Saturday, April 29, 2006

Evaluating Bailey

Now that the semester is over, it seems like as good a time as any to evaluate the performance of Judy Bailey, President of Western. Bailey's tenure has been characterized by a series hare-brained Wile E. Coyote-style get-rich-quick schemes. The consistent pattern is that she attempts to manipulate people into generating more money for the school. This happens through arbitrary changes to the rules, rather than actually improving Western as an institution. Consider the following:

Flat-rate tuition

Previously, Western has the eminently reasonable system that you pay more for each credit hour that you take. This made sense because each hour cost more in instructor's time, etc. The flat rate tuition plan changed this so that if you take between 14 and 17 credit hours, you pay the same amount. This helped the people who normally take 17 credit hours, but many people can't do that.

The goal of this plan seems to be to wring more money out of the people who will continue to take 14 credit hours. Flat-rate tuition was recently repealed for summer classes, but remains in effect during the regular school year.

Graduate student hours

Western recently proposed changing the minimum number of credit hours that graduate students are required to take to be considered full-time from 6 to 9. The theoretical justification had something to do with helping grad students get done faster. The problem here is the same as before. Graduate classes are pretty difficult, and not everyone can take three of them in one semester. Even when this is possible, it may not be desirable. Many graduate students are teaching assistants, or have other jobs, to help pay for school. Changing these requirements would have threatened assistantships and scholarships. Why not simply let students go at their own pace?

The administration shelved this plan after graduate students launched an email campaign to stop it. This was a contributing factor to the success of the unionization of grad students.

The Medallion Program

The Medallion is a scholarship given to the top students at Western each year. It was $32,000 over four years ($8000 per year). It is funded mainly by private donations, and is given to twenty-some students every year (depending on available funds.)

When I went through the program, the recipients were selected as follows. Students applying to Western were invited to a competition based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores. The competition took place over the course of a Saturday (two different weekends). Students were required to write two essays and engage in two group problem solving sessions. The essays were not the usual cookie-cutter "Why do you want to come to Western" or "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" They were difficult, challenging questions that required students to think. (One of the questions that I got asked me to compare Dostoevsky and Freud on the nature of man. I sat for twenty minutes thinking before I started to write anything.)

The group problem solving was similarly challenging. Participants were given a question such as "Rank the following charitable activities in order of value" or "Make a list of the most influential Americans." (I got Ronald Reagan and George Washington onto my group's list.)

In summary, the competition was challenging and rigorous. It measured the sort of skills that GPA and a typical essay couldn't.

Anyhow, two years ago, the administration announced that the competition was being scrapped in favor of a single ten-minute interview. There was outrage from the Medallion Scholars across the political spectrum (we were required to work at the program). The administration had hired a consultant firm from Chicago (which had never actually seen the program in action) to analyze the program, and they had recommended the changes. None of us understood what the university could be thinking. Basing a scholarship on the subjective impressions of many different interviewer was a self-evidently terrible idea. (When I confronted Bailey about the elimination of the essay requirement, she said that it wasn't necessary because if someone was going to Western, he must already be a good writer.)

A while later, the truth came to light. All but one of the interview questions were fairly innocuous. However, one question was weighted much more heavily than the others. That being: "Would you come to Western if you don't receive this scholarship?" The presumption being that if the competitor said "yes" he wouldn't get the scholarship. That's not the sort of question that you can ask on an application, you have to spring it on somebody. Hence the interview.

The plan apparently was to use the scholarships only to induce people to come to Western who wouldn't have otherwise. (Even then, it seems unlikely to work because the data gathered from the surprise question wouldn't be reliable.)

I should point out that these changes were made without consulting or even notifying the donors, whose money was actually used for the scholarships. I launched a campaign to have the scholars email their donors to apply pressure to the university. Needless to say, the administration wasn't very happy about that. Some honorable people within the administration fought the changes.

Some combination of our efforts succeeded in getting the competition changed back to close to the way that it was before. The amount of the scholarship was also increased to $10,000 per year, which given spiraling tuition costs, is what should have happened in the first place.

Image over substance

Finally, there are efforts to improve Western's image at the expense of the actual health of the university. A few years back, one of Bailey's initiatives was to hire 60 (I think) new faculty members. Did we need 60 new faculty members? Not really, particularly given our declining enrollment.

Some of the new campus construction may also fall into this category. I don't have enough information to know for sure. There are questions about where the funding for these buildings is coming from. Until recently, the focus has been on new construction rather than renovating the dilapidated buildings on campus. This appears to be changing, with the renovation of Brown, Kohrman, and Sangren on the way.

What are your thoughts on Bailey?

1 comment:

Dan Roth said...

Personally, I think Western has a lot of issues. The biggest problem I've noticed with the university is a complete lack of customer service. It seems that many people that work for the university don't realize that we're not just students, we're customers. So many times I've been told that someone at the university won't take 30 seconds to help me. If this was a major corporation, this sort of stuff wouldn't fly.

The second issue I have with the university is what appears to me is a bunch of pork. I understand the need for a new chem building. But what's up with that building they're putting together over by Miller? Is that a really needed building or something that was just tied into the chem building because someone wanted it? We're in a budget crisis. Anything that's not NEEDED shouldn't happen. For example, when I first started here, Seibert had a pretty basic lobby. Well about a month ago I went in there for my graduation audit and the lobby has gotten quite the facelift AND they have two people staffing the front desk. Is all of that really needed? Esp. at the expense of increased tuition? I don't think Bailey gets how to handle a tight budget. You cut spending before increasing revenue. Esp. in this situation.