Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ideas kind of guy



This document is meant to provide a number of suggestions for the future direction of Davidson College. They are written from the perspective of the student interest, and while they are meant to be objective they of course reflect particular, subjective experiences. While the suggestions all come from a common place of concern and share similar motivations, there is no reason why they cannot be considered individually. While this writer recommends the immediate adoption of all suggestions, they will not necessarily be seen by all as sharing a common time horizon or degree of importance. Moreover, it should be noted suggestions are by no means ordered in any meaningful way. The “common place of concern” and “similar motivations” mentioned above merely reflect the student-writer’s opinion that Davidson needs to remain a forward-looking institution in order to retain and progress upon its impressive past. These are suggestions, therefore, which provide for a future in which Davidson itself serves as the highest paragon and exemplar for its students. The Davidson as imagined here is congruent with the spirit of the school as the student-writer understands it: a place of learning that enriches student lives even as it best prepares them to enrich the lives of others. Finally, it should be noted that this document is primarily concerned with new, administration-centric initiatives. It does not, for example, list current projects that merit further support. The writing herein is addressed to the administration, but that is not its only audience, and the student-writer implores his fellow students to consider his suggestions with the thoughtfulness that characterizes their lives as scholars at Davidson. This student-writer believes student-propelled change is ultimately the best motivator and will probably ultimately be the only thing that can bring some of this platform to pass.
1. Discontinue the football program
The football program at Davidson has much to be proud of. It fields a competitive team in Division I-AA (FCS) despite the small size of the College. It is financially self-sustaining, as I understand it. It plays in a beautiful stadium. But Davidson in the future will be better off without a football program. There are several reasons. One, many of our peer institutions either do not play football or play it at a reduced level of competition. Two, the program has had little success on the field in recent history. Three, the program attracts little student interest. Four, there is a high degree of turnover due to burnout or injury. These things are worth mentioning, but they would not alone merit the abandonment of the program. Rather, the problem lies in mathematics. There are, let’s say (ACTUALLY DO MATH), 80 football players or former football players in the student body, and 850 males. That means that just under 10% of all males are football players. So? So that means just under 10% of males dedicate an incredibly high degree of their time to a very insular group of people who, out of necessity, spend most of their time in an inwardly-focused group. It’s just too big a group of people within the school to be socially optimal.
2. Expand the campus composting program
The campus composting program has been very successful, but problems exist. The graduation of one work-study means there is a knowledge gap to be filled. The composter is often breaking down from lack of professional attention. More to the point, the college is producing more compost than the 20,000lb (GET NUMBER) machine can handle. The college should invest in a second composter, expand the program to Vail Commons and the Senior Apartments, and if excess compost is produced it can be sold on the market.
3. Build a campus pub
The college would immensely benefit from a low-intensity social environment like a pub. While the Union serves as the center of formal student life, social life at night often shifts down the hill for most students, and there is no current public space that facilitates student gathering. The conversion and expansion of the Outpost or some other building into a full British-style pub would provide such an environment to the student body, providing a venue not only for social interaction but also student performances, informal get-togethers with professors, and small-scale student meetings. It would also satisfy growing demand for a legal drinking place. Witness the immense popularity of 21 Year Old Night at the 900 Room. The fact is that it would be immensely popular, has the potential to run a profit, and would act as a safety valve against binge drinking. There is some concern that the student body is simply not large enough to support such a pub, but University of Cambridge colleges are often centered around a pub and do not have as many students each as Davidson does.
4. Build a campus Free Café
This would be an entirely student-run space which would serve as a meeting place, coffeehouse, and free art space. It would in a social sense fulfill much the same purpose the pub does, only for the morning and daytime hours rather than afternoon or night hours. It would not cost the college anything other than building and utility costs; it would be entirely stocked and paid for by students on a communal basis. Envisioned is a room the size of maybe an apartment common room. The Food Club’s Food Cart could be stationed here, stocked with goodies which students pay for on an honor basis. Tea and coffee would be stocked by student volunteers, again with payment on an honor basis. Fluffy, cushiony, comfy old chairs abound. It could be adjacent to the pub, and always open.
