Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Miles to go....

Since SMWC's shocking announcement last week, I've refrained from posting all weekend.  I needed to let my heart heal a bit and my head to begin processing the facts without those pesky emotions getting in the way.  Plus, I needed a break!  So many students, both current and past, are very upset about this decision, and have been posting on social media all weekend.  I couldn't get my own emotions in check while having my heart ripped out by the posts of others.  I could have easily taken to social media and voiced my frustration and anger, but I chose not to.  I'm not brave enough, I suppose, to put all those feelings out there.  Kudos to those who were.

As we reach a week out, I know there are a few points that I've been focusing my frustration on, and have questions about.  I'm incredibly upset for the current students- many that I know- who are getting thrown into blindly.  While it's easy to say that there have been guys in campus classes for years (male employees can enroll in campus classes, and some programs allow men), it's one thing to make them a permanent fixture on campus.  The current students have been completely blindsided and I'm not happy with this.  This decision affects them directly, and they should have been informed separately, and not via a press release.

I think that's my main point of anger in all of this (I realize as I type!!!)- finding out by press release or email.  At least Sweet Briar called all the students together to let them know they were closing, as messed up as that entire situation has become, they did tell the students in a much better way.  I'm disappointed in the administration for not trusting in our student body and alums, and respecting them enough to have the announcement delivered in person.  To me, it feels like the administration just didn't care enough about the current students to inform them appropriately.  Because let's face it, finding out via press release is incredibly inappropriate and insulting for all constituents involved.  There was a better way to handle this, SMWC, and you failed. You failed spectacularly.

Two Facebook groups have been created, one could say a group for each side of the issue, that have been pretty vocal all week.  The first one regards delaying co-education until Fall of 2018, or until current students have graduated and receive the all women's education they signed up for.  I'm on the fence about this, but I did sign their petition to support them.  I'm not sure delaying this decision until 2018 will be good for the college, but I understand why they want it so.  The other group is in support of SMWC, and is mostly employees and administration with some alums.  It's looking like these groups represent two sides to this issue, which troubles me.  We all support SMWC, but we just have different visions for what we see as success.

My take?

I don't like the idea of SMWC going co-ed, plain and simple.  I think they could have avoided this situation by taking active steps years ago.

I wanted to drive through campus this morning, but I couldn't do it.  It hurts too much, still.

As a former employee, I always wondered why administration was so dismissive of enrollment, and chose to stomp all over them instead of taking an active role in the promotion of the college.  It seemed as though we were the red-headed stepchildren of the college, always to be sneered at or dismissed as being incompetent.   I always wanted to say just work with us and help us instead of belittling us!  I don't make this stuff up, people!  It was so difficult to listen to a committee make all sorts of recommendations about my job, when in fact I already did everything they suggested.  If they had just asked ME, I could have told them. There is little support for my friends still in enrollment, and I worry about their spirit in the coming days.

There is no marketing department- the promotion of the college is handled by public relations, a small department in which no one has a marketing background and they are so very overworked that they have little to no time to complete the work of promoting the college.  These ladies are amazing, but they are not the marketing department that is so desperately needed.  Much of the marketing came from enrollment, who REALLY isn't a marketing department and has absolutely no background in this field at all!  I handled social media advertising...and while I know quite a bit about Facebook, I had to figure out the advertising on my own.  I did it because I wanted to see the program grow.  We would sit and brainstorm for hours on how to attract more students (both campus and online) and how to make the college look attractive and affordable.  The online program, which propped up the campus program for many years, is in decline.  Much of it is due to cost, program availability, advising, and the general structure of the program.  I can say this firsthand now, as I am a student again.  My semester ended May 18....and I have no grades yet.  My assignment are not even all graded.  But that's another story....

Regardless of the above, my love for SMWC remains, and I do respect the administration, even if I don't agree with their actions.  We have a long road ahead, and everyone must determine what kind of voice they want to have in the upcoming conversations.  I'm still figuring this out myself....

