Retrenchment, Day 42

Yesterday I received a broadcast email about a new set of meetings that will be hosted by the Center for Professional Development at Bemidji State. Called "Faculty TBD", it will be something that runs on the third Monday of each month at an offsite building in downtown Bemidji. The topics they will be covering will be "Fostering Belonging in the Campus Community" in September, "Student Engagement and Advising" in October, and "Discussions of Race and Marginalized Groups in the Classroom" in November. The email brochure says these "specified topics" will be discussed in a "specified format". Maybe I'm feeling cynical, but that sounds to me a bit like message control.

The "TBD" part of "Faculty TBD" does in fact stand for "to be determined". They say this is because the topic and format will be "always changing". Ironically, it could also of course signal that the faculty itself is to be determined, as well as programs and majors, as the retrenchment plays out.

Seems to me though, that there's a sort-of deliberate feeling of "let's not look at that". Perhaps the motivation is similar to what prevents some people from rubbernecking when they pass a gruesome accident on the road. But it does seem a bit like rearranging the deck chairs. Do we really need to be talking about fostering belonging in the campus community when 27 people are being ejected from the community? Do we need to be talking about student engagement when we're not leveling with students about what's going on? Do we need to be chatting about how to improve our discussions of race and marginalization when we're retrenching most of the most diverse faculty. Maybe the idea is that once there are only older white professors left, there will be more need to teach them how to engage with these issues in their classrooms. If the sessions deal with these issues
and then begin talking about how the remaining faculty can deal with them, the content might be useful. If it's just the same old messaging and doesn't deal with BSU's slow-motion collision with the iceberg, then it will be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

In other news, my son received a collection letter from the BSU business office a couple of days ago. It announced that he still owed about $450 to BSU and described the huge troubles he would encounter when they sent him to collection. Literally, it contained a list of about a dozen bad things that could happen, beginning with a 25% surcharge on the $450 "outstanding debt".

The problem with all this is, my son was a PSEO (post secondary enrollment option) student for the past two years at BSU. That means he was a high school student attending college classes. All the costs were supposed to be covered by the state. If that changed we were not notified of the fact. We can't really tell what charges went into the "outstanding debt" because the list of them used terms that were probably meaningful inside BSU's accounting department but made no sense to us. So I can't really 100% say there's no way we owe BSU money. But we have no idea why.

And this collection letter is the first we're hearing about it. Seems to me that for an institution that's desperate to increase enrollment, retention, and student success, this communication was a mistake. the extremely aggressive tone of the letter makes it clear that BSU regards my son as some kind of deadbeat. It was literally offensive. I sent an email to the business office and the person who sent the letter immediately apologized but then her supervisor contacted me to ask my son to call her. He is away at college. I asked if she could email him and she agreed. I provided his new email (he is at a different school now, so if they have been trying to get in touch with him on his BSU email account, that wouldn't have been too successful). I don't know for sure whether we owe BSU any money. What I do know is that the way they have addressed the issue couldn't have been better designed to drive customers away from the university.

Link to YouTube: