Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gordon Gee's Bowtie and the Ties That Will Bind Them into Returning

Right now as I write and you read, one of your students considering whether or not to return to your school. Away from the place and noisy dorm or daily commute. With old friends from high school who go to other schools. In an extremely familiar bedroom. The bed that welcomed her every night. The mattress broken in to accept body shape just perfectly. Breakfast on the table. No assignments to do or skip. No quizzes other than old friends with only one question “what to do tonight?” The only test is “Do I want to go back to that place?”

And right now you have an opportunity to help provide an answer to that question and retain some students who might answer that question with a quiet “no”.

Stop for a second and think about images and feelings that unite the statements above. Familiarity. Comfort. Home. Friends. Attachment. All images of fitting in. Of belonging. .

This is a time when student’s determine if he or she “fits in” at your school. “Do I feel as if I have a place at the bar?” (That’s an allusion to Principle 1 of the15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service.(For a copy, click here and request.)

Sure the students have been dealing with that all along but now, the deliberation intensifies. Has the student made friends or just acquaintances? Roomies or roommates? Where do I feel as if I fit in? Am I appreciated there? Wanted there?

That’s the key here. “Do I feel like people at my school want me there? Have they shown anything that indicates I am at least an valued or important person to them?”

Feeling Important - a key customer service concept.
Have you shown your students they are important to you? The actual goal is to make every student feel as if he or she is the most important person at the college. That no other student is as significant and they all are essential. This may indeed be one of the key concepts of success.

Okay. How do we do that? I will provide two ways. One longer term and the other immediate.

The longer term will build the sense of meaningful community at the school.

The second will, and I guarantee this, will save some students from deciding to quit or transfer during Holiday Break.

A Longer term Way of Building Students’ Sense of Importance
I used to wonder why Gordon Gee was worth over a million dollars a year to Vanderbilt and why Ohio State University was so thrilled he returned. It seemed to me (and actually still does) that no college president, EVEN ME (though I might be willing to consider it), is worth a million dollars a year. Not even $900,000. $800K. And keep going. It just seems excessive when others at the school are losing jobs to budget cuts and adjuncts are living in their cars. Are such high salaries really warranted, or earned? Sure it is a tough job. But it is the same tough job at more or less money. Money does not make the job any easier but it sure as hell does make some people feel as if they are worth all that money. As if they somehow are a campus treasure and should be treated as such. Others would do the job for less because they believe in the calling, president as a vocation. The others? President as Louis XIV. We read about them in the Chronicle and on-line even at places like Oral Roberts U where one would think there would be a higher calling than excessive expenditures.

Okay. President Gordon Gee. What he does is create community at the school and the community. He gets out and about the campus. Makes certain he is seen and contacted by students. He waves to students and others on campus and makes certain he is visible in the general community. And to be certain he is noticed, he has branded himself with a bow tie. Yes. A bow tie. He always wears a bow tie that he ties himself. And what’s more, he lets everyone know about the bow tie. (I used to wear bright, vivid ties that made people see them and comment on them and thus recognize me by the ties quite often. Never made that kind of money though.)

That is an important part of the bow tie. Not that Dr. Gee wears it but he makes sure everyone knows he wears it. That bow tie helps make him even more visible. When people see a bow tie-wearing man on the OSU campus, they almost always associate it with Gordon Gee. And when that man wearing the bow tie waves at you or smiles your way or says hello, you have been greeted by the President of the University. Even if it isn’t him sometimes but the effect is the same. (He could even set up some kind of bow tie squad of Gee-look-alikes and have them walk around wearing bow ties and waving. People would think he is everywhere!)

“The President waved at ME. I am important.”

“He’s out there among us. We must be important.”

Gee makes students, and others feel they are appreciated and noticed on campus from the top of the University. And if he cares, everyone else must….The whole university cares. And it is a very large one too. One that can, and must for many students, feel too large and impersonal. But a wave from that guy with the bow tie can make it seem small, cozy and personal. Gee has a way similar to Bill Clinton that makes whomever he is with feel or smiling at feel as if they are important. And that is key to retention. Making students, and all member of the campus community feel they are valued.=

Get Out of Your Office and Get on Campus
I am not saying you need to wear a bow tie. No, not necessarily. What I am saying is that to boost retention if you are a president, you need to be visible and known to students. Get out of the office and on campus. And what is true for the president is equally true for everyone else. Getting out of the office and saying hello to students should be a part of the job. Be out on campus, being seen, greeting students, saying hello and talking with the college community EVERYDAY AND EVERYWAY. Go to the cafeteria. Get a cup of coffee and join a group of students. Let them know who you are and simply ask them how it’s going or some such broad “I care” question. Pass out your business cards. Do what Dean Schaar did. Imagine what the campus atmosphere would be like if everyone in the school spent part of his or her day saying hello, talking to students and getting to know them and them you?

