Friday, January 11, 2013

The Opening Week of the Semester

As the first week of the semester draws to a close I thought it would be good to review what I’ve dealt with. The first week (and also the last week) is not typical of other weeks in the semester. The first week has its own character. Yet, it has been a typical “first week.”

Although I was involved in meetings related to fundraising, building a new building, updating our graduate online classes, and the expectations we have for our doctoral students when they teach or conduct research, this first week really revolves around getting close to 6000 students into classes.

There have been miscellaneous questions about classroom scheduling, syllabus requirements, course cancellations, and the availability of teaching assistantships.

Of course, we had a number of students who absolutely had to get a particular class at a particular time. In most of these cases, the student’s procrastination is to blame. In other cases, resource constraints (e.g., room availability or reduced faculty and staff) have created situations where we cannot offer enough classes to meet demand.

I saw several students who were dismissed last semester and whose request for readmission was denied. Even in a college as large as ours, we actually look at each and every one of these cases. In most of these cases, the student’s grade point average is too far below the required minimum to reasonably expect that the student will be able to raise it enough to stay in good standing. In some cases, it is mathematically impossible. I hear promises and guarantees that the student will make all A’s and all will be well. It comes as quite a shock to some of them that I base my decision on past performance. I hope this is the wake-up call they need to begin managing their education, and their lives, better.

We dealt with some tragic situations, too. I had three students who had to cope with either a parent’s unexpected death or catastrophic illness this week. Suddenly, these students have emotional and financial pressure that we would not wish on any young adult. In most of these cases, the students show uncommon grace and I am proud of the way members of our faculty step up to accommodate the needs of these students.

As the semester begins, I look forward to working with the President’s Council – our student group of student organization presidents. I hope all of our classes go well. I hope our students show up prepared for class. I hope the students push the professors to be better teachers and the professors push the students to be better learners. I hope our professors draw on the research they do to add more value to our classes. And when life gets in the way, I hope the students and the faculty make good decisions.

If these things happen, it should be a good spring.

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