April 2: A “Day of Higher Education” from the Staff Point-of-View

On March 27, 2012, Inside Higher Ed blogger Lee Bessette sent out a call to arms. In response to David C. Levy’s March 23rd Washington Post article, entitled “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?,” Bessette’s blog post decried the recent assault on the college faculty work ethic (or lacktherof as is purported in Levy’s article).

Bessette has thus declared today, April 2, as a “day of higher education” and in so doing she has called upon her faculty collegues to tweet, vlog, blog, etc. about what exactly it is they do all day.

I am not faculty. I am staff. But the assaults on my existence have been just as harsh and brutal over the past few years of college cost scrutiny as they have for faculty members. Dubbed “administrative bloat,” college and university staff have been blamed for everything from out-of-control tuition hikes to pervasive and systemic inefficiencies.

I’m not going to argue the aggregate merits or pit-falls of the “administrative bloat” theory here today. Instead, I’m going to simply jump on the “day of higher education” bandwagon and detail my typical work day. So here it is, from the staff point-of-view, a typical Monday….

Just like my friends who work in private industry, I get to the office between 7:30 and 8 a.m. I log on to my computer, grab a cup of coffee and begin sorting through any emails that have entered my inbox since I last checked my email at 9pm the night before. The majority of the emails are from students, wanting to schedule appointments for advising or asking questions about their financial aid. The remaining emails are typically either about external surveys I am working on (such as Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Reports) or forwarded articles from my Chancellor asking for my opnion on some higher education “hot topic”. I add the survey deadlines to my calendar, browse through the survey instruments to note any data definition changes from last year and make notes to myself to adjust my database queries to account for these changes. I read through the forwarded Inside Higher Ed and Chronicle of Higher Education articles and respond with my candid opinion to the Chancellor.

I open and attend to as many emails as possible before I am interrupted by a phone call from a faculty member who would like me to produce some statistics for a faculty committee meeting that is being held that afternoon. I spend about 10-15 minutes on the phone with him trying to ascertain exactly what it is he needs (because 8 out of 10 times they really aren’t sure). That’s not to say he is in any way ignorant, he’s just not familiar with our database system and the way we define certain variables. As I am wrapping up the phone call with the faculty member, a student walks in unannounced and looking very annoyed. I tell the faculty member I’ll have the data to him shortly after lunch and hang up the phone. The student plops down in the chair across from my desk and begins to rant about a grade she received on an exam. I counsel her on the grade appeal process, which calms her immensely. She leaves feeling she has some recourse.

I return to my computer to check my calendar. I have a webinar just after lunch to learn about the new FERPA guidelines, I will be giving a presentation to the entire faculty this afternoon about the results of a recently administered student engagement survey (which I did all of the administration and analysis leg work on),  I’ve got two external survey deadlines this week, one meeting tomorrow morning about the upcoming commencement exercises, and a meeting later on in the week on our upcoming SACS QEP project (for which I will be the assessment point person).

After checking my calendar and the week’s to-do list, I delve into the database to produce a chart for the faculty member who called me earlier. After writing and submitting a query to extract my data, I export it to Excel and attach it to an email to the faculty member along with a small blurb containing my analysis of what the numbers “mean.” Hopefully this data and my analysis will aid the faculty committee in making academic policy decisions.

I spend the remainder of my morning working on completing external surveys (which involves more database querying). This task is punctuated by student appointments about every 30-45 minutes- some scheduled and some “walk-ins.”

Around 11:30 a.m. I heat up my lunch in the staff kitchen and take it back to my desk. While eating lunch I respond to more emails and a few phone calls from students. At 1pm, I log on to my webinar. At 2pm, the webinar is over and I begin reviewing my presentation (which I will give in about 30 minutes). At 2:3opm, I begin my presentation to the faculty. The presentation lasts about an hour and a half and I cover  30 power point slides. They ask good questions, I get a round of applause and then I am back to my office.

While giving my presentation, my inbox has filled again. I respond to as many as I can before my phone rings. It’s the professor I sent the data to early in the morning. He’d like me to come to the committee meeting to field data questions (the fancy term for this is serving “ex officio”). The meeting starts in 5 minutes. I attend the meeting, answer some very specific questions and leave with more data requests, which I’ll send to the committee within the next 24 hours.

It’s now 5:30 p.m. and I’m going home. Before getting into bed at 10 p.m. I check my email (one day I’ll break myself of this habit). A student has accidentally dropped a course via their online student portal and needs to be added back but can’t because the “last day to add” has passed. I email him back and let him know that I’ll add him back first thing in the morning, I’ll “trick” the code table so that I can erase his “W”, and I’ll check on his financial aid to make sure that it was not affected due to his dropping below full-time status for 8 hours.

He replies, “Thank you! I really appreciate everything you do.”

So here’s to all of my colleagues who contribute to the graduation rate by advising or counseling students, who provide meaningful data to policy makers, and those who aid in transparency/accountability measures by completing a myriad of external surveys. Happy Higher Education Day to you, my friend.

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2 Responses to April 2: A “Day of Higher Education” from the Staff Point-of-View

  1. Lee Skallerup Bessette says:

    Thank you for your contribution! I think it’s important to get the staff’s voice included in the discussion as well.

    Thanks for sharing the post on Dean Dad’s blog. I tweeted it out myself, to share and so it can be archived.

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