Thursday, June 6, 2013

Today's scholarship program debriefing: "It's the first I've heard about it!"

     In ways that may be difficult to appreciate, today's meeting was important, so I offer detailed notes:

     I attended today’s “debriefing” meeting re IVC’s embattled Scholarship Program. Faculty had been informed that the meeting would be at 2:00, but when I arrived—at exactly 2:00—the room (the President’s conference room) was locked and dark inside. I spoke with friends in the building (i.e., the administration building) and, eventually, it became clear that VP of SS, Linda Fontanilla, who called the meeting, was now under the impression that the meeting would be, not at 2:00, but at 3:00. Three of us standing there (all faculty) proclaimed that we’d be back for the meeting in an hour. Don’t know if anyone else showed up in the meantime. Evidently so.
     I arrived for the meeting at about 3:02, and the usual pre-meeting informality prevailed, though this involved only a handful of people, all of whom were among the usual suspects. Glenn (Roquemore, IVC Prez) was there too.
     Just as Kathy S, the Ac. Sen. Pres. walked in, VP of SS Linda F called the meeting to order. Glenn blathered a bit like he does and then left.
     Here’s who was left: KS, KR, KM, and me (faculty); LF (the VP); DC (the Financial Aid guy); RM (the Foundation guy); HL (Student Life gal); DO (PR person); and a middle-aged woman with whom I am not familiar.
     Linda (Fontanilla) then explained her practice of holding such meetings—“debriefings,” in which all concerned have an opportunity to express “pluses and minuses,” as she cares to put it. That sounded refreshing. She was looking, she said, for ways to make the “event” better.
     Event? I asked whether we would only be discussing the Scholarship Ceremony or the Scholarship Program. She explained that, yes, we’d be discussing the program too. Good.
     Darryl chimed in: he really thinks we should build the program anew from the ground up. Should we continue to use STARS (the troublesome software program we purchased)? Are there better programs? Etc.
     His main point, though, seemed to be that we need to start fresh with the program, and that, he insisted, takes time. The May date leaves so little time. We should do this thing in December—i.e., 18 months from now (December 2014).
     I asked: what is it exactly that you’re saying we should do in December?
     Answer: award the scholarships.
     I asked: doesn’t your suggestion—that we next award scholarships in Dec of 2014— entail that there’ll be no IVC Scholarships next year (Fall 13-Spring 14)? Yep. We need 18 months to do this right, he said. We need to “rebuild from the ground up,” he repeated.
     Eventually, KS chimed in, using this language: your proposal is that we put the Scholarship Program on hiatus for 2013-2014, right?
     Darryl seemed to be saying two very different things: (1) that it will take more than a year to plan and build a proper Scholarship Program (hence the 18 month period); (2) that December (late Fall) is a better time to award scholarships than May (late Spring), our customary date. It seemed to me that he was none to clear in his mind that these were two very different points that should be considered separately.
     So Darryl commenced arguing for December as opposed to May as the right time of year to be awarding scholarships. He seemed to think that a change to December would have advantages regarding the “tracking” of students. (I didn't understand the details.) He also said that the summer was a dead period in which little could get done.
     I thought to myself: yeah, but doesn’t any plan—whether the December plan or the May plan—have the same problem? I mean, it’s not as if summer goes away when we move the Scholarship ceremonies to December!
     Kathy made that point and others the gist of which was: dude, you only get the 18-month advantage once, not year after year.
     Darryl explained the advantages, re donors, of moving the thing to December. That all seemed right, though not compelling.
     Darryl said he/we needed the 18 months. Kathy: yes, but you only get that the first time. If we do as you suggest, then we’ve got a year and a half until the next awards. After that, though, we’re still on a 12 month cycle, right? Cox: duly noted. I was glad he felt that way.
     Kathy made reference to a recent scholarshipian snafu: something about students receiving scholarships who were in fact leaving us (transferring immediately elsewhere). That was an error, evidently. She did not intend to “beat that horse” (I shall assume she meant to refer to a dead horse, but you never know with these bio people). But what if a student gets a scholarship in December and then continues for only the subsequent Spring semester? Kathy (also) said, I believe, that we’d have better info about students in May, not in December.
     Linda stepped in to praise the points being raised all around. (She's like that.) She then explained what she had in mind: Yes, she said, she was all for rebuilding the program, making it better. And that enterprise will take longer than 18 months. Just switching over to a new software program will take a lengthy debugging period. Etc. (She was implying, I think, that, in the meantime, we need to continue the scholarship program as best we can: no year hiatus, dude.)
     She asked whether the college has ever awarded scholarship in December. Nope, said Darryl.
     Richard spoke. His concern, he said, is “students first.” What about a student who needs money in September, but we’re only giving awards in December?
     Darryl made an important point: generally speaking, financially needy students are taken care of, not with IVC scholarships, but with state and federal monies. This last year, we “pushed out” nearly $12 million in that kind of aid. IVC’s effort amounts to about $200,000. So be clear about that. He seemed to say that we should be careful not to associate our program too much with the bulk of financial aid. We shouldn’t align everything we do with the feds/state. We're doing our own thing (and we need to define it).
     Kay chimed in: awarding the scholarships at the end of the year (i.e., May) makes more sense. Kurt chimed in, too, but I got distracted somehow, so I don’t know what he said, though he looked pretty good sayin’ it. I’m sure of that.
     I brought us back to whether we really wanted to put the scholarship program on hiatus for a year. I was skeptical. I got the sense that everyone else (save D) was skeptical of that idea. It just wouldn't do.
     Richard returned to the time-of-year issue: I don’t know of any scholarship program in the country, he said, that doesn’t do it at the end of school year (May or June, I guess). We can do a search, he said, but I think that’s right. Also, we have signed contracts with various entities that presuppose that we (I’m not sure how he finished this: that we give out scholarships each year? That we give out scholarships in May? Both?).
     He seemed to be seriously down on the idea of the hiatus, as Kathy described it.
     Kay asked if it would not be better to house the scholarship program in its own office, not under (financial aid?). Darryl explained that, when he got here, there were only 65 applicants. Recently, there were 600. So, yes, it would be great to create a separate “scholarship” office. The problem, however, is that there just aren’t the funds for it. No surprise there.
     Linda noted that the vast majority of colleges “have a Spring event.” She also seemed to say that we’ve got to keep the scholarship program alive next year: no hiatus, whether it happens in Dec. or May.
     Linda referred to the “agenda” for the meeting, that sad piece of paper in our hands. We had allotted five minutes per topic, but we were way over that on the present topic, whatever it was. She asked for a motion.
     Kathy commenced moving.
     Darryl said: let’s not lock ourselves into May. Look at the alternatives. It’s a ghost town during the summer, he said.
     Kathy: AGAIN, if we move this thing to December 2014, other than the first year, all years will have the same time issues. How does your proposal give us more time (aside from the first 18 months)? Kathy was hitting the nail on the head.
     Eventually, Linda expressed the need to get buy-in from the college community, to have regular meetings developing the program, conducting the program. This schedule of regular meetings with interested parties should offer some relief (Darryl).
     Kathy recommended/motioned as follows: that we forget the hiatus and stay with the May awards ceremony schedule; that during the upcoming year, starting this summer if possible, we run in parallel a series of meetings to revise the process. (There was a reference to “legal issues” too. I believe these concern the extent and types of restrictions on scholarships coming from federal anti-discrimination laws. We evidently haven’t made much headway answering those questions. I think that's Glenn's department, so natch.)
     So, we’ll use the current system as best we can. Go forward. Maybe we’ll get more "forbearance" (especially from faculty) as the system limps along next year.
     Everyone savored that word: "forbearance." (If Glenn were present, he'd be looking it up.)
     Kurt mentioned that flex time could be devoted to all this. Indeed.
     Kay mentioned that, over a year ago, a taskforce was created to identify problems and recommendations and it met through the summer. It issued its recommendations. Has anything happened with those recommendations? The perception of the membership of that taskforce is that nothing happened with those recs, said Kay. If we’re going to propose people do this kind of work again, we’d better follow through, said Kay.
     Kathy: I have all that documentation. To my knowledge, I’ve had a couple of meetings with Glenn discussing the output of last year’s taskforce. He and I came to an understanding about what the recs were, in words that he was willing to buy into. I thought he was going off to get a legal opinion. But he hasn’t got back to me. (Quelle surprise! This knowledge has not yet been acquired, evidently.)
     Kay: yes but there were many recs. Kathy assures everyone that, as we go forward with rebuilding the program, for her, as Senate Prez, this issue will be on a “front burner.”

