Thursday, April 9, 2015

Addressing Student Concerns

As the end of the semester approaches and the stress mounts for students, we in the Office of the President, begin to see an increased number of student calls, communications, and visits pertaining to their concerns regarding their courses, campuses, individuals, etc. Let me take this opportunity to provide a few observations that might focus us as a caring community upon strategies that may support student learning while remaining appropriately responsive to students. 

Myth Buster # 1:  “Isn’t It Best to Start at the Top?”

President Scott says, “No!”  Here are several reasons why, when students come to our office with concerns, we send them back to the unit with the responsibility to solve the problem.   Why?

First, the businesses and institutions we serve expect us to prepare our students to work within a professional setting.  Business and institutional leaders who hire our graduates expect them to follow the rules (policies and procedures) of the organization and the institutional chain of command.  I believe that we can assist our students in developing those skills by ensuring that while they are in our care, we are responsible to teach our students to follow the protocols set forth for handling concerns. 

Second, if we allow students to go straight to the top, I believe it is disrespectful to those who are responsible for ensuring the application of procedures or administering the unit that students want to voice complaints about.  I strongly believe in those we hire to solve problems in an appropriate and timely manner.  After all their job descriptions and our policies and procedures define them as the appropriate party to address the concern.

Myth Buster # 2:  “They only way to get anything done is go to the top.”

President Scott says, “Not really.”  Complex organizations with well-developed policies and procedures and job descriptions have clearly outlined the scope of responsibility.  Further, policies and procedures include a complaint and appeal process.  Consequently, when someone begins at the top and is given time to outline their concerns it appears I am saying I will get it addressed. Yet in order to get it addressed I refer the situation to the unit head to address and they in turn call the student in who then repeats the very information they shared with me earlier. When this happens we are wasting time of the concerned student.  Students see this as the “run-a-round” and the reputation of the institution can be harmed.

Myth Buster # 3: “Dr. Scott won’t meet with me!”

President Scott says, “I will meet with you after you have addressed your concerns through the appropriate channel(s).”  This is extremely important in many instances because depending upon the nature of the complaint; I may have a defined role in the process as the final step in an appeal process.  Consequently, getting involved TOO EARLY in the process may compromise my objectivity and call into question my involvement as the final arbitrator. 

The Truth Is:  “I don’t know who to talk to.”

President Scott believes that this is probably more true than not.  Consequently, as a teaching and learning enterprise, it is important that each of us recognize the teachable moment when students approach us asking this question.  I would ask that you familiarize yourself with the student complaint process so that when a student comes to you and request information about how to get their concerns addressed that you can direct them to the student compliant process.  I have included the student complaint process link on the DACC web site below. 

Student Complaint Process

I know you would never do this but…..

I have been fortunate enough in my career to see this only once.  What was it, you ask?  I had a dear friend who was a graduate student who was pulled into a situation by her graduate professor and chair of her Master’s Thesis. The situation my friend was pulled into involved the elimination of a department at the University. She shared the situation with me because she felt she could not say no to her Thesis chair and she was seeking advice.  From her perspective she was forced to write a letter using her professor’s template to send to the Dean of the College supporting her professor.  I watched my friend agonize over the situation as she really didn’t want to get involved in the politics of the institution, but she also didn’t want to cross her thesis chair.  I have confidence in our employees that we would never put our students in this type of a situation. 

Thank you all in advance for ensuring that we demonstrate our care and respect for students by helping them learn the soft skills for success that are also learned outside of the classroom and getting them focused on the process that will help them get their concerns addressed in a timely manner consistent with policy and procedure.