5. Enact the plan for a Davidson College Farm
The plan to put College land into use as a farm has had a long genesis. It is time these plans be actualized. The implementation of this land for vegetable crops will supplement Dining Services’ intake, saving the college money if it can operate the Farm in an effective manner. These crops should be chosen to fill a niche that is not currently occupied in the local food offerings currently available in Davidson, and should be versatile and usable in a wide variety of dishes. They should also be chosen somewhat on basis of cost-effectiveness. The Farm will be operated organically by a professional with the help of student work-studies and volunteers. The Farm will also be a source of cocurricular learning for professors to work into their classes.

6. Have a Fall Lake Day
Though the revival of Winterfest is very welcome, the balance of official party time still tilts toward the spring. Moreover, Davidson has an amazing resource at its disposal in Lake Campus which it should continue to use to its best advantage. The establishment of a Fall Lake Day to celebrate this resource would boost collegial spirit and allow us to say farewell to the swimmable months in fair fashion. The Lake Day would be a Friday off of class, announced spontaneously sometime in the fall (probably in September) by the President in the fashion of Williams’ Mountain Day. The Union Board, Davidson Outdoors and others would coordinate activities to be held at Lake Campus, in a manner similar to Spring Frolics but less capital intensive. It could also be merged with SGA’s Fall Block Party.
7. Make College investing less opaque
Students and alumni have a right to know how the College’s assets are being managed. Right now they don’t. Davidson has a great track record of alumni participation and donation, but after the astounding losses suffered during the recent economic crisis (which were not at all unusual, given the times) perhaps we ought to demand more transparency in knowing how our contributions to the College are managed.
8. Revitalize the Eumenean Club
The existence of an active Eumenean Club to go with the currently healthy Philanthropic Club would help tie Davidson’s present to its past in an important way, as well as provide an important outlet for the development of conversation and argument.
9. Audit the Union Café
True fact: students often complain that the Union Café “robs them.” While the actual price is sometimes what is referred to, more often they are referring to the Café’s irregular charging practices. While it is difficult to keep track of so many different options and combinations, it would behoove the student body and the college if any suspicion of irregularity were wiped clean.
10. Expand student access to fresh, local, organic, and sustainable foods
There is clearly student opposition to the established food system, which Davidson officially participates in to a large extent. Student opposition is backed by extensive literature suggesting the way we eat is damaging to the health and economy of our nation and the world. This organized student opposition is surely joined by tenfold less zealous students who are also concerned about the way that they are eating. Every time the College has provided options for alternatively produced foods, these options have been met with widespread student acclaim. This fall, a student-run Food Cart will open with the purpose of beginning to meet this demand. The challenge will not fully be met, however, until Davidson makes an executive and administrative decision to support food that is good for our planet and good for ourselves. It is possible; it can be economical; the examples are there. Let Davidson be the next pioneer, to serve as an example for others.
11. Offer rebates to winners of EAC’s annual Do It In The Dark electricity-saving contest
The annual Do It In The Dark contest pits residence halls against one another in a fight to see who can save the most energy over a baseline level of consumption. Prizes are currently offered, but the contest’s aims would be most perfectly realized if winners were offered the value of their saved electricity as a credit on their student accounts. Their kWh saved could be multiplied by the rate at which the college purchased electricity for that month, then divided amongst the inhabitants of the building. While this amount of money would not necessarily equal the money saved by the College as a result of their actions, it would be an appropriate lesson for students soon to enter a world marked by the necessity not only of environmental but also financial awareness. By tying the consumption of electricity to fiscal responsibility in the minds of young Davidsonians, the College can fortify the future of not only the Earth but the pocketbooks of its alumni.