     Kathy’s motion—according to which we’ll stick with the May schedule and not impose the hiatus—was approved (unanimously, as near as I could tell).
     Linda took some responsibility for—I’m not sure what. She only arrived on this campus at the start of Fall (she's new), and so perhaps she was not sufficiently aware how important this issue was (or the taskforce’s work?). I asked for clarification, but she got political/defensive on me. Whatever. I really wasn’t trying to pin anything on her. She seemed to emphasize the importance of having representatives of every constituency on the committee or taskforce or coven—not sure which. She was apologizing for something, I know not what. She seems nice, but she needs to work on her gimmicks and gambits. Or just abandon them.
     I remarked about the phenomenon of demoralization among some of the better people on campus. They serve on committees, do hard work, and then they find that all of their work is for naught. They’re less likely to work on committees after that, I said. This is a particularly shameful phenomenon in the case of new faculty, I said.
     Darryl chimed in to emphasize the excellence of the work done by that taskforce last summer. He seemed to make an effort to explain how that group’s work could get “lost,” as it surely did. He regarded the work of some members of the group as “a breath of fresh air.” The calendar, he said, got in the way.
     I then presented six points re the scholarship process that, in truth, had been composed by a (rebellious) colleague of mine who is very familiar with the issues surrounding the scholarship program at IVC. I essentially read them (commenting briefly along the way):
1) Poor outreach. 300 application out of 15,000 students. The majority of applicants seem to be those already plugged into colleges resources (ASIVC, Honors, EOPS, etc).

