teaching instructors in the foreign language department are part-time professors.
“I think it is very important that the president is aware that the full-time faculty is concerned about the people that we teach with,” Lamb-Faffelberger said.
Byerly responded to Lamb-Faffelberger’s concerns about part-time faculty by acknowledging that there is not something directed specifically at the issues of part-time staff as part of the Capital Campaign, but that she will work with a different committee to address these issues.
“The salaries committee that’s looking at faculty salaries has raised the question of the differential between what is paid to full-time versus part-time versus visiting faculty,” Byerly said. “I’ll follow up with them and make sure that that’s something that’s on their agenda.”
History Professor Robert Weiner saw the meeting as an opportunity to voice concerns. He commented on what he viewed as declining conference travel funding for professors and medical payments for faculty, but emphasized a change he saw in the faculty in recent decades.
“[Faculty] publish more than most of the faculty did in earlier years, but unquestionably, faculty are… more distant from the students than they were in earlier years because there is much, much more pressure on faculty members to publish,” Weiner said, adding that he believes some devote less time to advising students.
One of the students who did choose to attend the meeting and raise his concerns was Joseph Ingrao ’16, who was representing the Lafayette Food and Farm Cooperative, a club that he started last year to promote farming, food, and sustainable agriculture on campus.
Ingrao said that he and a group of other students had met with Byerly previously to discuss bringing a sustainability coordinator to Lafayette. However, the town hall meeting was a way to address these concerns in a public forum.
“Sending a letter to Alison Byerly saying we want a sustainability coordinator lets her know [about their concerns], and it lets whoever she talks to about it know, but it doesn’t necessarily let all of the faculty know” Ingrao said. “Asking about sustainability coordination [at the meeting] let’s everyone know that there is this impetus for it.”
“Any change to Lafayette affects, in some way, everyone there. So I felt like going there, where everyone has the potential to have a voice and an ear was a good place to bring it up,” Ingrao added.
Byerly recognized that the town hall meeting was a good place to publicly hold her accountable for the concerns she addresses.
“I think part of the point of asking something in public was to create that sense of accountability which I think is a very useful way to take advantage of a setting like that,” Byerly said. “It’s helpful…because then the community knows I’m not telling one group one thing and one group another thing.”
Byerly said that the administration first began discussing the idea of holding a town hall over the summer and that she hopes to hold these town hall meetings two or three times a year from now on. She said the next town hall meeting will most likely be held in February 2016.