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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Tenth Annual: The Year in Review - 2017-2018

Another academic year is in the rear-view mirror, and as is tradition, I take a look back at the year that was. Rules: I try to think broadly, beyond the Student Life perspective. I have certainly missed some things and invite readers to post on those things in the comment section.I will note that this year I published my 300th post. It was a difficult year for many reasons, so I wasn't as able to post as often as I would like. I hope that changes in the year ahead.

I want to also note that I review the Trinity News Center and the Trinitonian to prepare this piece. The Trinitonian does a fantastic job of reporting a LOT all year long.You can see PDFs of various issues on-line. As I scan past issues I am amazed at the pure volume of news and activity that is generated by the students, faculty, and staff on this campus.

Top Stories
I rank these mostly by impact and long-term/present-day scope and affect on others.

1. A Year of Tragic Loss 
This was one of the most difficult year's in the history of Trinity University. The deaths of students Cayley Mandadi (October) and Robert Foye (January) were tragic and overwhelming. Their lives and deaths had significant impact on those who knew them, particularly their dear friends here.

2. Campus Activism
Whether it was the Trinity Progressives, PRIDE, Black Student Union, TULA, TDC, or Tigers for Liberty, our students were fully engaged in social justice and political dialogue. The national issues related to DACA, immigration, the tragedy of Charlottesville, and the erosion of our societal values prompted student activism and action. Two of the best events annually are the Trinity contingents in the MLK Parade and the Pride Parade. Some students went on alternative spring break trips while others helped with disaster relief for the coast and Puerto Rico following devastating hurricanes.

3. The Completion of the Bell Center Renovation

The renovation seemed to drag on, but mostly for the promise it offered upon its completion. The new Fitness Center and other touches in the Bell Center were worth the wait. Trinity University is committed to student health and wellness as evidenced by the strategic plan, the presence of a Wellness Coordinator, the huge intercollegiate athletic and rec sports programs, and the Tobacco-free designation. So of course, we now have a facility that tangibly promotes physical fitness.

4. Starting Strong: First Year Experience and Advising
Last year I wrote: "As part of accreditation, the University is required to initiate a Quality Enhancement Plan of its choosing. After consideration of several proposals, the campus leadership settled on developing a proposal to improve the first year experience and advising. Trinity is well-positioned with generally committed faculty advisors as well as a strong FYE course and first-year residence halls. Developing support systems and structures for student success are critical and this effort has great potential. Look for it to be further up the list next year." Sure enough, this has moved from number seven to four. With a new director and a commitment to advising, teaching, and academic support, Trinity is addressing an important student issue. 

5.Tiger Learning Commons
The opening of this center toward academic support and success for our students was a home run. Located on the main level of the library, and boasting the new Accommodated Testing Center, TLC includes academic counselors, accessibility services, the Writing Center, and coordinates various elements of tutoring. Students in need of academic help have a place to go for assistance and it is perfectly situated in the library.

6. Dining Services Review
Probably nothing on campus (except Pathways, maybe) is scrutinized as much as dining services. Since Aramark has been on campus since the early 1980's they have been our food service provider. Finally, the University put food services out to bid to see what was out there and was pleased to announce the selection of its new/old vendor: Aramark. The process was competitive and Aramark leveraged its home field advantage. Some changes ahead include longer hours, to-go options, meal point exchanges, a Starbucks in the library, a food truck and a juice cart/truck, a local coffee servery in Mabee, a sandwich shop in CSI and more. Members of the Trinity community have earned the right to withhold judgment on the impact of these changes. I have great confidence that they will be very positive.

7. Bernie
In partnership with community groups, Trinity Progressives brought Bernie Sanders to campus. He was fantastically Bernie. Despite this happening on the eve of spring break, many students rearranged schedules and stood in line for tickets to see everyone's favorite socialist.

8. Football Switches Conferences
The Trinity Tiger football team moves to the Southern Athletic Association, raising the program's profile and competition. Then, Mitchell Globe scoops up a fumble in OT and takes it to the house for the win against Chapman.

9. Residential Life Office
Oh where to begin... City Vista apartments open and are a huge hit, but not without some growing pains. A sewage line broke under South Hall and ick. Melissa Flowers and Wanda Olson leave Residential Life and leave a huge void. Search for new director lands us Deb Tyson.

10. Re accreditation
This is about the least sexy item on the list but could easily be number two. Without it, we are not a credible academic institution. But we got it. Ten more years!

- 1869 Scholars Mentoring Program
- Ted Koppel
- Matt Desmond lecture on "Evicted"
- Revolve food station rotation in the Commons
- New staff: Alli Roman, Tess Coody, Jim Bradley, to name a few big hires...
- New scoreboards
- Jim Potter Field dedication
- Astros win World Series
- Master Plan
- Standing item: Acabellas and Trinitones

- Hurricane Harvey (thank goodness!)
- Cashmere Cat
- Kathleen Cleaver as MLK speaker

Under the Radar
- Half Marathon Challenge hits ten year mark!
- Aramark Director Charles Robles and Chef Brent Gorman making a BIG difference with Aramark

Big Hurts

- See number one.
- Our obituary page reflects the losses of former faculty and staff members.
- Stephen Nickle and Catherine Nickle head to the Pacific Northwest

On the Horizon
- Coates Student Center renovation
- Sesquicentennial: The 150th anniversary is almost here!

