I have the privilege of being one of a few student senators at NYU. As equal partners along with faculty and administrators in the university governance process, I’m often amazed at how much goes on at NYU that no one knows about. When I raise this point to others the response I often get is that I’m an aberration for even caring about this stuff. Most students, the logic goes, really don’t care.
Yet, the more I’ve spoken with classmates, the more I believe that the detractors have it all wrong. They care a lot, but important information rarely gets to students through all the clutter of emails, posters, and new articles. And then when it does actually manage to cut through, the information is presented in an incredibly unreadable way.
My experience on the University Space Priorities Working Group (USPWG) has been particularly illustrative because it illuminates another critical aspect of this issue. For those who are unfamiliar, NYU’s 2031 plan has come under immense criticism from vocal parts of the Greenwich Village and NYU community. Numerous schools have held votes of no confidence to express their disappointment. The USPWG was created a year ago to be the honest broker in negotiating a broad consensus among these disparate groups. One of our central tenants as a body has been transparent communication. Any documents we receive related to the development of the 2031 plan is immediately shared on our website as well as correspondence we received from outside groups or school administrators.
While our transparency hasn’t disquieted many of the voices of discontent, we have learned some valuable lessons. People do appreciate being able to find and review the materials. People also find that it is sometimes inconvenient to parse through the numerous documents in order to get a sense of what’s happened so far. They would like the data to be more focused and more understandable. Students repeated all of these sentiments.
So all of this got me thinking. Maybe the simple fix (if there ever is such a thing) to increasing community engagement in universities is through open data. The issues expressed earlier are common to all types of data. Data must be shareable. If it’s not, then its value is sacrificed. So could NYU build an open data platform to distribute this information and generate stakeholder feedback about its contents? Might unlocking data be the key to bringing together the many disconnected and siloed microcommunities here at NYU? How could NYU leverage open data to create a more inclusive governance system? I’m not sure, but I look forward to exploring those questions and finding some answers next year.