2) Application process. Applicants need to be advised about submitting FULL applications (letters, statements etc.) and the failure to do so weakens their chances of gaining a scholarship.

3) Some applications that I read had alarming facts – e.g., GPAs were noted but units earned were Zero(?!). Or the number of units earned was [inexplicably] large – in one case, very large (over 500).

4) Concerned about distribution of awards. Is the old policy of limiting the number and/or amount of awards in order to increase the number of recipients is still in place? [I added my two cents: several faculty have expressed to me the perception that some students seemed oddly over-awarded. Kathy noted that, in the case of some scholarships, our hands are tied by donors regarding dollar amounts; but, yes, many have perceived an odd pattern of some individuals receiving multiple awards.]

5) Why are the awards that are won by individual students not listed next to their names in the program? This absence fuels a sense of a lack of accountability. [Again, I filled out the point a bit, noting the consistent absence of any information about who received what, dollar amounts, etc. An old complaint, but no fix is ever made. Richard noted that I can take a look at the spreadsheets whenever.]

6) The timing of the application and decision-making process. This is related to outreach and publicity. Is it possible to begin the application process late in the year (November?) and close in February, thus allowing for a longer period to apply? Is it possible to begin the decision-making process earlier, shortly after the application deadline?
     I had more points, but I left it at that. I gathered from subsequent remarks that, essentially, there was considerable agreement about these six points.
     Kay turned to the issue of the scholarship ceremony itself. It seemed to her (and, evidently, to others) that we need to slow the ceremony down. It came across as perfunctory. Let the audience applaud, she said. Let’s take our time.
     Kathy chimed in: yes, there is general dissatisfaction with the “black hole” of where last year’s work went. She expressed issues about meeting times for the committee(s). We know at least some of the people most interested in the scholarshhip program. We should do some hallway pounding to ensure that we get some young faculty who don’t have long memories of shititude (my word, not Kathy’s). Bring in a fresh point of view. No bad taste in the mouth. (Kathy loves her metaphors.)
     Kathy alluded to the many complaints about the process—I think she was referring essentially to my “six points.” She wasn't going to repeat them. She mentioned, too, that we should make a great effort to accommodate deaf students. We need an interpreter present at the ceremony.
     I think Linda asked that we state the “pluses” re the scholarship program too. I won’t even bother to report those.
     Richard asserted that, with exception of the point about student outreach, the people he talks to (members of the committee? Donors?) had the same concerns that I listed. There’s a perception, by people on the “outside,” that a small group of students were getting the scholarships. He offered a theory regarding how this could have come about. One group made selection, another group made selection. That’s how the “over” awarding occurred, he said. (He said more, but I didn’t get it.)
     He agreed that we need some kind of policy to prevent this from happening, to “spread things out.” One of our donors, he said, stated that they wouldn’t have funded the thing if they knew this one kid was gonna receive this much money, etc. Richard mentioned the need for “writing workshops” (for students, I guess) and involvement of the “English department.” Yes, we can get students to provide exactly those things asked for on the application. Can surely be done.
     In closing, Richard asserted that we came a long way last year, and that he can only see things getting better!
     There was some discussion about the circumstance that the award ceremony is held early in the morning, that it used to be held in the gym, etc. Diane noted that the Scholarship Program booklet (that everyone gets at the ceremony) takes two weeks to print, and that makes it difficult putting all of the info in there. Pretty stressful.
     That’s when I noted that we’ve repeatedly asked for more information about who is awarded exactly what, the dollar amounts, and so on. For years. That’s when Richard chimed in that I can look at his “spreadsheets” any time.
     Kurt referred to the small number of students in the know and who participate. If we look at the IVC home page, how visible is the application/program? How many buttons must a student push to get to the scholarship info/applications? We once had a big, prominent button on the home page, very visible.
     Kurt: that group last summer needs to know that their work will be addressed. We’ll have a difficult time building good will if we don’t communicate that.
     He agree that the ceremony was a bit anticlimactic, too hurried.
     I made my last point, though not really a new one. I noted that cynicism and idealism go hand in hand. If you’re a “corrupt rat bastard,” then you aren’t bothered by the appearance of secrecy and cheating and error and the like. You figure that other people do as you do, it’s no big deal. But colleges are filled with people who, for whatever reason, demand clean and fair and competent processes. If there’s any hint of skullduggery or partiality, etc.—then faculty are seriously turned off. They want nothing to do with it. That’s how I feel. So it is very important not only to keep things clean and above board, but also to make sure that they appear so. (The point about reality vs. appearance became clearer as people responded to my point.)
     There were then the expected assertions about how hard people try to be fair and honest, etc. At some point I had to make clear that I was not accusing anyone of bias or skullduggery. But when, year after year, the process is non-transparent (i.e., utterly opaque), and despite continual howls of protest and demands for change, nothing is ever done to bring things to light, to make the fixes—well, you’re “inviting” cynicism and rejection of the process, at least among faculty. 
     Kurt referred to incidents that don’t help maintain an appearance of fairness and transparency. Last year, he said, a student was informed that he had won a significant Humanities and Languages scholarship, but, to date, he has never received the scholarship.
     Richard then reared up, said it’s the first he’s heard about it. (That’s odd. I’ve been experiencing piercing caterwauling about it for a solid year. Richard really needs to get around, or turn up his hearing aid.)
     Kay noted that, oddly, she gets few requests from students for letters of recommendation. She seemed to say (what many of us say) that such letters should always be a part of these applications. Evidently, many apps are turned in sans letters of rec.
     Linda ended our fruitful session with an observation about the paucity of “corrupt rat bastards” in her experiences here at the college. I fought the urge to identify some for her. I smiled as I typed.
     She said that she appreciated our meeting today, learning what people value. The people involved in this process, she said, are very serious, worked their “fingers to the bone.” This is one more important thing we do for the students, she said. “I’m not going to say there will be no mistakes made. The work that was done the year before (in summer), I hope that we can remedy that.” She wants people to understand that that work is valued as we move forward. She said she’d try to heal the wounds, insist on utter transparency.
     OK, I believe her.
     I suggested that, if we’re going to follow two tracks—(1) limping along with the scholarship program next year as best we can and (2) slowly developing a new and improved program “from the ground up”—well, maybe we should ask that forlorn summer taskforce bunch to be the core of the group that pursues #2. Would be the right gesture, I said.
     Everybody seemed to agree.
     Yeah, everybody was happy, though Richard made the point that people should stick to “facts” when talking about what's up with the program and such. That was an allusion to DtB. I said, sure, but you can’t complain about a perception of secrecy, etc., if people keep asking for fixes and for transparency and you never fucking do anything to provide it.
     Well, I didn’t say “fucking,” but I was thinking it.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone brought up the "streamlining" of the ceremony - it has really created an awful tone. why not lose the "breakfast" portion, have a longer ceremony -and then a brief reception after?

