President Martin Begins to Hold Office Hours
Issue   |   Wed, 10/09/2013 - 02:26

Students clamoring to have their voices heard by the administration now have a new channel to express their concerns. Starting this month, President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin is holding regular office hours, available to all interested students.

The new program allows students to sign up for one of several twenty-minute time slots each month in order to meet with President Martin in her office. President Martin explained that the idea for the program came about last year, when Tania Dias ’13 discovered that former Amherst President Peter Pouncey had held regular office hours for students.

“I had been doing research in the Special Archives on the history of the Women’s and Gender Center at Amherst, and I believe I found a reference to President Pouncey’s student office hours then,” said Dias, who made this discovery while serving as AAS president. She now works as a strategic planning assistant in the Provost’s Office.

Dias explained that Pouncey become president in 1984, just before the College’s ten-year coeducation anniversary.

“[As a result] students who were very involved with the Women’s and Gender Center had reached out to him through his office hours,” Dias said. “I thought the student office hours had been a wonderful idea, that could still be relevant now in 2013, and shared this with Biddy.”

President Martin shared Dias’s enthusiasm.

“I enjoy meeting with students one-on-one, and have done a fair amount of it over my first two years, but it requires that students take the initiative to contact my office and make an appointment,” President Martin said. “I thought regular office hours would create more opportunity for students who may not realize it is possible to get an appointment with me.”

The program, which debuted last week, has already proved popular with students.

“The available slots are filling up quickly, and we will add more times,” President Martin said. The President’s Office website currently lists two remaining time slots in October, two in November, and six in December.

Multiple students applauded the president’s greater attempts at accessibility.

“I think it’s great that she’s opening it up to student interaction,” said senior Ashley Hall, who noted that she often sees President Martin walking around campus, and appreciates having a more organized opportunity for students to talk to the president. Hall said that she doesn’t have any concerns to address with President Martin at the moment, but “if I did have an issue I’d consider going.”

Peter Crane ’15 agreed that the program is “really great,” saying, “I know Tony Marx was known to have a bit more contact with students when he was president — he taught a first year seminar for example — but Biddy hasn’t had too much formal exposure to ordinary students. So doing it this way is an easy way to get to the top of the food chain if you have a concern or anything — it isn’t like there is a merit system based on how important you are.”

Crane plans to attend office hours on Oct. 24. He and two other students plan to discuss concerns that Amherst’s mascot, the Lord Jeff, “does not represent the values of the school.” They also hope to start a conversation about resurrecting lost Amherst traditions, such as Mountain Day, a day during which classes would be cancelled and students would enjoy activities outdoors.

As of Monday, President Martin said that she has already met with one office hours visitor, who had some suggestions for orientation programming. She predicted that students would be eager to discuss a wide array of concerns.

“Given the concerns with which students have visited me over the past few years, I would say that support for student-led initiatives, including speakers, is high on the list, as are student social life, alcohol policy, cultural change and efforts to invent new or reshape older traditions,” President Martin said.

Though the program is still in its infancy, students and staff alike expressed optimism about its future.

“What I love about Amherst is that if a student has an idea and wants to pursue it, you (the student) can generally make it happen,” Dias said. “These office hours remind us how special it is to be a student at Amherst — we not only can voice our ideas, but our own president of the school tells us, ‘Here, sit down with me, what shall we talk about today? How can Amherst be better?’”

Students may sign up for office hours with President Martin on the President’s Office website at https://www.amherst.edu/aboutamherst/president/student-open-hours.

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