Trying to use a town hall meeting to talk to students about an open provost position is like trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver — no single tool is fit for every job.

Many topics under discussion at this semester’s town hall meetings are important to both students and faculty, but while the university’s increased efforts to involve students are commendable, not every decision requires input from the masses.

As Provost James O’Donnell’s tenure comes to a close, the university’s search committee has begun the lengthy process of searching for a worthy replacement. Last night’s town hall meeting to gather student input on the necessary qualities of candidates for the position was the third town hall meeting held for students this week; the other two discussed endowment reform proposals. These meetings continue a trend of townhall meetings and roundtable discussions held during the fall on various academic and administrative matters.

Though the provost influences many aspects of the Georgetown experience, his direct interaction with the student body is limited. Ask Joe or Jane Hoya what the provost does, and the answer will likely be a vague description of a generic high-up administrator.

The reality is that the other methods Georgetown has employed in the recruiting effort — including the composition of a search committee made up of faculty, staff and the professional recruitment firm Witt/Kiefer — provide the informed perspective needed to hire a competent provost.

Arguably, the average Georgetown undergraduate viewpoint wouldn’t hinder the hiring process, and there will always be those who feel strongly that their opinions should be heard in the search for a new provost and  other broad grand-scale university concerns. While town hall meetings may not be the deciding factor, they provide at least a symbolic message of university interest in students’ opinions.

But the proliferation of trivial forums may actually hurt students when it comes to resolving issues that beg their perspective. Issues that divide the student body or relate directly to student-administrator interaction benefit most from the democratic format of a town hall meeting or roundtable. This year’s Hoya Roundtables and the 2009 Town Hall Meeting on Satire, Diversity and Intellectual Excellence have provided models of how these meetings can inform students on issues they are passionate about.

Yet if every decision, including those to which the student perspective is secondary, results in a town hall meeting, students will begin to lose faith in the worth of their voices. There is a fine line between increasing representation and diluting its significance.

If town halls are held when they fit the tasks at hand, the value of student input will be protected.

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