Regarding the "over"-awarding - that happens because there isn't oversight. And why they can't print up a program that lists the awards won next to the students is beyond me. Every other college does it.

Anonymous said...

How can you judge an app without letters affirming what the student says?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a productive meeting. Will there be a similar "debriefing" about commencement? Hope so.

Roy Bauer said...

It sounds as though that's the Fontanilla way: to do these "debriefings." So, maybe there will be a debriefing on commencement. I doubt it though. Glenn clearly wants that particular event to be his show, denuded of intelligence or style. He may as well send UPS boxes to the program, have them sit there on the stage.
Glenn's all about "show," not substance. He doesn't know about substance. Why on Earth is he still our president?

Anonymous said...

Great report - this is the kind of thing that the blog does best. Good point made about the work people do that has been discarded or neglected - which, of course, works against recruiting people to do similar work in the future. Let alone its effect on contributions. What I have failed to understand is why this process is so difficult to reform. Every other educational institution does this and seemingly does it fairly well. Why can't we? Is it possible to get someone from another college with an admirable program to give us guidance as a consultant? People here seems to be flailing and some outside eyes might help.

Fullerton College seems to have a great program:

I like how they list the scholarships by name and focus.

Anonymous said...

I agree - a consulting relationship with another college might be in order. How about Mt. Sac? Or SMC?

Anonymous said...

I think a "debriefing' about commencement would be great - what is Glen afraid of? Much has gone well but it could be better. For example - lose the tent. And don't let Bob Urell halt the graduates so forcefully. Get a singer for the alma mater. And yes, moment of silence for the prayer. Glen says his door is open but he doesn't really want you to walk through it.

Anonymous said...

Great summary of the de-briefing Roy. Let us know how it goes when you get to see Richard's spreadsheets. Was that his idea of transparency? Maybe next year he can invite all the faculty and donors to his office to examine spreadsheets rather than supply the information in a handout at the Scholarship Ceremony.

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