“There has been some action on every item that’s been brought up, either planning hasn’t been implemented, a time frame for the when the next steps may be taken, but I can assure you, it’s just not sitting in a drawer,” Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech’s President, says.
Before becoming the university’s 16th president in 2016, he taught in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Like all faculty, he was required to have office hours, where he’d meet and discuss academic issues with students. He’s now decided to carry that notion into his role as head of the university.
Earlier this semester, Robbie Meyer, the Student Government Association president, and Schovanec had a brief conversation.
“He said something to the effect, you know Dr. Schovanec, we always really enjoy those meetings with you. We see that you’re really funny, etcetera, etcetera. I think what he was saying was, you’re more human than people would expect and you aught to let other students have that chance to meet you. So I came in the next week and said we’re going to do office hours. And it’s just a chance for them to raise any points that they want to pursue. It’s been quite and amazing experience truly,” he says.
Schovanec’s days are typically jammed packed. On one recent day he had 14 appointments on his calendar. So adding more to his schedule wasn’t easily done. But he added four one-hour sessions to allow students to come meet with him.
More than 30 students took Schovanec up on his offer.
“I wanted this to provide access to students, to the president to express concerns to raise questions about things that were bothersome to them, to make requests. But, beyond that sort of high level impression, or access, I think the real benefit for students has been the personal connection,” he explains.
Some of the student-president discussions included parking concerns, classroom experiences, and various issues between different groups on campus.
More specifically one military veteran who’s a student asked how he could engage more active military and other vets to get involved on campus. Another student told of having difficulty making it financially as a graduate student. Still another wanted to discuss having therapy dogs on campus for student, which the university already provides in the library during final exams.
“They wanted to make it available, in a way to be checked out on a need basis. As she began to speak, the young person right next to her said, ‘yes I suffer from severe anxiety and depression.’ And this young lady who was giving the presentation, was going to make a proposal that we provide greater access to therapy dogs.”
Another topic raised came from a group of Honors College students who have mentored K through 6th graders at Bayless Elementary, a lower socio-economic Lubbock school. The group went to Bayless to read to the younger students and encourage them to be excited about learning. Schovanec wondered about their qualifications to counsel the youngsters.
“But it’s the human touch that’s changing those students,” he says. “We sort of brainstormed here, why can’t we create a group of students on campus that would be available for students here to reach out to when they need to talk to somebody, when they need that personal mentoring and connection.”
In each of the four sessions, Schovanec’s chief of staff, Grace Hernandez, sat in to hear the discussions. He’s asked her to follow up on items and issues that arose.
Schovanec says he plans to do more of the Office Hours.
“I’ve heard recommendations from my colleagues in this office that this is a bit much,” he says. “But I think at least three times a semester. With all of the initiatives that are coming out of this. There are limits to what you can do in a responsible way, that after a while you’re not just flailing.”