Year 9
Year 8

Year 7

Year 6
Year 5
Year 4
Year 3
Year 2
Year 1

Bonus tracks
In case you missed it, here are the topics I got to write about this year. Trinity is rich with material:

Student Centered
Exceptional Service?
One Day.
Rick Roberts
Embracing Media Interviews
Speaking of... Race
Post #300
Inconvenient Truths
Fathers, Sons, and Holy Ghosts

Friday, July 27, 2018

Student Centered

Most campus renovation and construction projects take place over the summer. Students often return to find positive changes to University buildings and grounds. This year, students will find significant changes to the Coates Center. This includes some exciting new directions in various spaces plus a subtle, but important, name change.

Quick history... Decades ago Counseling Services, on second floor across the bridge, employed a counselor who did only career counseling. Over time, the demands required a full career counseling staff. (One of the regular counselors also did accessibility work as part of her gig, and that blossomed into a full time position - now two, actually.. They are in the Tiger Learning Commons) Three years ago, as part of the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan, a Center for Experiential Learning was created. Logically, it was decided to situate this area with Career Services. Counseling Services was moved, temporarily, to Halsell. Because Halsell will soon be part of the Chapman-Halsell renovation project, it was time to call Counseling Services back home to the Coates Center.

To accommodate that move, we had to do some re-arranging. The Trinity Bookstore has moved into the east wing of the Coates Center. Some may remember this being the former Mail Center, which was next to the Commons. By moving, the textbook area on second floor of Coates has been freed up and the entire floor has been renovated to better accommodate Career Services and Experiential Learning. (Several Experiential Learning staff members were in satellite offices in Coates.)

Student Involvement, formerly in the west wing, has been moved to the former first floor of the bookstore. That space promises to be dynamic and unconventional as the multiple floor and ceiling levels (and ramps) make this non-institutional, which is really appropriate for the space. Counseling Services is moving into the west wing.

Some highlights:
- The stairwell that connected both levels of the bookstore will now connect Student Involvement and the Career and Experiential areas. We hope this will create some dynamic synergies between students and staff. This will create a centrally-located and highly visible "Student Engagement Core" right in the heart of the building.
- There will be a new multi-cultural space in the Student Involvement area and adjacent to the office of the Director for Diversity and Inclusion.
- The lobby area, while losing some space to the bookstore, is expanded. The information area has been moved upstairs and the former offices were removed. This creates a walk-through to Einstein Brothers Bagels. That walkway is big enough to be closed off for receptions and as headquarters for various events, such as family weekends.
- Counseling Services has landed in the perfect spot. It is still centrally-located, but in a more private area of the building, affording students a little privacy as they enter and exit.
- The multi-faith prayer space will move from Parker Chapel to the Lennox Room upstairs near Skyline Room.

I have overseen the Coates Center at various times and am now a tenant. With other colleagues, I see it as an important building on campus that should be flexible, well-maintained, and inviting for students. My actions reflect this. I led the renovation efforts for the Skyline Room, the Fiesta Room and the removal of the mailboxes that took up valuable real estate in the building. I also coordinated the effort to refurnish the building a few years ago to make it more student-friendly. (Not trying to make this all about me - but just showing that I have a lot of skin in the game with this building!)

While the campus master plan calls for a full-renovation and re-imagining of this space in ten to 15 years, this will serve us well for at least that long. The building has a more modern feel to it. Additionally, while any renovation is costly, much of this one was cosmetic and not nearly as substantial as many that involve fully stripping buildings to their original foundations and slabs. It will still seem like the Coates Center and yet, not.

Additionally, the building name is changing from the Coates University Center to the Coates Student Center. This is an intentional effort to put students at the center of what we do. The Engagement Core underscores the importance of the student experience in this facility. With the additional open gathering spaces, the return of Counseling Services from the north edge of campus, and the more dynamic bookstore, this really should feel like the campus living room to our students. (Many facilities, including the library, the Bell Center, and CSI fashion themselves as campus hubs. Coates, though, is fully dedicated to the overall student experience.)

As part of the Aramark renovations the Commons will likely undergo some physical changes next summer (2019). In the meantime, we are all excited for the student reaction to the new-ish Student Center. I will not post too many pictures, so it will seem fresh when students return. While most offices will be staffed by the time the year begins, we will be fully prepared to show off the building to faculty, staff, and students as part of Fall Family Weekend.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Exceptional Service?

