UWO communication lacks transparency, cooperation

Between Gov. Scott Walker’s impending budget cuts, the University’s decision to cut sports and the gun-related incident in Reeve Memorial Union last year, there has been no shortage of newsworthy events at UW Oshkosh. However, when it comes to the effective communication of this news, UWO has been far from exemplary. In order to work, good communication must be honest, authentic and timely. The University has failed one or more of these requirements in its handling of several important events and decisions that have occurred over the past year. After the Reeve shooting in March of last year, many were concerned about the effectiveness of the University’s Titan Alert system, designed to notify students and faculty about emergencies and dangerous situations on campus. The Titan Alert that followed came nearly an hour and a half after the gun was discharged, effectively rendering the emergency notification useless. “UWO needs to let people know there has been a shooting on campus instead of finding out via social media,” UW Oshkosh student Evan Davies said on Twitter following the incident. Perhaps the freshest incident in the minds of students and faculty members is the University’s decision to cut two sports teams–men’s soccer and men’s tennis– in addition to restructuring two others. This news came as a big surprise to the athletes and coaches who dedicate a great deal of time to the sports. “In terms of cutting the men’s soccer program, it was communicated on the day that the press release came out,” senior soccer player Daniel Kobin said. “From an administrative perspective this might seem effective, however everyone impacted by the decision was blindsided by this decision and stunned by the fact that there was no communication about the possibility of our specific program being cut prior to that day.” The communication before and after the cuts were made was also mishandled. Before making a decision of this magnitude, there are many steps that must be take and many people that must be consulted. In an effort to push the decision through quickly, the University’s Athletic Director Darryl Sims sidestepped important procedures set in place to ensure a fair, correct resolution. At the March Intercollegiate Athletic Committee meeting, Sims mentioned that the University would likely have to cut one or two sports. He did not specify the sports and gave very few details. Many found it disconcerting when less than a month later the decision was announced as final. “In April, the cuts were made, the cuts were announced and then the athletic director says to the Northwestern newspaper, that he didn’t provide specifics and that even if he had the specifics, he would not provide them,” journalism department Chairman Timothy Gleason said. “I would consider that very unethical and possibly a violation of University policy as written in the handbook 6.2.” Gleason used to be a part of the IAC when the University’s previous athletic director, Al Ackerman, called the shots. Gleason said that when decisions were made in the past, they were based on highly detailed information and many people were involved. After the controversial decision was made both Sims and Chancellor Andrew Leavitt became nearly unreachable to those with questions. On most occasions the Advance-Titan tried to contact them, its reporters were referred to mediaries who spoke on behalf of the two administrators. “I think it is important that anyone directly involved in making a decision such as the sports program cuts to speak for themselves,” Kobin said. “The chancellor was adamant about the fact that he wanted to be inclusive and felt that open communication and input from the campus community would be essential when dealing with the cuts.” The status of Walker’s budget cuts and their effect on campus have also been a subject of confusion and fear for students and faculty members. Gleason said the University has not provided enough information about the possible ramifications of the budget cuts and as a result, some are concerned about their future at UWO. “There are a lot of people worried on campus right now even if they’re not connected to the sports situation, because of how it has been handled,” Gleason said. “But people were worried even before that. Someone has asked me multiple times ‘am I gonna be here in the fall?’. I would expect them to be, but there’s a definite concern on campus when you have these gaps of communication, thats where fear lives.” If the University seeks to maintain a trustworthy, mutually beneficial relationship with its students and staff members, then it needs to do a better job of communicating and making decisions. The best thing that Chancellor Leavitt can do in times of difficult choices is to surround himself with the many knowledgeable staff members that make UWO what it is today. He and other administrators need to recognize the importance of two-way communication and collaborative decision making if they want to succeed in the future.