Friday, July 11, 2014

"I Pay Your Salary" Why it Bothers Us So Much

customer service, academic customer service, retention,customer service in college

Faculty tell me at every workshop or presentation I make on academic customer service that one statement students make really frosts them. They hate it when students tell them “I pay your salary.”
Why it upsets them so much I am not completely sure since it is so very true. Students do pay for faculty and everyone’s salary at a college or university.

If there were no students paying tuition and being counted for state or municipal financial support there would be no revenue to pay any salaries. There would be no college to work in so why should the reality of the customers paying salaries be so irritating?

The student is indeed the customer of the university or college. The revenue and the financial support they bring are central to a college’s existence. They fit the definition of a customer too. Someone who exchanges money or something of value for goods and/or services. Paychecks might as well be signed “the student body”. But why does that realization upset people so much on a campus? I am not quite sure but think it has to do with self-image that academics have. One which is at best confused.
Faculty and others on campus wish to see themselves as above money; dealing with concerns of the intellect and mind and building the future through education. They seem to believe that considerations of money are inappropriate or anti-academic. One cannot reach loftier objectives if held down by the weight of monetary issues that is why they are left to unions and contracts. Academics and faculty in particular do not want to lower themselves to financial concerns. Or so they believe.

The situation reminds me of when I went to France to teach as a Fulbright Fellow. I was told that the French do not speak about money. It is too base a subject to discuss. Such discussion would be déclassé. We arrived in the city of Metz, (a wonderful place by the way, well worth a visit) and were picked up by a French colleague who would soon become a fast friend. As we drove to his house we spoke about teaching in French and American colleges. One of the early questions he asked me was how much an average professor earned. I was surprised at the question and told him how much I earned and also said that I thought the French did not talk about money. His reply was “we pretend to not care about money but as you can see by the number of strikes for higher wages, we do care quite a bit but want to give off the image that we are above it.”

I think academics are similar. They think about money quite a bit. I know I did because my salary as a teacher did not always stretch quite far enough every month it seemed. But I acted as if the pursuit of knowledge for my research and my students was all I really cared about. I did not want to see myself as if I were just a working stiff but someone more elevated by being associated with a college. This after all was a real vocation, a  calling that rose above being just a job. I was educating the future. Researching for new knowledge. The paycheck was just a result of being an academic; certainly not the reason fort being one.

So I suppose when a student tells a faculty member or anyone else on campus that “I pay your salary” the statement brings the reality of money into an otherwise lofty sense of value. It brings it all down to a realization that is not fully compatible with an academic self-image and sullies it. Even if it is true.
If this article makes sense to you you will want to obtain a copy of the new book on academic customer service From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best seller The Power of Retention. 

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