Throughout my years at Shippensburg University, I have served on a variety of university committees and positions that have given me the opportunity to understand “university politics” to a degree few students have. Over the years, I have served on the planning and budget council, new student orientation committee, commencement committee and SUSSI board of directors, among others. During my time, I have heard the phrase “what is best for students” more times than I can count.
Faculty, staff, administrators and student leaders alike have used this phrase to defend their funding, autonomy, hierarchal reporting structures, job retention, policies and more. In all situations, human nature and our inherent desire to protect “our interests” comes into play and often is used under the guise of “what is best for students.”
Ask almost any student and they will likely attest that we have an advising issue at Shippensburg. The academic advising of students is strictly (per the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties contract) a faculty role. Although other staff members under the umbrella of “Student Success” and within student affairs possess the knowledge and arguably the skill to supplementally support students academically, faculty vehemently oppose this and have argued that doing so “would be against the interests of students.” Why not allow staff to provide additional advising and be able to help overwhelmed faculty or support students who have fallen through the cracks?
Administrators are tasked with balancing faculty and staff headcount to meet PASSHE standards of faculty to student ratios while attempting to maintain program array and program coverage. In the process there has been a reduction of faculty and staff by millions of dollars (with more to come in 2023-2024). course load continues to go down year over year while the percentage of noninstructional costs allocated to each academic department remains the same or goes up. Is this what is best for students?
As an institution, we need to stop using this phrase so broadly and really think in each situation – “what is best for students.” Our institution is designed to provide a high-quality well-rounded education to citizens of the Commonwealth. Just because “it is the way we have always done it” does not mean it is in the best interest of students.
Next time you hear this phrase or are about to say it yourself, take a step back and truly give it a thought: what is best for students?