I write this article as a direct response to Mr. Haberman’s piece in The Gustavian Weekly last issue titled “Bye Bye Gustie.” It is quite fitting that I can end my four years at Gustavus writing about where I see Gustavus going after my time is over.
Now, if you didn’t have a chance to read Mr. Haberman’s article his argument was that Gustavus will not continue to exist in 30 years for the following reasons: our endowment is too small; enrollment is decreasing; residential halls are too small, meal plan options aren’t good enough; adminstration is paid too much, and faculty too little; and our professors aren’t good enough.
Wow, I don’t even know if I can respond to each of these individually, or what good it would do. However, before I delve into the main portion of my argument for why we will be here, I would like to summarize a response.
Mr. Haberman should know that his two years at Gustavus Adolphus College do not make him an expert in higher education. I work closely with the Minnesota Private Council as the Chair of its Student Association and I co-chair the Student Advisory Council to the Office of Higher Education with representatives from all sectors of education in the state of Minnesota. I subscribe to emails from Inside Higher Ed that arrive in my inbox each morning. And you know what? I still only have a baseline understanding of higher education.
Gustavus’ situation with regard to enrollment and the endowment are not unique. After three years of service on the Board of Trustees Admission and Enrollment Committee and four years of student employment in the Office of Admission I can tell you that it is through no fault of our own (or every other MIAC school) that enrollment is down across the board.
Advancement just completed a $150 million campaign that brought in over $170 million in pledged gifts to the college. I think that we’re doing fine on fundraising even if alumni would rather give to capital improvements or scholarships instead of the endowment.
Complaining about the meal plan and residential halls makes someone sound entitled (and yes, I think plenty of Gustavus students are that way). As a three-year CF I’m a bit surprised that there wasn’t an additional shot at quiet hours being too early for people as well. We have the 7th ranked meal plan in the country. How many of us have eaten cafeteria food in other places? I took my sister on a tour to Hamline and the Hamline students I ate with said they loved Gustavus’ food, so honestly let’s put our exquisitely refined palettes in check for a moment.
Programs get cut when changes are needed, and in case people haven’t noticed staff also get cut as well. Higher education is facing financial crises across the board and a larger endowment won’t necessarily save us. Mr. Haberman would have a stronger argument if he actually cited a source for the faculty and administrators salary range.
There was no mention of how hiring policies, tenure, and employee performance reviews impact compensation. We know our faculty aren’t paid as much as at other institutions, but I sincerely do not believe that this impacts their performance. I believe that Gustavus values people over programs, so if cutting budgets, teams, and programs is necessary in order to save jobs I will take this as the lesser of two evils.
I would love to go more in-depth on these points, but there is a more pressing point. I believe that Gustavus will exist in 30 years, but it may not look the way it does today. I am a traditionalist, I want my children to come to a Gustavus that looks just the way it did when I went. However, I recognize that the landscape of higher education is changing and perhaps 4-year residential life colleges specializing in the liberal arts will be forced to adapt as well.
Gustavus is not a building, a campus, policies, our meal plans. Gustavus will continue to exist as long as people who are dedicated to its mission carry on its legacy.
President Bergman’s leadership on the strategic plan will open the door to a plethora of options that we maybe have not considered before. Perhaps we’ll have satellite campuses like St. Scholastica. Maybe we will find new ways to reach international students through advanced technology. However, through all of this we will still be Gusties because it doesn’t matter where we are, it matters who we are.
That is why Mr. Haberman’s argument about the quality of our faculty really got under my skin. I would venture to say that most academics don’t do it for the money. Assuming that our inability to pay as much as our peer institutions cheapens our professors’ value as scholars is very disturbing to me. The majority of our faculty are here to teach and they do a damn good job of it and I can honestly say that after taking nearly 40 classes here.
So, what would keep Gustavus from existing in 30 years? Apathy. People that complain and do not act. These individuals could be students, faculty or staff. I take pride in my ability to enact change through collaborative action. So here’s my advice: if you’re concerned about the endowment, become a Gustavus Ambassador and interact with donors so that you can tell them your Gustavus story and perhaps entice them to relive their glory days through you.
If you want a better meal plan, join the Kitchen Cabinet, if you can handle the 7 am meetings. They value student input and do respond. Or better yet, go in and talk to Steve someday, I guarantee you get a meeting with him in 24 hours or less.
Want better residential halls? Join the Student Affairs Committee for the Board of Trustees. Worried about declining enrollment? The Admissions and Enrollment Committee for the Board of Trustees has my old spot opening up.
I know for a fact that they are still in need of students to fill these positions. If you would like to know how pay works at Gustavus realize you’re treading into some very personal territory. However, you should ask Human Resources about how pay is structured at Gustavus and how we compare to other institutions in our field. Worried about programs being cut? Figure out ways to be proactive and involved in the discussions before they happen.
Moreover, we students can challenge our faculty to excel as well. Do not put up with doing a mediocre job in class because you’re not engaged. When else in our life will we have the opportunity to be with an expert in a discipline who is solely interested in teaching us for the sake of our learning?
Education is an altruistic profession, but we can give back to our faculty by engaging with them and sincerely pushing them to excel alongside us. It’s not about the grade, it’s about the pursuit of knowledge.
In the end, as I look back at my four years, I realize that I was lucky. I had faculty and administrators beside me who led me to places at Gustavus that I did not know were a possibility. I am a staunch defender of the liberal arts as the premier way to learn. When I graduate I will be engaged with Gustavus as a young alumni and I will give back to the best of my ability.
I know though that my experience is not everyone’s and that may be for the best. Each and every one of us builds our own micro-version of Gustavus and that is where we reside. However, none of us should start believing that our micro-version is the ultimate reality for everyone else here.
Gustavus will survive beyond my days because of the people who love Gustavus as much (and sometimes more) than I do. I cannot wait to see what this place will look like in 30 years, changes and all.