Editorial: Behind the Scenes in Administration Highlights a Need for Student Voices
By The Gettysburgian Editorial Board
Faculty meetings are exclusive events that construct the future of Gettysburg College but lack important members of campus: the students. Persisting issues and new concerns are showcased during these meetings that directly and indirectly impact student futures, but we are not welcome to join the conversation.
The Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) is working to create a new curriculum that will begin with students in the class of 2028. Faculty members argue back and forth, amending and reamending the curriculum based on their understanding of current students. Anecdotes about conversations with students are not enough. Student voices must be heard and included.
Alumni have also been given a chance to voice their opinions of the curriculum-making process. While this is a student perspective, it is not a current student perspective. Campuses change and current students represent those changes. It is irresponsible of the administration to not acknowledge the changing state of campuses, especially revolving around the pandemic. Academia looks different than it did twenty years ago. It looks different than it did five years ago. The world has changed through the integration of online learning and student objectives, and the new curriculum needs to represent that.
One proposed idea by the CRC includes half-credit sophomore and senior seminars. The inclusion of half-credit seminars echoes the professor’s pet projects of the first-year seminars (though those classes were still given for full credit). While the seminar may be intriguing and thought-provoking, perfect for a liberal arts education, it is not attainable. Sophomores and seniors do not have the time in their schedules to fit in a seminar that is not even worth a full credit. Students, especially seniors, are busy planning their futures and there is simply not enough time to take a class that does not contribute to their majors.
The administration attempts to support marginalized students through research on how those groups may interact with courses but fails to include those students in conversation. Scholarly research about underrepresented student opinions does not take the place of active student voices. If a decision is being made that affects marginalized groups, those students should be a part of it. The administration is actively silencing marginalized students by not allowing their perspectives to be shared in the process of making a curriculum that affects the future of their education.
The solution? Allow current students to have a say in the making of the new curriculum. As it is logistically impossible to have complete student inclusion in meetings, the administration should seriously consider including current student opinion in other aspects. Focus groups and discussion outside meetings would initiate students directly into the curriculum curation without nearly as much division. As professors are currently using anecdotal examples of student perspectives, the curriculum is not representing the majority of campus. Including students in the process would create a well-rounded team of what students are interested in and what the current curriculum can benefit from. This is not to say that professors are left out of the conversation completely. It is the balanced voices of students and faculty that will create the best curriculum.
These curriculum issues do not just impact us. The future students’ education at the College will be incredibly impacted by these faculty members’ incomplete decisions. While the world inside and outside of academia will continue to change after graduation, current students are still the closest group to these incoming students’ perspectives and will have the most beneficial outcomes.
Upperclassmen may be quick to cast aside these complaints because it does not immediately impact their academic career at Gettysburg, but these changes go far beyond our four years on campus. The College’s reputation follows graduates in every job interview and graduate school application. Even if we will not be around to see the integration of the new curriculum, the state of the college as an academic institution will continue to impact our lives after graduation.
Students are inadvertently being hurt through the hiring process of new high-ranking positions in the administration. Dr. Jamila Bookwala, the new provost, is creating two, high-paying positions between her and the existing upper-level provost roles. The disconnect between the administration and students grows and the consequences will impact the entire College. The increase in these higher-ranked positions continues to lengthen the distance between the provost, the faculty and the students. The disconnect is undeniable. The sheer amount of these positions functions as a barrier between these groups and endangers the future of effective communication for the College, which is already strenuous.
Not all of the administration’s attempts to create a better academic experience for future students have been poorly planned and executed. In the name of “consequential education,” the College is developing the Guided Pathways scheduled to begin in fall 2023. The program will focus on the importance of mentorship and career aspirations. The plan is a non-compulsory opportunity for students to have a faculty advisor, co-curricular advisor and career advisor with access to competitive grants. These plans, while not seen in practice, are admirable and prove the College has the capability of actively aiding students in effective ways.
However, the College hiring two more high-paying administration positions causes concern for professor retention. While new administrative members join the college, the existing faculty are receiving less pay on average than faculty at peer institutions, according to a report in the fall from the Faculty Finance Committee. The lack of pay increase for faculty members will impact professor retention and student education. If faculty do not receive their proper pay, there will be less motivation for them to stay at the College. Students carry the reputation of Gettysburg College with them through their academic and professional careers and the blatant disregard for faculty is concerning.
The easiest solution to these issues of professor retention is for the College to confront its treatment of faculty. There has been a consistent problem of faculty and staff of color leaving the College. The College needs to listen to the critiques of its faculty to ensure the future of Gettysburg academia.
The majority of students are unaware of these multiplying barriers unless they hear about it from their professors directly. Why does the College continue to hinder students’ roles in these decisions? The student population is at risk of harmful consequences as a result of these arrangements while they are still unable to be a part of the conversation. It is critical that students be allowed to be a part of the conversations that directly and indirectly impact their future at and beyond their four years on campus. Student perspectives need to be taken more seriously; the future of Gettysburg depends on it.
This article originally appeared on pages 20 to 21 of the April 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.