“But,” The president of the school (and others) says “they’ll call me and I’m busy. I won’t get my work done. I’ve got to figure out how to fix the budget for the rest of the year.” Two things here. Not much is more important than retaining students. Just ask schools in trouble or for that matter, what’s second term/semester enrollment look lie? Budget going to hold? Oh, attrition higher than projected? Catch any irony here anyone?

I will bet that any school that had its people out getting out and getting known will increase retention and reduce student/staff problems, stress and complaints. Anyone who wishes to take me up on this bet or learn how it can be done, click here and let me know. I’ll do what I can to help without any cost to you to help get it done as my Chrismachanukwansakah present to you.

Guaranteed Short Term Success
Obtain a list of all students who are on the cusp. (Born in the rising sign of anxiety and not sure about returning and the dropping out of school sign for all the astrologer types out there). Oh where to get the list?

Just go to your retention office….Don’t have one. Not good but you can email your retention officer and ask for…. No retention officer? Retention not an issue on your campus I guess. No drops? Alright, well then at least contact your student services office…Ahhhm downsized that a bit? Students not important on your campus? Then what the heck is?

Well, somehow get a list of students who are on the edge. Low grades. Late registration. No registration. Money not down for second semester. Advisors report they have been talking about leaving. And so on. Follow the instructions in the article Greatest Gift of All - Saving Enrollment. And then add to that.

For those students you couldn’t reach, send them a personal note. Use small engraved cards that one might use to invite someone to an affair. They can be obtained quickly at one of many office supply stores or you can even make them yourself. But the engraved, raised lettering of your name and title make for a more impressive impact.

All you need to handwrite inside is a short message such as

Missed you when I called. I do hope I will see you on campus nest semesters. It is students such as yourself that make this college what it is and give it and my work meaning. We depend on you. If I can help don’t hesitate to contact me. In fact, here is my direct email address. Hope to hear from you.
Or something hyperbolic like that. These statements work. They reach to emotion not intellect. It is emotion functioning at a limbic flee or fight level that makes the decision so appeal to it.

Students will respond. And when they show the card to their parents as most of them will if the parent didn’t already open it to see what was in it, the parents will become your allies in pushing the student to return. They will appreciate that you are intereste3d in their son or daughter. That is exactly what they wish to now right now. The card will also make the parents like you and the school whether you make close to a million or don’t even wear a bow tie.

And what’s more. You will be keeping a student on track to meet his or her goals. Plus you will feel better about what you do and the school. Just as writing this piece for you has snapped me out of my personal funk. That is an even greater set of rewards.

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 413.219.6939

Monday, December 10, 2007

Q+A - Handling Faculty who Destroy Enrollment

How have you handled an instructor that habitually starts a semester with 25 students and ends up with 7?

This question came up after a 11/12/07 Magna video seminar on Boosting Enrollment and Retention through Customer Service. The question also came up during the seminar but time did not permit for a longer response. So here is a more complete consideration of the question. The response and the full seminar can be obtained through Magna if you wish.)

The situation can be a tricky one considering interpretations (usually by weak teachers) that academic freedom can mean that some faculty can be insufferable bastards to students, colleagues and certainly administrators. Moreover, faculty too often will take an approach that they may really dislike a colleague, they must protect his or her right to be miserable. To do otherwise might be taken as not collegial, not academic, not my job. BTW, this is not necessarily different among administrators whose job it is to deal with any and every person who treats students and colleagues poorly. Administrators do not always accept the responsibility. It is everyone’s’ job to demand civility and initial respect toward one and all and especially for our clients, the students.

Customer Service Principle 8 makes it clear that so called “collegiality” which is an excuse for not getting involved is not the correct approach when students are hurt.

8. Just because someone else did a dis-service or harm

does not relieve you of correcting the injury.

We have a responsibility to be a part of the correction no matter if we are faculty, administration or staff. But since the question was posed by an administrator, I will provide the appropriate point of view and action.

Assuming the instructor is tenured and you have a union to contend with
Begin by consulting the instructor’s evaluations from students, current and past. Sure he or she will not have many now or in most class sections because 18 have already quit from most every class. But the remaining seven may have some hints or even outright direction. Keep in mind however that the remaining students might be so intimidated that their written comments could be compromised. Though the studies since John Centra in the 80’s show that if students feel secure in their anonymity, their evaluations can be quite valid.

Look for any comments that might help clarify and if necessary build the case for scaring students off or treating them so poorly that they leave. Compare the evaluations to other faculty teaching the same course or who have taught the course in the past.

Compile the past history of drops for this professor in this and all courses. Compare the drop patterns of this professor to those of others who have taught the same course or courses to make determine if the drop pattern is an anomaly for the professor or in comparison to colleagues. What needs to be established is if there is a significant variance from the norm for this instructor in this section. It may be found that this professor has retention problems in all his or her classes. That’s an even bigger problem. If there is a pattern that helps build your case for change.

