Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

New LEED director promises change amid student complaints

By AIMEE CHO and MAYA BRITTO | April 25, 2024



Club leaders express frustration with LEED’s communication and event approval process.

The Office of Leadership Engagement & Experiential Development (LEED) is committed to supporting student life and managing Registered Student Organization (RSO) activities. According to its website, the office provides services for RSOs, such as campus space reservations, financial management and mail reception.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Interim Director of LEED Charles O. Norman III, who succeeded Calvin L. Smith Jr. last month, defined the main goals of the office.

“Our mission is to help students grow as well-rounded individuals outside of the classroom,” he said. “I think our goal is to make sure that everyone feels supported, and we try to do our best in that.”

As RSO activities returned to pre-pandemic level after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted completely, there was an increased need to utilize services provided by LEED. Students assessed how effective these services have been this academic year.

A survey conducted by The News-Letter, which polled approximately 100 Hopkins students, revealed that 84% of respondents were part of RSOs. On average, these students rated their perception of and experience with LEED at a 5.2 and 5.3 respectively, on a scale of one (bad) to ten (good). However, when focusing on respondents that are part of clubs’ executive boards, whose tasks most frequently involve interactions with LEED, this figure fell to a 4.4 rating.

Though many students said LEED was doing well with duties like event forms and approval of events on CampusGroups, nearly a quarter of respondents said the office does not complete any of its duties well. The biggest complaint, shared by almost half of all respondents, was that LEED lacks effective communication.

In an email to The News-Letter, senior Jonah Smith, the president of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Club, expressed discontent with LEED. He pointed out that one of the largest problems is the office’s slow approval of events.

“Last semester I submitted events in August, and they were not processed until days before the event was supposed to happen in mid-September,” he wrote.

He added that LEED expects student groups to complete their work by specific deadlines, but they do not meet their own deadlines and often complete things at the last minute. On several occasions, he submitted events prior to the deadline, only to have LEED deny them because, by the time the office got to the requests, they were past the deadlines.

Jonah Smith described that the uncertainty of whether LEED will approve the events is a major challenge of running Rocky Horror, especially as a performance club that needs to coordinate its schedule with the cast.

“It's even harder when I have to ask everyone to keep their schedules open in case we have rehearsal approved at the last minute,” he wrote. “Whether I book an event 15 days or 45 days in advance, I usually don’t have a response till the week of.”

Norman explained that there are multiple offices involved in the event approval process. Scheduling services make sure the room is scheduled for the RSO, which is then passed on to category coordinators. Lastly, LEED consultants meet and overview risk management before approving. 

Norman apologized for any events that were approved after significant delays or denied. He aims to streamline the event approval process with an improved system that will be implemented in August.

“There were some cases where things just fell through the cracks. There's no excuse for that,” he said. “All we can say is we'll do better, and the approval process is changing.”

In addition, Jonah Smith noted that the event scheduling forms are long and repetitive, requiring students to enter the same information multiple times. He criticized that the forms are overly time-consuming, as it usually takes him over 20 minutes to enter all required fields.

Norman stated that the form is divided into two sections: The first page can be seen by the public, while the second asks about potential risks. He emphasized that while similar questions may be asked across both sections, it is necessary to have them for risk management purposes. 

“I know it's redundant sometimes, but it's very necessary for us to make sure that we're following University policies and that you all are safe,” he said.

At the beginning of each school year, LEED requires two executive board members from all RSOs to attend a training session. However, they do not allow one person to represent more than one organization.

Jonah Smith explained that this policy caused problems, because the entire executive board of Rocky Horror held leadership positions in other RSOs and had to attend the training under those other organizations. As a result, they did not have anyone to represent the club.

“LEED provided no solution other than having regular members attend instead, which is ridiculous because those members never deal with anything related to the training. There is no reason me and our treasurer could not have done everything ourselves,” he wrote.

Norman asserted that such policies will not repeat under his leadership; one student can represent multiple RSOs. He also added that training will not take place on Labor Day weekend again.

“It's not something that we'll be doing going forward, because that's something that I have control over right now as the director,” he said.

Seniors Iris Lee and Daniela Rodriguez, leaders of the Marque Magazine, shared that the organization had issues with the funding system of LEED in an email to The News-Letter.

Marque Magazine requests approximately $3,500 of funding each year to print their publication. However, they found in January that their organization is in debt. LEED told them that this was because the club did not get any allocation in the previous semester.

“However, at the start of that previous semester, the balance on our portal read $3,500. So, thinking that we had $3,500 – money that we had applied for and, seemingly, received – we made a payment request and printed our magazine,” they wrote. “It was only the next semester in January that the negative balance of $3,500 appeared. We were completely blindsided.”

Lee and Rodriguez found in a meeting with LEED later in the week that this had been a recurring issue for the past two semesters. However, they were not informed about the debt in the first semester.

“In the meeting, the LEED staff were condescending and passive-aggressive, implying that we had been financially reckless, despite never once communicating about this year-long issue until it had snowballed into a larger debt,” they wrote.

The leaders expressed confusion about the situation, as the organization should have gained access to the money if LEED had approved their requests in previous semesters. Now, the missed printer costs have accumulated to $7,000.

“[LEED is] asking us to recoup funds that they would have given us anyway, and that they in fact did use to pay the printer,” they wrote. “We now are in the situation of soliciting funds from college students, which feels exploitative.”

In the interview, Norman admitted that he was unaware of such cases because he only became the director of LEED in March. Nevertheless, he stressed that he will work with the finance team if any similar issues arise in the future.

Additionally, he stated that LEED will not allow RSOs to go over the allocated funds. The office will proactively communicate with clubs, so these cases of “debts” should not happen. 

Jonah Smith faced problems with the financial procedures of LEED as well. He claimed that it is extremely difficult to make purchases from vendors other than Amazon due to LEED policies, and orders are not processed by the deadline.

“As a club we wish we could support local businesses when buying props and costumes, but that isn’t possible with LEED’s restrictions,” he wrote. “When we do place orders through Amazon, it is never done in the time frame LEED says it will be.”

Norman noted that the delays are sometimes caused during the delivery instead of the order. After the finance team makes purchases, packages go through the University’s central receiving space and then get delivered to the LEED office once a week.

However, he acknowledged that there are occasions when the delays are caused by untimely orders. Norman shared that he plans to coach the staff over the summer to ensure that their work is done in a timely manner.

“For stuff that's not being ordered on time, that's something that we have to be proactive about,” he said. “It is important that we hold up our end of the bargain, to make sure that the students are getting the experience that they deserve.”

Norman also commented that he hopes to expedite the ordering process so that students do not have to make purchases with their own money before getting reimbursed.

“I don't think any student should have to pay for anything out of pocket — that’s not ideal, whether it's a student who is low-income or not,” he said. “I'm working with the finance team to make sure they're handling the purchase requests as they come in.”

Going forward, Norman hopes that students feel supported by the LEED office. He emphasized that students are welcome to share their input with the office at any given time.

“One thing that I always tell people is, ‘If you have a problem, my door is open and we are here to listen to your concerns,’ because ultimately, for me, this job is so much better when students come and co-create their experience with me,” he said.

Calvin L. Smith Jr. declined to comment.  

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