BOT Letter #12

Dear Board of Trustees,
WCC is currently experiencing a serious crisis of leadership.  For this message I will present only a small portion of the evidence of which I have first-hand knowledge.  Please keep in mind that this is only a representative sample of the poor leadership that I believe is severely damaging the marvelous academic haven that WCC has been for those who love to teach and those who love to learn.
Last fall I was asked (in my role as biology department co-chair) to schedule a number of courses at Whitmore Lake High School.  The person asking me was clearly under tremendous pressure to deliver courses, whether they made sense or not.  For example, I flatly refused a very impassioned request to schedule an Anatomy and Physiology course at the high school, knowing there was no possible way we could deliver an adequate level of rigor and quality without our cadaver experience and our lab equipment. 
I did agree to schedule a single Introduction to Exercise Science course at Whitmore Lake High School.  Because we only get enough students in this course to fill a single section most semesters, it seemed highly unlikely to me that one would find in a single high school adequate numbers of students desiring to enroll in such a course.  Furthermore, while I felt confident that we could deliver a solid college-level course at the high school, it simply could not replicate the rich experience a student would get here on campus.  This is because we would not be able to expose the students at the high school to outstanding the facilities and equipment present here on our campus.
Nevertheless, I felt so much pressure to “play ball” with the administrative push to augment enrollment, and so much empathy for the person representing the administration, I agreed to try it.   The course enrolled only 8 high school students. It cannot make sense that WCC was cancelling courses on campus that were under 14 students, while at the same time paying an instructor to teach just 8 students off campus. 
This is not a responsible use of taxpayer money.  It clearly demonstrates complete disregard for the wisdom and experience of faculty that would have prevented this wasteful experiment in the first place.  I was more than willing to do anything that made sense to improve enrollment.  I was never asked, however, for my opinion on how that might best be accomplished.  I was instead pressured into a decision to offer a course that made little sense economically or academically.  While it did add 8 students to our enrollment numbers for that semester, I fear it may have perpetrated more long-term harm to our enrollment than any temporary good derived from adding a few students to the enrollment data.  By exposing these students to an experience that lacked the richness of the college campus, we may have dimmed rather than increased their desire to attend WCC in the future.
In my role as department co-chair I participated in several other “experiments” aimed at enhancing enrollment numbers in other semesters.  In each case I was dubious as to the likelihood that they would succeed, but I was not consulted for more promising alternatives; I was instead directed to comply with a top-down directive to keep the chain of command “happy”.   In most of the other enrollment enhancement experiments that I was pressured to participate in, the results were indeed dismal.  For example, several late-starting sections of Biology 101 that were added to enhance enrollment numbers produced success rates of less than 50%.  That is, more than half of the students that enrolled in these sections either failed, or dropped out before the end of the semester. 
One of the most important goals of our strategic plan is “strengthen and enhance student success”.  Student success and augmented enrollment are not mutually exclusive, but in the cases described above it seems that enrollment targets trumped student success goals.  Is this in keeping with the mission of WCC?
In closing, I wish to point out that WCC has a wealth of experience, wisdom, expertise, and cooperative attitudes within the faculty.  This incredibly rich resource is being squandered by top-down, irrational decision making.  I beg you to please put a stop to the damage being done to this wonderful institution that we all love.  Please don’t wait until it is too late.
Marvin Oliverio Boluyt, Ph.D.
Co-Chair, Life Sciences Department
Washtenaw Community College
4800 E. Huron River Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48105-4800
Office Phone: 734-477-8717
FAX:  734-973-3522

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