Kosslyn: For better administrators

Earlier this year, a friend of mine e-mailed an administrator with a routine question about an event he was planning. Despite several follow-ups, it took four months for the administrator to respond. The plan died.

Another friend, seeking research funding, contacted two administrators, each of whom suggested a different funding source. Upon applying, she was accused by another administrator of trying to defraud Yale. She was stripped of all her funding.

A third friend, organizing an event, talked with a particular administrator, who encouraged my friend and led him to believe the administrator could grant use of a building. The day before the event, while confirming logistics, my friend learned that the administrator had, in fact, no control over the relevant building. When pressed, the administrator said, “Sorry, I guess you can’t do the event.” But there’s a bright side to this story: A residential college master let my friend use space in his college, effectively saving the event.

I myself have attended three student-administrator meetings where the relevant administrator simply did not show up.

Many of us interact with Yale administrators. Heads of organizations, student government bodies and event planners often see their ideas and proposals live or die through the decisions of professional administrators working in the Yale College Dean’s Office, their own residential colleges and numerous programs and centers.

These administrators often do fantastic jobs. They steward endowments, ensure long-term continuity and provide access to a range of resources. But sometimes things go sour.

Distracted by other concerns, Yale College administrators sometimes become unhelpful or unresponsive to undergraduates. As a result, events do not happen, funds are misallocated, students are left in the lurch and opportunities are lost. If my friends and I are at all representative, such problems are prevalent.

What’s going on here? In the language of senior-year job interviews, there is currently a misalignment of incentives: Though a student organization may depend on a prompt reply, waiting five months may have little impact on the queried administrator. He or she may feel bad (and probably will — our administrators are, in my experience, exceedingly kind people), but our queries are not their top priority. They may not even realize when they are letting things slip through the cracks; there is currently no easy way to give honest feedback to student-facing administrators.

This can be fixed — and easily. The solution is already at our fingertips. We already have a course review system designed to let students rate classes, give feedback to professors and inform future students on the best techniques for handling each class. The same system should be extended to include administrators.

This proposal would be straightforward to implement. At the end of each semester, officers of registered organizations and members of student government bodies would receive automated e-mails requesting reviews of administrators. Other students would see a link on their course evaluation menu: “Interact with a Yale College administrator last semester? Click here to write a review.”

Students with strong opinions would click the links. They would then select the administrators with whom they had substantive interactions, and would anonymously rate those administrators on several dimensions — perhaps promptness and helpfulness. There would be space to write anonymous feedback that only the administrator would see, as well as space to write comments for future generations of students. And as with the course evaluation system, there would be a section where administrators could post responses to the comments.

If you think this is a good idea, send your Yale College Council rep or favorite administrator an e-mail. Maybe even send them Valentine’s Day cards.

The data from this system could serve a range of functions. Most basically, it would institutionalize feedback to student-facing administrators. That alone would be enormously helpful. It would also provide clear incentives for those administrators to respond promptly and thoroughly to students.

More would get done, and events and organizations would be better able to flourish. The benefits would spread through the Yale community, reviewed by some and viewed by all.

Justin Kosslyn is a senior in Ezra Stiles College.