Reaction Paper #3
These days UMW feels as though it is changing quite rapidly. While change itself isn’t a bad thing, the approach that is taking place to forward the change hasn’t felt positive; at least for the students. In class, we’ve talked a lot about issues and changes occurring here at school and the potential outcomes of those. A common trend I keep finding myself rounding back to is the lack of student involvement or consideration in these changes and issues. I don’t mean that students are choosing to opt out of the discussion or are not considering the different sides, effects, and feelings on given topics. Rather I mean that the school seems to be having a lot of discussions outside the realm of the student discussions and opinions.
As a student myself, it feels so easy to say that they “school” is making all these changes, but really there are people assigned to them. Three different areas stand out as big “change initiators” that fail to pull in student involvement; such areas include the strategic plan, the budget, and the alternate course model. The Budget Development Process and Operating Budget is lead by the University Budget Advisory Committee. The Alternate Course Model is directed by a Task Force consisting of various department professors. Lastly, the Strategic Plan task force is made up of various department professors and a few other roles.
In this paper the three areas will be analyzed based on the committees, their duties, as well as the presence of student involvement. The Strategic Plan appears to be the leader of the three, in other words, other decisions are based off on the Strategic Plan. The goal of the Task Force is to “review the current strengths and weaknesses of the institution and develop goals and objectives that take both in to consideration (provost).” What the Task Force considers ‘strengths and weaknesses’ students may not be in agreement. The plan mentions a lot about lowered enrollment, providing means to increase it as well as be more supportive to the current students, enhancing distinctiveness, and actively working to keep up with ways to evolve with the students. While that all sounds good, the reader can begin to feel as though the strategies are being implemented to pull in numbers rather than satisfy the current student body. The Task Force includes one student amongst the faculty and staff. While the faculty and staff should have a strong voice and concerns and wishes be voiced, the students input should be present. After all, University’s always claim to be acting upon the best interest of the students. Weighing in the opinion or suggestions of students could potentially save the university money as well as build a stronger foundation in the community; one that incorporates more ideas and draws from larger groups to shape the future. If that is the case then why aren’t more students involved in the budget process? Whether positively influential or not, finances play a huge role in shaping universities.
The Budget plan is an excellent example of how finances are heavily tied to the Strategic Plan, which is playing a large role in the shaping of the university. The priority in the Budget Plan is based on building and remodeling space for students to pursue their education. In many aspects, that can be an impactful dynamic however, where students learn isn’t going to make the greatest difference. Rather the depth and engagement of what they are learning and who is teaching them will determine the knowledge and success of the students. Mary Washington has character and part of that comes from the historical feeling the school has. It is possible for UMW to pull in more students and retain current ones all the while doing so in the given space. That doesn’t mean that new buildings and remodeling can’t happen or are discouraged, but rather that the depth of relationships and knowledge sharing can be driven deeper in means other than new buildings. The Budget Advisory Committee has its duties posted on their webpage and not once does it mention the role or voice of the student. The duties are as follows:
2.6.2 The committee’s duties are to:
.1 Work in an advisory fashion with the Provost and Chief Academic Officer (CAO), the Vice President for Administration and Finance (CFO), the Vice President for Advancement and University Relations, and the Chief Executive Officer and President of the UMW Foundation on short- and long-term University budget priorities, broadly conceived, including planning, the operating budget and capital improvements, fundraising, and development. The recommendations for priorities will be communicated to the President via the CFO or the CAO;
.2 Indicate the committee’s priorities for the present budgeting year through an annual review process and summarize their priorities on future budgets to the CFO, CAO, and the UFC in a report due no later than mid-November;
.3 Communicate the committee’s recommendations to the UFC in a report no later than mid March and the results of the President’s decisions to the UFC in a report as soon as possible;
.4 In times of financial exigency, the Budget Advisory Committee assists the President, Provost, and Vice Presidents in developing principles and setting priorities for budget reductions; and
.5 Perform other duties as assigned by the University Faculty Council.
Lastly, in regards to the Alternate Course Model, the lack of student involvement was so prevalent that most students had never heard word mentioned regarding it. While the budget and new strategic plans for the school often feel out of reach to students, the alternate course model is centered on something students are all too familiar with: credits, registration, and requirements. Even though the change didn’t occur, the fact that students weren’t given the opportunity to listen to the potential change is disheartening. The impacts students would have felt from such a change would have been huge. If nothing else, it could have been beneficial to know the conversation is going on even if it is out of the realm of student sought opinions.
It is easy to argue that students won’t be able to keep up with logistics or are simply not interested in keeping up with the discussion. However, presenting a suggested, rough draft of each of the three areas to the students could allow for a more interpretable assessment of what larger ideas are being discussed. Reading through the three reports, Budget Plan, Alternate Course Model, and Strategic Plan was attainable and possible to understand. What’s unfortunate is that I’m reading them after they are all in action or the discussion has already been tabled. Where were the opportunities to have the changes or suggested changes laid out clearly in front of me and my fellow students and provide a space for suggestions and comments?