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Whose Woods These Are.....I'm Not Sure I Know

This has been a very difficult week for Woodsies.  Many have asked me my take on the recent announcement that Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has decided to go co-educational.  Per the announcement Tuesday, men will be allowed commuter status to take campus courses starting this fall, and then can be residential students in Fall of 2016.  I've had a very difficult time putting my thoughts into words about this change to a place I feel very much a part of, and a sister to those like me, a woman of The Woods. But, because of what I learned becoming a woman of The Woods, I'm going to try to work this out using my words, as all good writers try to do.

First, my status as an alumnae is unique in a way. I am not a campus alum- the majority of my classes were online- but I did participate in many on campus activities and groups.  I've graduated from the amazing Leadership Development program, and am currently enrolled in the Transition to Teaching program (another online program) to become an English teacher.  Most recently, though, I am a former admissions employee, who has seen first hand the difficulties the college has had with enrollment.  My connection with The Woods runs deep within me, and is something that makes me a part of who I am (for better or for worse, depending on who you ask).  

Over the past few days, I've read countless social media posts from alums and current students who are reacting to this news, as well as those who are not alums, but either work for the college or have other ties.  Some are incredibly angry, many are very upset, and there are those who support the decision.  I've seen these groups clash many times this week over differing opinions, personal attacks, and assumptions.  My hope is we can all find a common ground and join together.

There have been many issues arise from this announcement, and realizations that have astonished me.  There were no conversation with students, alums, faculty or staff regarding going co-ed over the past year that the board has discussed this option. Many found out via email or twenty minutes before the press conference.  I've heard going co-ed mentioned many times by President King as a topic of conversation of the board, but nothing was ever indicated that it would become a reality.  It was more of an item on the table and wasn't of importance.  Many current students have mentioned they were told it would never happen, and yet, here we are. 

Coming from an admissions standpoint, I can see why the decision was made, but that doesn't mean I have to agree.  Stagnant enrollment has made the campus program unsustainable.  It was incredibly difficult to attract high school girls to The Woods once they heard it was female only.  They instantly shied away.  We're a small liberal arts college in rural Indiana- compared to Indiana University or other state universities that are cheaper, we're not so attractive to many.  What can we offer?  The list of what we can offer is endless, but not always what influenced their final choice.  I've always believed that certain students would be a good fit to The Woods- the kind of girl that would flourish in our programs and grow from the atmosphere and opportunities offered.  It is what makes The Woods unique; we have traditions dating back 175 years, an older campus, and a history steeped in the empowerment of women.  Mother Theodore founded The Woods at a time when educating women was not prominent.  She believed women had the right to be educated as men were, and fought against those who would dissuade her.  From a business perspective, I see the necessity and I'm not one to stand in the way of progress.  However, the way this decision was determined concerns me.

I think what troubles me the most about this decision is the lack of communication from the administration to the Woods community.  Where were the conversations?  Did it all happen behind the closed doors of the board of trustee meetings?  Where was the planning, and why weren't alums and students invited to share their opinions?  Many alums have mentioned Rose Hulman going co-ed several years ago, and the four year process they underwent that involved all students, staff, and faculty, as well as alums and other constituents.  Many have asked why the process at The Woods did not mirror Rose's process, and I agree.  Why no open dialogue?  

Since the announcement that Sweet Briar College- another all women's college- is closing their doors, there has been an uncertainty and underlying panic.  It can happen to us if we're not careful!  Is this were this decision came from?  From fear of becoming the next Sweet Briar?  I know things have not been financially for a while; indeed, in admissions we were always cognizant of the budget and many times restricted by it.  I could go on about admissions issues and the lack of interest in recruitment, but it serves no purpose.  Where was the conversation?

To make matters worse (and believe me, it made things horribly worse) an open session this evening regarding the strategic plan has now been canceled and replaced with a closed meeting for current students only.  Current students who are not on campus, and live hours away.  Many alums and recent graduates were already on the road headed to campus when the email came out that they were no longer welcome at tonight's session.  I can't even begin to express my feelings on this unfortunate decision.  Current students asked for alum support, and now the administration is excluding them.  

Overall, I'm not surprised by the decision, however, I am heartsick at what I think will be a very ugly situation that could have been avoided with open communication.  I still believe The Woods are mine to share with my fellow alums and students, I'm just wondering if they'll look the same after this.