A highlight of systematic flaws

Written By Alexa Lake, Vice President of USG

A desk attendant unusually played sentry as I walked into the Student Center. A caterer dressed in black paused to let me go in ahead of him. The fresh cut flowers on his cart covered the typical faint B.O. smell of that building which houses our athletes. Dozens of beer, liquor, and wine bottles clinked when the elevator rose up to the seventh floor. My destination was on the left. A police officer was on the right. The roasted potatoes with maple reduction sat behind several suited Trustees was in front. CulinArt really pulled out all the stops.

How did the Board members get here? Some climbed the administrative ladder, but most were born into corporate nobility. Oh…I misunderstood the question! Although they are supposedly the bosses, they drove to this meeting with directions from their leaders. They are told how to get to campus, how to navigate to the boardroom in Student Center 701 and nod thoughtfully at PowerPoint Presentations.

Those with power and influence here barricade themselves. Ideally, the University’s President would be beholden to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees would be beholden to the students, who foot the bill for their schmoozing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I recently met with the Pa. Secretary of Education, who reiterated that Boards of Trustees and Student Governments hold the administration to account. From my vantage point, USG and the Board of Trustees do not and probably never have fulfilled this role. Warning signs like these hide in plain sight at Point Park. Good people do not speak out for fear of retaliation.

If we are to believe the writing leadership says is on the wall, a grim future awaits universities like Point Park. President Hennigan let USG in on that last year, and every year prior. Institutions like ours fail every few years. At three USG meetings, I have heard him present how enrollment will continue to drop at institutions like ours – mid-sized, private, “value” colleges. That’s why his expert analytics team simultaneously raises tuition by 4.4% and borrows from our reputation’s capital.

Academic excellence here is a box to check when accreditation rolls around. When big brother isn’t watching, however, leadership plans to cheapen itself by settling for less rather than striving for more. The current plan in the face of looming student scarcity seems to be making us no more than a glorified trade school.

Nevertheless, students, faculty, and the rare administrator – the fabric of Point Park – persist. I am so proud of our professors who strive for excellence and a decent wage simultaneously.

So what? What has the administration to do with us plebeians? Self-serving administrative culture means the world to you when you are a victim pursuing a Title IX investigation. You may not have any say in whose decision it will be to keep you safe after the Title IX Coordinator left for greener grass. So what if the interim coordinator must recuse himself from your case? So what if a final ruling is weeks late?

Point Park embodies retaliatory culture. Conservatory students cannot settle their grievances and allegations of discrimination for fear of being named as a trouble-maker in their professional lives. Perhaps if those with power could blatantly wield it, we students might get some catharsis. It’s a long-shot, though. Every administrator must go through the motions of redressing a grievance and having a dialog, not matter how one-sided the compromises are.

The systematic flaws in this institution cannot be fixed by funneling more money into more acronyms on campus. No, we don’t need another vice to the assistant to the coordinator of some obscure department. Even as the non-teaching staff began to outnumber teaching faculty several years ago, nothing changed. Our only hope is to work smarter, not harder.

The concerns of USG are not drastically different from year to year. I could name a dozen chronic concerns that are fixable with overwhelming student support. When they do not negotiate – when they do not budge – hopelessness is instilled in all of us.

President Hennigan, in your doctoral dissertation fourteen years ago, you wrote, “There was no structured, organizational focus on quality improvement at Point Park.” You quoted an administrator from that time who said, “there are individuals who are focused on quality, but mostly it is lip service.”

I wholeheartedly agree. When I am an alumnus, I want to be proud of my alma mater, but now, I am deeply concerned. When will we students get academic excellence? When will we become a Name Brand school? When will we get accountability? When will we get quality?