12. Hold a referendum on a student Green Fee, with options on how money will be spent
This mechanism has been instituted at a number of leading academic institutions as a way for students to contribute towards environmental investments on their college campus. There are many ways this mechanism could work. Students could be required to give $5 each with their tuition (as an item to appear beside the ATC Fee, for example), but with options to give more. This is the ‘fee required’ model; however, opt-out or opt-in models could also be effective and have been at other institutions. How this money would be spent could then either be decided by an elected or appointed committee, voted on by the student body, or allocated in some other fashion. Improvements made at other schools through the institution of a Green Fee include GIVE EXAMPLES .
13. Create a Classes 2.0 system that will allow students and professors a chance to learn practical skills and fun activities outside the classroom
Classes 2.0 would be a market-based parallel extracurricular program through which a variety of campus and community activities could be conducted. Essentially, Classes 2.0 would match campus and community members who have common interests in taking a class which is not offered through the college. These classes could be of academic, personal, or practical interest. There is a demonstrable lack of practical life training for graduating seniors. Therefore, classes that would interest graduating seniors would surely include instruction on personal finance, basic auto repair, cooking, and so on. Zanier classes, such as beer appreciation or history of graffiti, could also be offered given demand. Persons interested in offering a class would put a description on Classes 2.0 before the semester, listing a fee if necessary, and individuals would be able to sign up on Classes 2.0 then communicate with the instructor to figure out any details. The system would be very hands-off. Classes 2.0 would allow professors and students to branch out in a low-stress environment into subjects they may not be able to explore in a full academic context.
14. Begin a pilot Zipcar program to test interest (KEEP? I THINK NOT—)
This project has been in the works for years, and need not be detailed in full here.
15. Require qualifying examinations within the major
A qualifying examination with the major would be a large but beneficial change. Codifying a corpus of information which all individuals graduating from a department will help ensure that students have a strong fundamental basis. While it can be argued that this is already ensured by requiring students to take introductory classes, the important thing is that this information is retained and continuously applied throughout study in a department. The examination should be administered in the fall or spring of junior year and should be passed before students can be admitted to senior-capstone type classes. It should be able to be retaken, of course, but should not be easy, requiring review of core concepts from the department.
16. Install solar ovens at the senior apartments
Solar ovens like the one constructed at the Eco-House can be made cheaply and would be perfect for the senior apartments area. They could also easily be constructed with a metal covering to fit over the top if Physical Plant is worried about accidents breaking them while not in use. Solar ovens would be practical for students because they could cook things over the course of several hours, to be ready when they return, without the worry that comes with leaving an oven on. Moreover they are entirely eco-friendly and would set a powerful example for students.
17. Install a grey-water collection system for irrigation
The College currently buys water from the municipality to satisfy all demands, then separates it according to its end use. This is inefficient; it is not necessary to buy potable water to use to, for example, irrigate the College’s vast green spaces. The Piedmont of North Carolina is so verdant because it receives a good deal of rainfall. This rainfall could be put to good use. On a small scale, roof rainwater collection systems would be easy; better still, the College could put to good use depressed points in its geography to collect rainwater from throughout its significant catchment area. This may or may not be accompanied by the much-maligned lake as planned as a reservoir for this catchment. It is also recommended, however, that the College, pending positive results, continue with its experimental implementation of native grasses (which is, of course, not experimental at all; the experiment has already been done by nature and the years, which prove these grasses adapted for this environment).
18. Offer classes in film photography, if not formally then through the Classes 2.0 system
It is high time film photography, which fills the halls of the world’s most famous museums from London to Tokyo, was given its due as a fine art with a place at Davidson. There are a significant number of students with some experience in film photography who desire to continue their formal study but are confronted with a curt denial at Davidson. Davidson is certainly in the minority amongst its peer institutions in pretending that photography is not worth recognition.
19. Allow students to check non-reserve movies out of the library
This will improve student lives and end sneaking around with library property. There is a very limited selection at the Union and a very large selection at the library. If movies could be checked out at the library to be watched for pleasure, required to be returned within 7 days, students would gain access to far more movies. How can that be bad? The higher usage could be said to lead to more losses, but since these will be legally borrowed from the library any losses can be recompensed by the student at fault.
