By Anastasia Yakunina
– At the beginning of this academic school year, Acting Dean Ramon Puras and graduate intern Michael Vermeer came up with the idea of organizing lunches shared between AUC students and the dean, in order to generate more dialogue between the student body and the management in an intimate and low-key setting. The three or four students that are invited to participate in each session are randomly selected from the registrar and contacted by Vermeer. They are expected to prepare two discussion points that they would like to address during the lunch, so that the conversation is as productive as possible.
“After I took on the position of Acting Dean, I came in contact with more students and more student boards, and I frequently discussed different issues with them,” said Puras, “but I felt that besides the student representatives, I barely heard the voices of other students, who weren’t that involved with committees.”
This was the main reason why he wanted to create a platform where random students could open up about their experiences both within and outside of the academic building, Puras explained. The idea to organize events where students would feel comfortable to talk to him after organizing informal focus group sessions. Those sessions usually happened over lunch, where science students had the opportunity to discuss developments in their track. According to Puras, these students then reached out to their peers and he realized it might be a good idea to expand the event to the entire student body.
“I thought it would be good to have a mix of first, second, and third-year students, regardless of their major, just to hear other voices and other issues that may not necessarily be synthesized by the student representatives,” said Puras. “Sometimes it is the little things that need to be addressed and these lunches should be another way for the students to open up about them,” he added.
First year student ambassador Pauline Haase was among a group of students who attended the very first student-dean lunch, after being informed about the event by Vermeer, who is also an ambassador himself. “The first group of students were all volunteers, because it was a trial to see if this could potentially turn into something,” said Haase. She explained that the lunch was casual and comfortable, beginning with a round of introductions and continuing with a discussion of issues and concerns related to students’ lives within and beyond AUC. “I really like the idea of students having the chance to raise issues and concerns to the dean, and I think it is beneficial in terms of student involvement in AUC’s management,” said Haase. “In my opinion it would be even better if this happened more regularly, so that more students had this opportunity, and I think it might be useful to have a student that represents every major,” she added.
Fellow first year student Maria Lojanica, who was also present during the first lunch, agrees on the beneficial aspects of the lunches. “It’s great that you get that lowered threshold and you get to talk to the dean as an equal, but I wish the conversations were a bit more fruitful in terms of understanding the students’ perspective,” said Lojanica. “Sometimes it felt like Ramon tried to explain things that bothered us from the management’s point of view, but in general he was very nice in the way he explained how AUC works to us,” she added.
Considering the positive feedback, student-dean lunches offer a great platform to make student voices heard within AUC’s management. To this end, Puras also proposed student-teacher and student-tutor lunches. According to him, the suggestion of having such sessions garnered some positive feedback from faculty members, although the importance of a balanced relationship between students and teachers should not be underestimated. “While it is good for AUC’s community to have a close relationship between faculty members and students, it is also important to have some distance when it is necessary,” he added.
In terms of future plans for student-dean lunches, Puras explains that everything depends on AUC’s newly appointed dean, Murray Pratt, and his willingness to continue this concept. “I do not want to impose this on the new dean, because I am sure he will have his own way of interacting with students” said Puras. “Still, I do hope that he continues with the lunches and I will probably advise him to do so, because it is a good concept that provides important insights into our students’ lives within and outside of AUC.”
The Herring will feature an interview with the new Dean, Murray Pratt, in January, in which the possibility of continuing those lunches, along with other issues, will be discussed. We will also give our readers a chance to submit questions for this upcoming interview at a later date.