NOT exceptional service in Dean's Office (staged!)
One of the biggest challenges Residential Life and many student services staff members face is how to address student and parent requests for exceptions. There has recently been a fun, robust discussion about this on the TU Parent Facebook page.

One premise is that for what students pay, the staff should be flexible and make exceptions when possible. Another, competing premise is that students shouldn't be coddled and should follow policies and rules because that is how it works in the real world. Many of my colleagues at Trinity and other campuses subscribe to the latter philosophy.

The bigger issue, for me, is often about weighing flexibility against consistency. What you do for one, you should be prepared to do for another. Many would say that if you have processes and policies in place, people will only follow them if you do. In considering exceptions, then, one has to decide which issues can have wiggle room and which ones can't.

Confounding all of this is the nature of the educational experience less as a commodity and more as a partnership.

I have evolved on all of this over the years. While generally it is my nature to want to be helpful and go the extra mile for students and parents, I haven't always been that way. Years ago an international student wanted to get into the closed residence halls over the break to get some homework out of his room. Maybe it was a passport. In any event I was dead set against it until a VP from another area compelled me to be flexible. It was frustrating, but he was right. While I saw it as philosophical and about learning, the student just needed a solid.

Likewise, we used to struggle with getting students to pay their annual housing deposits. If they didn't do so, they couldn't reserve their rooms. We sent letters, put out posters, placed ads in the paper, held meetings and more. Yet year after year 35% of our students would show up to the room reservation process without a deposit on file. This was back when everything was cash or check I should add. Finally, we changed the process. That made everyone's lives easier and showed that sometimes the problem isn't the end user, but the process.

Dean Tuttle Rule #1
Pick your battles.

I have learned from experience that there are a couple areas where it doesn't pay to make exceptions: the residency requirement and the meal plan requirement. One year someone was allowed to live off-campus to be a caretaker for a grandparent locally. The next year we heard from ten students with ailing grandparents in San Antonio. Rarely do we make exceptions in these areas and when we do we almost always regret doing so. People watch and they throw exceptions back at us. Our students and parents demand consistency. The person who doesn't get the exception cries foul if the policy isn't being applied evenly. Unwittingly, they are reinforcing to us to NOT make any exceptions. Which makes it hard, because the same person wanting an exception pleads for, and expects mercy. Housing and dining, in my sphere, are areas where we generally have to be exceptionally tight. It is a shame, because when students come here they aren't really thinking about these requirements. After one or two years it becomes clear to many that they are not built for residential living. There are a handful of people we also think are better suited to not live on campus. 

Dean Tuttle Rule #2
People rarely learn when they are mad. They learn more from acts of kindness. 

When I was an RA eons ago I had to bring my receipts to the University Bursar up at Bascom Hall at UW-Madison. Bookkeeping wasn't my strength. This guy could have nailed me. But he didn't. He helped me with the best estimates and let me be on my way. I remember this some 30 years later and can re-count other such situations in my life. This is why I am oddly, as a Dean, a spirit of the law versus letter of the law person.

We see this in student conduct cases all the time. It's one of the reasons we rarely issue community service sanctions. Time is a great currency for students. If we impose on that they will clean up the park all the while thinking how much they hate it here. Is that the lesson we want them to learn?

Dean Tuttle Rule #3
Never forget that people pay a lot of money here.

True, we are generous with aid and heavily discount. True, that when I started here in 1987 students used to say, in a demanding way, "I pay $12,000 a year to go here!" It drives me crazy when someone confuses their tuition bill with their room or dining bill (which are a lot less). But the point is the same. The Trinity experience is about excellence and we sell that we offer a customized, fully attentive, hands-on experience.

Dean Tuttle Rule #4
Except in the classroom, students are customers, even if they are not.

So here is the set-up: A student pays to come here and in exchange, may get a poor grade, may be cut from a team, might have a bad roommate, could not get the RA job or lose an election, and might be passed over for an award. This is great preparation for life after college. For some, these lessons are being learned for the first time.

So elsewhere, students expect exceptional service though in other areas. They want front-line administrators to be kind. They want to be heard. They want good food, clean facilities, and unusually close and available parking spaces. This is where we can balance their disappointments.

In summary, the issue that sparked a somewhat hilarious debate with parents was whether or not someone who misplaced their ID card should have been allowed into Mabee to eat. Technically, such a student needs to follow the policy, everyone else does. And it's in place for a reason. The student would learn in the future to be more careful about keeping track of her card. And finally, we shouldn't coddle students anymore than we already do (though many have been quite coddled before arriving here).

On the other side, given that students are busy and on the fly, they will sometimes misplace an ID. They are probably not going to use all of their meal swipes anyways. They could simply benefit by someone's kindness and flexibility. And they may decide to pay it forward to someone else in the future. What they will learn, hopefully, is to treat others the way they want to be treated. This is where I land most of the time.

There is no wrong or right here. Just different approaches and they are probably more along a continuum than right or wrong. But what do you think, readers? Take the poll, upper right and weigh in.