20. Follow the recommendations of the Premajor Advising Subcommittee from the Academic Advising Committee (Team 6) convened by Dr Fox in Spring 2010
These recommendations may be in place for the upcoming year, but if they are not they should be. Premajor advising is one area in which the tremendous faculty of Davidson College have not always met their own very high standard. To that end, the new framework recognizes the difficulties of premajor advising, for which professors have not always been adequately prepared or supported. It offers incentives, training, and assistance to facilitate a positive student-teacher relationship that can be productive for both. It also offers a step-by-step charting of the appropriate adviser and advisee relationship. In their most vulnerable time on campus—the first years—students deserve the best possible counsel as they adjust to college campuses and explore their options as young intellectuals.
21. Organize a rent-a-dog service, or buy a community dog students can sign up to walk or play with
Anytime a dog comes to campus, the library becomes a little less relevant. And sometimes that’s a good thing. There are numerous psychological studies concluding companion animals such as dogs help stressed individuals relax and perform at a higher level. Sound like something Davidson students could use? It’s something that has been put into place already at other schools, including Yale. And a community dog would increase campus togetherness by giving all students something they could agree on.
22. Expand CatCard access to the Home Economist and the Farmer’s Market to support students making healthy food choices (MAYBE NOT)
The ability to use CatCard accounts at the Home Economist and the Farmer’s Market would expand student access to healthy food alternatives.
23. Pressure Duke Power to provide submetering services; if help is not forthcoming, do it ourselves
Knowledge is power. As an institution of higher learning, we don’t need to be told so twice. One area in which Davidson could clearly do with more information regards its electrical usage. Submetering will allow the College to optimize its electrical efficiency. While it would be very difficult to submeter each of the College’s hundreds of buildings individually, if the main buildings could be monitored individually the College would stand to be able to make financially valuable corrections to electricity consumption. Duke Power has dragged its feet on the issue long enough. As part of its dedication to a smarter grid, it should stand with the College on this issue. But if it wants more than the market rate or does not finish the job by the end of the year, Davidson is more than capable of providing this service for itself.
24. Work with Duke and Progress to restructure our energy deal to make it easier for us to install micropower programs on campus or at the campus farm
The College is currently blocked from pursuing solar projects on the Farm property by a mildly absurd legal issue. Because the Farm land is administered by Progress, and the main campus by Duke, it is not feasible to inject any power created at the Farm into the grid and access it from the College. Three responses come to mind: firstly, the Farm could simply sell the power to Progress, and the money deposited in whatever account pays Duke for the power on campus. Secondly, a direct line into the Duke grid could be built (the College cannot use any power it produces without first selling it to Duke). Finally, the College could organize some third way with Duke and Progress, by which Progress might sell the rights to the Farm to Duke, or permit some other way to be found.
25. Support WALT in quest to obtain AM signal to Charlotte
Davidson could expand its regional presence by supporting WALT in its quest to regain an AM signal to Charlotte. Davidson obviously stands much to gain from this arrangement, and could gain notoriety with youth in the area if WALT were to become the preeminent youth music radio station within the metropolitan area. Examples of highly successful student radio stations operated by peer institutions include EXAMPLE, EXAMPLE, EXAMPLE. WALT officers already gain a degree of business experience through their dealings with record companies, and would gain even more by working through all the pressure that would come with an AM signal. Programs could be taped live in the afternoon and night, and replayed to make up the rest of the time so that programming would be continuous.
26. Remodel
The Davidson website is, alas, out of date and awkward for the user. It is very hard to search, in particular, with ancient pages coming up first and obviously relevant pages buried behind mounds of trash. It needs a professional remodel. Let’s consider it an investment==the website is, after all, the first face Davidson shows to most of its prospective students.
