Keeping an open door: Dean offers Pepsi, conversation for students
By April M. Blackmon
Dean Dennis Kuhlman, standing, discusses a variety of issues with students at his "Pepsi With the Dean" meetings.
Dean Dennis Kuhlman not only maintains an "open door policy" for students at K-State at Salina, he invites them for Pepsi and conversation about topics concerning students.
"I found that I did not always hear their concerns about cleaning in the dorms, maintenance of the basketball court, access for student club activities, for example, through normal channels," he said.
Kuhlman wanted to establish a non-threatening environment where students and administration could meet on an informal basis and talk about issues that were important to students.
"Students are told that I maintain an open door policy, but are often not willing to approach an authority figure," Kuhlman said. "So I started 'Pepsi With the Dean' as a part of my communication efforts on campus. This provides an opportunity to come with a large group of their peers to have a soft drink and just shoot the breeze."
Conversation topics in these meetings have included parking and parking lot repair, student flight instructor pay, student activities and facilities, financial aid, K-State at Salina competition team support and the new smoking policy.
"These sessions provided the opportunity for 'fixing' many of these details, which many would consider minor but may be major to someone who lives on the campus," Kuhlman said. "Sometimes, topics of great interest come up, and sometimes, they just want to ask a few questions or make suggestions that will improve something of concern to the students."
Last year's biggest concern, Kuhlman said, was tuition increases.
"We had around six sessions throughout the academic year to talk about tuition at K-State and about tuition at other institutions in the Big 12," Kuhlman said.
While the majority of sessions have an agenda, Kuhlman said the meetings are not limited to a scheduled topic.
"We often will have an agenda. However, I always reserve time to address any issue that is of concern to the students," he said.
Some issues of concern have led to positive changes at K-State at Salina, Kuhlman said.
"A few years ago, we had a session concerning flight fees that had about 150 students in attendance. Students attending this session ended up producing several cost-saving suggestions that have since been implemented."
Following through with student suggestions is what makes some students regular attendees, Kuhlman said.
"The greatest benefit has been to those who have attended," he said. "These sessions also give me a chance to interact with students. At K-State Salina, I stress to all that we not only talk the talk, but we walk the walk. These sessions give me direct feedback from students, maintain levels of trust between students and administration, and provide me the opportunity for developing a more personal relationship with our student body."
Feedback and relationship development are only part of the benefits from these meetings, Kuhlman said.
"Issues have been brought up and resolved before they have become problems. Students have also been partners in the solution which has resulted in feelings of ownership on campus," he said.
As long as the meetings are useful, Kuhlman said he plans on continuing "Pepsi With the Dean."