Shippensburg University made many personnel and organizational changes in the past year with minimal communication to students. As an institution of higher education, the university has a responsibility to serve and engage students, and the university does that through its faculty and, more frequently, through its student affairs staff.
Last fall, the university majorly overhauled its organizational structure. After Peter Gitau, vice president for enrollment, student affairs and student success, “departed the university,” officials moved student affairs under “administration and finance.”
Faculty members received an email Sept. 16 detailing the organizational restructure and Gitau’s departure. That was it. There was no communication to students, no Ship Now post, etc., about the restructure or position changes.
When Donta Truss departed the same position in spring 2020, his departure was extremely well publicized, including an email to students and faculty April 24 and an announcement to the public.
There has been a very noticeable change in the language, openness and level of communication over the past year that has been noted by faculty, staff and students alike. One faculty member even described it as the “mysterious vanishing of Dr. Gitau.”
In the September email, officials said, “as such we have made the decision to realign our divisions so that our progress in enrollment and recruitment is not interrupted by a search process.”
According to Kim Garris, vice president of external affairs, that process will only occur if it is appropriate to return to that former structure.
The lack of communication from the university on Gitau’s departure and the organizational restructure showed a lack of transparency and accountability. Despite the average student perhaps not being concerned about the matter, it is still the university’s responsibility and due diligence to communicate large changes in personnel and student affairs structure.
Garris, upon request for comment, said, “Students are here to learn, grow and experience, and employees are here to serve our students.”
Although this is true, our student experience is predicated on a well-organized, student-oriented student affairs team.
Over break, there have been many student affairs changes, including the removal of the assistant director of housing operations, the creation of the director of business development and partnerships position and other student affairs staff transferring to other departments. These frequent changes occurred with little disclosure, even to faculty and staff who serve students. According to Garris, the realignment of staff and organizational structure will likely continue in line with the Planning and Budget Council and Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) redesign.
Although interim roles and staff realignment may be necessary to meet the needs of the university through the pandemic — redesign and beyond — it is necessary for these changes to be communicated to the entire campus community.
It has become too frequent that large changes are not communicated, and we are left merely to speculate intentions and reasonings, if those changes are even discovered.
This sets a dangerous precedent. In an age with constant change, an uncertain future and the PASSHE redesign, it is imperative that decisions and information are transparent to the populace the university serves.