27. Consider making the Honor Code a living document which must be written anew each year
The Honor Code is obviously one of Davidson’s distinguishing characteristics and a pillar of value upon which much of the College rests. Yet making the Honor Code a living document would fortify its relevance and strength. With a convention and referendum held each year, students would become more familiar with the document whose presence is so pervasive in our lives, and would moreover gain a degree of voice over its contents that is currently absent. Right now students have no avenue through which to air grievances over the structure (rather than application) of the Honor Code. A yearly convention would offer such an opportunity.
28. Require of all Trustee meetings the presence of a Student Oversight Representative from the SGA to represent the interests of students to the Trustees and communicate the activities of the Trustees back to the student body
As of present the role and powers of the Trustees of the College is not much known to the common student. Whether because of this lack of information or because of truth, the Trustees are often thought to be the ones pulling the strings out of the view of the students; whenever there is some administrative decision which seems out of the students’ power or interests, it is often ascribed to the Trustees. While the Trustees obviously have the interests of the College at heart, it may not hurt to have a current student present at their meetings, so as to serve as a living reminder of the interests of the students. It will not be possible for any student representatives to be always present, but official proceedings of the Trustees ought to be 1) easily accessible to the student, 2) examined by the appointed or elected student representative, and 3) summarized and relayed to the general student body on a monthly, quarterly, or semesterly basis through either a general e-mail or Davidsonian report.
29. Conduct a significant review of clothing (and general) purchasing practices to eliminate implicit support of sweatshop-reliant businesses
It is a shame that the Davidson logo should grace so many garments that are the result of so much pain. Criticism of purchasing practices is doomed to hypocrisy, as few students can or do make such conscious decisions in their own consumerism. Yet as an institution Davidson should consider its reputation as a moral leader at stake, and its weight as a large purchaser a correspondingly great ability to make a difference. A wholesale switch to a certifiably fairly produced inventory will doubtlessly eat into Bookstore profits, or at least require raising prices. But if Davidson is to live up to its considerable promise and past as an ethically-guided institution, neither students, nor staff, nor alumni should continue to support unfair labor practices.
30. Invest in a machine to convert our waste oil (and the waste oil of local restaurants) into biodiesel which can be used in campus vehicles or machines or sold on the market in Charlotte?
31. Continue to support the Davidson Trust, protect it, strengthen it?
32. Service requirement?
33. Continue to expand, diversify, and solidify course offerings?
34. Make public reaffirmation of institutional devotion to Climate Action Plan?
35. A zipline
36. Raise parking permit amount by $5-15 to pay for more community bikes
It is a travesty that it is even rumored a Davidson student might drive from down the hill to class, but the occurrence is more than a rumor. Davidson enjoys some of the lowest parking permit prices amongst peer institutions. It is also the site of the proud tradition of the shared bike, a symbol of trust amongst comrades and commitment to community. The community bike should replace the car as the Davidson student’s mode of transportation for anywhere within the campus or town. For this to be possible, however, we need bikes that are available and well-functioning. As of now, the community bike is a nearly dead tradition due to chronic abuse and lack of funding. Raising parking permits by a small amount, enough to offset the addition and upkeep of, say, 25 more community bikes, should be enough to negate the second problem. As for the first, that is something Davidson can only solve by looking itself in the mirror.
37. A reconsideration of Career Services’ relationship with students and orientation towards the world at large
If you want to be a doctor, teacher, consultant, or banker, Career Services can make it happen for you. For the rest of us, however, Career Services at Davidson feels a bit lacking. While it is impossible to make the connections that are necessary to climb out of this hole overnight, the student body is indeed clamoring for real help on the career question. To a large degree the onus falls on the student, to seek out counseling—but once they do, that counseling should be forthcoming with more options than just Bain or Bank of America. It is unclear what kind of change is necessary, but the place and role of Career Services within Davidson needs a jolt, both to students’ relationship to the office and to its orientation towards the world at large.
38. Disallowing the endorsement of candidates by holders of Honor Council seats

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