Dear Faculty, Staff, and Administrators,
Willard College is pleased to announce a series of initiatives designed to bring our educational mission into alignment with the financial constraints faced by the College. Willard finds itself in the demographic “Bermuda Triangle” called upstate New York. When we take the total number of high school graduates in our cachement area (a three hundred mile radius from campus) and we divide it by the number of institutions with whom we compete for high yield students (defined as students not requiring or requesting tuition discounting), we confront an ever shrinking potential student body. And like all private colleges in this day and age, we must consider that our annual price point has risen at a faster rate than inflation for the past two decades.
Despite this grim forecast, I’m encouraged by Willard College’s century and a half of keeping the dormitories full and the books balanced. Remember that we are the only institution of higher education in North America that began as a psychiatric hospital. When the college, then known as Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane, was founded just after the Civil War, few thought that the hospital could ever reach capacity. The region had never had such an institution, and no one could imagine that it would succeed. The predictions proved to be wrong and the institution quickly filled to overcapacity. While the fee paying residents were always a minority, administrators balanced the books through payments from counties and the state and the work of residents. Early annual reports from the asylum read like quarterly corporate reports with most of the pages devoted to the number of pigs raised, corn harvested, and timber cut. Willard College has much to learn from its storied past.
There are many possible solutions, but it is clear that we need to move toward consolidation and modernization of departments and their operating procedures. Are all of these academic departments necessary? Can we identify function overlaps that can be trimmed out? Can certain departments, upon consolidation, enjoy further savings through outsourcing of costly non-essential activities? Can we make these changes without compromising the high quality educational product that we provide? Finally, can all of this be achieved while satisfying the requirements of the accrediting body that grants us the right to confer degrees?
Let’s start with a popular major at Willard, history, not because it is on the proverbially chopping block. On the contrary, our consultants have suggested that this department can be transformed from a resource drain to a revenue generator with modest investment.
The paradox is that while history is wildly popular in the US and books and movies on select historical topics sell, students find college history courses to be tiresome. As is clear from student evaluations on ratemyprofessors.com, a major problem is that faculty, instead of teaching history, teach writing and reading. As one anonymous student eloquently noted: “Dr. _____ thinks she is teaching English. And we didn’t get to watch movies about World War Two, witch is my favorite subject.” Worse, while humanities professors claim that “chalk and talk” is cheap, it is in fact costly.
The immediate response to the problem of cost and the tedium of in-class learning is on-line learning. From Willard’s perspective, we need to move beyond on-line learning. Again, history can teach us much.
In 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson cut the ribbon on the world’s inaugural “teleteachers” program. With support from the World Bank and UNESCO, El Salvador led the way in transitioning away from teacher-directed classrooms. The plan was to replace teachers with lessons and lectures transmitted remotely and broadcasted to participating middle schools through the national television station. Johnson famously remarked that El Salvador would soon be “the first nation in all the world with a complete educational television system. Some day we hope the United States can catch up to you.” Although the program eventually collapsed, the potential savings by eliminating teaching staff, as well as the expensive programs to train teachers, was a missed opportunity.
Remarkably, Johnson’s call was not heeded, until today. We propose that the History Department begin to transition to a “History Channel” centered pedagogy. Courses and areas of study will be organized around what the History Channel is showing. We can imagine courses such as “World War Two,” “Genocide,” “The Nazis,” “Vietnam War,” and “The Top Ten Tank Battles” as selling well to our customer base.
Their programing would align with a related proposal; to require all assigned readings must have sold over a ½ million copies. The books that sell best tend to cover subject matter that History Channel covers. If at least a ½ million people have not bought the book, we will not require our students to read it. If the bookstore can purchase these books in bulk, we can also pass on considerable margins to the college’s financial balance.
Moreover, we will capitalize on the second biggest sector of the computer industry: gaming. All classes will have video games incorporated into the pedagogy. The bookstore will purchase the games in bulk and thereby pass on wider sales margins to the college. Students won’t just watch the history of D-Day. They will be inside a virtual landing craft at Omaha Beach. Or they will be cybernetically with Eisenhower as he decides how to proceed after the initial landings. Research suggests that many students spend more money, and time, on video games than homework, so this pedagogical innovation will effectively channel student spending into Willard College’s revenue stream.
In conclusion, Willard College has a long history of enduring the vagaries of the Finger Lake’s economic and demographic shifts. No one thought the hospitals would make it when it first opened. And when deinstitutionalization hit in the 1970s, along with Department of Labor requirements to pay patients for their work, everyone thought Willard would vanish. We will survive.
In my next letter, we will turn to the question of how to improve our track record in attracting premium students and also a series of proposals to improve teacher evaluations systems while enjoying some cost savings.
Henry Cotton, President of Willard College
P.s. The Director of Sustainability reports that custodial staff has been seen collecting redeemable cans and bottles from campus recycling bins. In the future, I will devote a full letter to this question, for the moment, please remember that all refuse brought or produced on campus remains property of Willard College. Moreover, the sight of custodians digging through bins sends the wrong message to students about the wage-scale of this sector of our staff.