Faith in Students 4/4/23

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Teaching at a university that prided itself on being the technology institution in the state, they certainly seemed to have a rather dramatic lack of faith in their students, programs and faculty.  They decided that their website needed a dramatic upgrade.  Instead of asking their faculty to provide the upgrade as a real world and excellent teaching opportunity, they instead spent several hundred thousand dollars hiring an outside consulting firm.  I have to admit, the firm did an excellent job, as evidenced by the fact that the original page that they presented had students click on the garbage can to go to the science page. 

I understand the need to be cautious.  One of the funniest examples of student work was from my undergraduate institution.  This university included one of the nation’s premiere schools of architecture and design.  They had a problem in that they needed a new science building, but with a small footprint.  They turned to their school of architecture and asked that the faculty have the students design the new building. 

In a multi-million-dollar project, this is a clear sign of faith in their students and faculty.  The resulting building was very cool.  They designed it to look like a rook piece from a chessboard (which to me always made it look like a rocket ship that crashed upside down and planted in the ground).  The building was poured concrete, and required the development of new technology with a frame that moved up the building very slowly as the concrete was poured in and allowed to set before moving farther.  Even the elevators were high tech for the day, designed to limit the waiting time for anybody on any floor to wait more than (as I recall) a minute when the button is pressed regardless of what else was happening at the time.  Unfortunately, the only way they could make it work was by dramatically decreasing the time the doors would remain open.  It was the fastest doors in the, well, Midwest, I guess.

The funny part is that in the original plan, they forgot to include bathrooms.  You would think that at some point, somebody, during the design would have taken a bathroom break and come back saying, “oh, wait…”  The good news is that on each floor, in the stairwell was a janitor’s closet, big enough for one toilet, but only one per floor.  They put the bathrooms in those closets, one to a floor, so they alternated men’s and women’s room. 

Still, what a tremendous vote of confidence in their own program.  Unlike the design of the web page, the mistakes of these architecture designs cost a good chunk of change to correct.  The same thing happened in Iowa, when they decided to get a new logo for the university.  Instead of using their own students and faculty in the arts program, this university went to an outside consulting agency in New York City.  They spent literally a million dollars for three proposals. 

It’s interesting how universities seem to find the money for the things that the administration wants, but not as much for education or program quality.  Both universities where they opted to go to external consultants also went to another company to analyze the university and make recommendations on how to improve and attract more students.  In both cases, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a report that was, in my opinion, worthless.  The problem is that, after reading both of the reports, it was clear that this same company was a business consultant, not educational.  None of the recommendations had anything to do with quality of education or program support.  Instead they recommended ways to spend more money on things like sports teams, and student services.  I was fortunate enough to work with business and math faculty who knew how to figure this out, but with the money spent on the new sports teams and student activities, even if the recommendations were successful and increased the student enrollment to the desired levels, it would take over fifty years just to pay off the fees paid for the consultants. 

But, you know, the administration is far more intelligent than the faculty.  That’s why I’ve come across so many administrators who are far more interested in making more money than improving educational quality.  I wonder why enrollment is dropping and fewer people have faith in upper education?  But the good news is that, if you attend college now, there are more sports teams and gyms.


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