|NOT exceptional service in Dean's Office (staged!)|
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.