I make an assumption here based on my studies and experience that this is a required course such as composition in which the fewer students, the less grading and work. I did have to handle a similar situation when i was Dean of Liberal Arts at a college. The professor was threatening the students with low grades just to lower his workload.

Keep in mind that the instructor will likely use the old dodge of “I happen to have high standards and the students left because they …”

  1. couldn’t cut it;
  2. didn’t want to do the work;
  3. were afraid of low grades
  4. were imbeciles who did not recognize my greatness
  5. should not have been in the class in the first place
  6. not college material and the admission people do a crappy job
  7. need to weed out those who shouldn’t be here
  8. I am too good for them and they just could not keep up
  9. all of the above.
  10. And , I am really a self-centered ass who never should have gone into teaching but I thought it would be easy which it isn’t and I do not wish to work that hard so maybe I will just become an administrator like you who does nothing but east bob-bons all day, or so I believe and besides, I am active in the union and always act in a disagreeable manner in faculty and other meetings just because I can.”

You should also interview students who dropped from the class and past classes to hear from them why they left. BTW, you must keep an open mind during the inquiry. It may just be a huge coincidence….. All eighteen may just have had their hours changes at work each and every semester or term. (Okay so those sorts of coincidences are like the disappearance of Sweeny Todd customers and the appearance of oddly tasting meat cakes in a time of a meat shortage. Good musical by the way and it may have some solutions to how to rid oneself of teachers who scare off students with poor to horrible customer service.) The students who dropped can help you understand and if called for, build your case.

Work with the Union
The union will need to defend this professor even if they agree he or she is a disgrace to the faculty and hurts people. That is their job and are required to defend. They also may wish to see the person fall into a deep hole in the ground and be assigned to late registration at Hades U for eternity but it is their legal and ethical responsibility to defend the individual. This is an issue that more people need to understand. Unions can also be reasonable if confronted with evidence so they have some wiggle room but may not feel at all comfortable being public with their agreement. Behind the scenes, another story so do all you can to explain the situation and provide them data. Keep in kind also that the union folks are also colleagues of the professor and may also be rather disgusted by his behavior but cannot indicate that in public. They can support your position and help persuade the professor that it is in his best interests to work with you on a solution though.

To take action with possible union support., as I was able to do when a Dean, you will need to be able to show that students left because the instructor is:

  1. a mean S.O.B. who should not be in a classroom
  2. a miserable teacher
  3. disrespectful of students
  4. has poor to horrible people skills
  5. forgets the students are human and clients of the school
  6. deliberately scaring students to decrease the workload
  7. embarrassing the faculty
  8. all of the above.

Consult the contract on the issues of professional training, on unprofessional conduct and progressive discipline. Make certain what the contract allows for in altering professional and pedagogical behavior and /or disciplining the professor. Check your interpretation with the HR person to avoid legal action through a mis-application of contract language.

When the case is built, consult with the union or whatever grievance system you have. Provide them the information you have collected to establish that the instructor needs assistance to change his or her ways. Let them know that changes must be made through progressive discipline (if called for in the contract, past practice or an HR person who wants to keep you and the school from being sued).

Next, after providing progressive discipline, meet with the instructor (and union or grievance) rep and present the situation, the supporting materials and the choices. By the way, always have another administrator with you as a witness to the conversation in case it is needed later. Present the situation, the potential actions and the possible solution. With a little luck, the professor will buy into the solution. If not, and you can make the assignment, assign him or her to the course of action developed and monitor progress.

A course of action should have been developed and put in writing depending on why the numbers dropped so drastically and what contractual remedies are allowed. If it is that he or she has poor teaching skills, then it may be possible to assign the professor to substitute some coursework on pedagogy for some of the teaching load or in addition to the normal teaching load. (Some of it depends on how much you wish to reform and keep the person.) If the instructor is just being an SOB, then it must be made clear that this behavior is not acceptable and perhaps a course in interpersonal communication or counseling is called for. Or perhaps this is the start of progressive discipline that could lead to re-assignment or even dismissal.

Should it be that the teacher does not realize that students are clients and deserve being valued and treated with respect and value, send him or her to one of my training sessions or sign him or her up for personal coaching with me. Okay, maybe I was drumming up business but it is a consideration. I can recommend other coaches who work with me too. At least, have them learn from someone about academic customer service and learn how to practice it.

If the person is not tenured, it makes the above much easier. If you wish to keep the professor, provide a simple choice. Accept the course of action, resign or be let go. If the person is not someone you have reason to want to keep, notify whom you must and do not renew a contract.

Granted, this is a bit general. It does not focus on any particular situation and real situations can often be much stickier and complicated. So, if you or anyone else has any additional questions, clarifications and help on an individual situation, get in touch by clicking here. I’ll do what I can to help. If you wish to add or propose other courses of action, please write in and we will post them

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 413.219.6939