Monday, October 30, 2006

A matter of accountability

Many of my conversations with students are very positive. But I encourage them to speak with me candidly. Often, they do so in confidence. Rightly or wrongly, they fear retribution if their concerns are made public. Openness to ‘bad news,’ I have long believed, is one of the most important attributes of successful parents, managers, organizations, and political leaders. This means that I sometimes hear about matters I wish I didn’t have to hear about. Here are some recent examples.

“I learned today that a year ago, my advisor made a mistake in advising me. It was one of her first days. She was untrained. She was supposed to be working with a more senior colleague, but the colleague didn’t show up. Because of this, I won’t be able to take the elective courses I had planned to take. Fortunately I won’t have to pay any extra money. It will just mean that next semester – my last at AU, will be less useful and rewarding than it otherwise might have been. … you don’t need to do anything about this. I know these things just happen.” (Undergraduate student sharing a concern at a meeting)

“I really appreciate your concern about my not getting paid on time. That you would make this a personal priority is great, and a big surprise … but don’t worry about it. I have worked at AU, in various offices, for nearly four years. Problems with getting checks on time, with getting paid the correct amount, with having accounts properly credited are simply the way things are. I have come to accept these problems as a fact of life at AU.” (Personal conversation between dormgrandpop and part-time graduate student staff member)

“I have told staff members in AU’s Financial Aid Office, over and over, that because I live in Guam, mailing important documents to my ‘home address’ creates endless problems. Either they say they will take care of it or they say that regulations require them to mail materials to Guam. They wouldn’t even mail to my grandparents home, in Bethesda! There is little attempt at empathy or understanding. Following the rules, however irrational, seems to be the only thing that is important. As a result I have missed important documents and deadlines. Seemingly endless hours have had to be spent sorting out problems – over and over again. My parents and I have now mostly resolved the matter, but the solution is a bit costly. Whenever they receive a document from AU that seems important, they send it back to me by express mail. …We have come to accept that this is just the way things are at AU. (Personal conversation between dormgrandpop and an outstanding part-time undergraduate student staff member, now graduated).

I submitted a request to have a security lock installed on the computer laboratory in February. There have been endless follow-ups and personal interventions. Several hours of managers’ time, over a ten-month period, have been spent trying to complete this project, with numerous telephone inquiries and email exchanges. Finally, I decided: “We can’t take any more time with this. We must just give up any expectation that this will ever be done. Possibly, we will look at bringing in an outside contractor over the Christmas break.” (Dormgrandpop providing guidance to a senior manager in the Center for Teaching Excellence)

“My educational experience at AU has been great. I love my school and my department. Many faculty and staff members in my school and department have walked the extra mile to ensure that I got the most out of my time here. But my feelings about the administrative side of AU, outside my department and school, are completely different.” (Conversation between dormgrandpop and an outstanding doctoral student, now writing his dissertation, who also completed his MA degree at AU.)

It is possible for senior administrators to intervene and solve some problems like those described. In fact, my experience has been that most problems at AU can be solved and most goals can be achieved if one has sufficient skill, positive energy, focus, tenacity and patience. But sometimes there are deep-seeded structural problems outside of one’s area of responsibility that must simply be set aside, at least for the moment. And one must pick his or her shots: perpetual whiners and complainers accomplish nothing at AU.

The first lines of Reinhold Neihbur’s serenity prayer, also used by many ‘twelve step’ organizations provide useful guidance.

Give me strength to endure what I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

But even when enduring what I cannot change, I must not allow my sensibilities to be dulled. I must not lose my sense of outrage, especially where matters adversely impacting students come to my attention. I must not passively accept a ‘drift to low performance.’ I must hold myself personally – and institutionally - accountable. One can not always be ‘a nice guy.’

That is one reason I am writing this blog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I haven't had many problems with AU bureaucracy, I have friends who have. There is so much red-tape here sometimes, it's ridiculous.

Especially with financial aid.

8:41 AM  
Blogger 100Student said...


I recently published an article on the dangers and benefits of student loans and other forms of college financial aid – here is a quote from it, in case you are interested:
Student loans repayment can be a real nightmare without adopting some strategies that would help the new graduates to organize their social and financial life. Here are some strategies they can use to do this:
- An additional part-time job;
- Freelancing is another option (meaning that they can do particular pieces of work for different organisations, without working all the time for a single organisation);
- They should try to keep their living expenses as low as possible (live in a smaller apartment, live with a roommate to share some of the expenses, find an apartment that is closer to the job, to eliminate the extra-expenses for transport etc.);
- To apply for forbearance (this is an immediate solution for hard times when the new graduate is in impossibility to re-pay the amount of money and the need for student loan consolidation becomes apparent; it is a temporary period, when the graduate can postpone or delay his or her re-payments until a later time on a federal or direct loan after the beginning of the re-payment, and when the student doesn’t qualify for deferral). The forbearance must be applied through the lenders of the loans.
- To consolidate the payments.
If you feel this helps, please drop by my website for additional information, such as federal student loans information or additional resources on private student loans .



12:42 AM  

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