By The Gettysburgian Editorial Board
It is impossible not to notice. It comes up in class, in line at Bullet, during club meetings. Students wonder, “Why do we no longer have this?”
Gettysburg is not unique in facing financial distress, nor is it something new. This was true before the pandemic as colleges faced the “demographic cliff,” a large drop-off in the number of college-age students. Of course, the pandemic only worsened higher education financial conditions with enrollment drop-offs, little revenue from housing and meal plans and increased costs of COVID mitigation.
However, this semester, the aftershocks of COVID seem to be looming more than ever before. It is no longer something heard about distantly and confined within Penn Hall. It is rippling across all aspects of the student experience. As the things we love about Gettysburg are changed and cut, the tension between students and the administration has increased, and everyone can feel it.
One of Gettysburg’s greatest draws for students is close knit connections with faculty and professors. When we first toured Gettysburg College, we heard about the 9:1 student-faculty ratio and the average class size of 17. While those statistics remain true, the College has made other changes that have affected students’ and professors’ abilities to form those connections.
First, the College has implemented a hiring freeze for tenured professors. This leaves some of the most popular majors with bigger classes and less department stability. As tenured professors take on the bulk of advising, there are now professors who have upwards of 40 advisees. Those professors are then unable to form close relationships with their advisees or must cut their class preparation or research time to accommodate their advisees. Neither option is positive for students or professors. The 9:1 student to faculty ratio becomes irrelevant when your advisor has 40 other advisees. Have the professors been paid more for their increased workloads? No. Salaries were frozen for two years, and some benefits had been reduced.
While we are grateful to attend a school where students care about their professors and professors care about their students, students are deeply affected by the changes made to the professors’ positions. We can hear their concerns about recent shifts in policies as well.
While students are here to learn, we also need to eat and live on campus. Recent financial changes have made it difficult for some basic living needs to be met. Gettysburg takes pride in—and openly advertises—the fact that we have consistently been ranked in the top 20 for many years for our food. This semester, due to service staffing shortages, especially at the Bullet Hole, food options have been significantly limited. Root, the salad bar, and Pi, the pasta option, have significantly cut their options. The Dive, the healthy food option, is closed until further notice. There are other options for students to choose from, but students with dietary needs have far fewer choices. Almost all pre-made meal salads have animal or gluten products. As more dining options have closed, lines have become longer. As of Feb. 13, Bullet will be closing one hour earlier in the evenings. The staff is often overwhelmed, performing many duties at once to keep up with the demand. At peak rush, long lines make the “grab-and-go” option incredibly inefficient.
In a time of turmoil, we understand that changes have to be made. There will be sacrifices across the board, but we should not be sacrificing the key elements that make students, staff, and alumni love Gettysburg. Students have already sacrificed years of our college experience. We paid tuition while sitting in our childhood bedrooms. We understand that the campus will never be what it was before COVID.
At the same time, students are actively going into tens of thousands of dollars of debt because we were sold on the idea that the experience of being here would be worth it. It can feel to students that that experience continues to be hacked away with little concern for the impact on students and staff. If by demanding these services we are presumed to be entitled, then so be it, because we are entitled to the quality academics and basic student services that we were told we would have and that we are paying for. Those in Penn Hall who still make upwards of $200,000 every year seem to be disconnected from that reality.
To students, it often feels like there is no plan or larger vision behind these changes. This is not the case. The College has a Strategic Plan, “Living Our Promise,” that President Iuliano announced in October 2020. The College has been making adjustments to address the issues of concern to students and professors.
In terms of the oncoming demographic cliff, the College plans to intentionally decrease the student population. This relates to the other recent decisions to end off-campus housing, as there will be enough on campus housing for a smaller student body. With fewer students, the College hopes to sustain academics with fewer professors, and is incentivizing professors, albeit tenured and closer to retirement, to leave with the Voluntary Separation Incentives Program (VSIP).
As for solving the Dining Services staff shortages, the College has increased the minimum wage for full-time support staff to $15 an hour, and those already making above $15 will have their wages increased as well. Though it is concerning that it was lower than this previously, it may help draw more staff and encourage current staff to stay.
However, most of this crucial information is not being communicated clearly to students, and students are not effectively expressing their concerns to the administration. On the Strategic Plan webpage, there is a link for students to submit their feedback to the administration. However, the Administration has received little feedback through this webpage because most students don’t know that the strategic plan exists.
Students do receive semi-regular updates from the College and the President via email, but these emails are often long-winded and convoluted to the point that they lack the simple answers to the questions students care about most. Some emails are as long as 2,249 words (we checked). When busy students receive an email equivalent to an eight-page essay, they tend to get far less information out of it than they would from an email that quickly outlines key points, with links for an opportunity to dig into the details if desired.
The responsibility is not on the College alone. Students can and should do more than vent to each other in Junction or post on YikYak. The Student Senate has the opportunity for to consider students’ concerns and opinions. Students can submit feedback on the Strategic Plan through the QR code at the bottom of this page. Additionally, Students can attend President Iuliano’s office hours, though they are only held once a month with 10-15 minutes per student. Students can even submit opinions to us, The Gettysburgian (see QR code on page 5). If students do not express their frustrations to the College, the administration will not address them.
There is a serious disconnect between the College’s financial optimism and the gradual chipping-away of essential aspects of campus life. There can be no student buy-in to solving Gettysburg’s problems if the administration fails to communicate what those problems are. What we’re asking for is transparency. Level with us, Bob.
This article originally appeared on pages 14–15 of the February 22, 2022 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.