Students must pay attention to impact of administrative turnover, uncertainty

A college is made up of students, faculty and administrators. Students interact with their peers every day and their professors every week, but rarely with administrators. As a result, students might struggle to see the effect of administrators on everyday student life. 

Despite this disconnect, students should still care about administrative turnover. 

Geneseo is run by its president, Denise Battles, who receives advisement from the eight senior administrators that sit in her cabinet. Most of these administrators also sit at the top of their own departments; the Provost, for example, serves as the main conduit for governing the college’s faculty. 

All but one of the members of the president’s cabinet—including the president herself— have sat in their position for less than four years. Currently, only five of the eight senior administrative positions are even permanently filled. 

The Vice President for Finance and Administration’s office will have a long-term resident starting in July after almost two years of interims, but plans for the Vice President for Enrollment Management and the Vice President for College Advancement positions currently sit in limbo. 

It’s no wonder the college has consistently requested that the campus community provide suggestions to ensure the college’s financial sustainability—there are no senior administrators tasked with finding that sustainability. 

To its credit, Geneseo sometimes lags to replace departed administrators because the college generally canvasses as many stakeholders as it can before hiring a new person. Holding open forums or on-campus meetings with students, faculty and staff should remain an essential—if unfortunately, time-consuming—part of the process. 

Yet, when a vice president officially announces their plan to leave the college in October and a search firm isn’t contracted until December, or when an administrator officially leaves the college in June and a search committee isn’t formed until October, the college fails to fully plan for its future. These examples both actually occurred for the Vice President for Finance and Administration position. 

Many of these administrators have governed Geneseo for less time than current students have attended the college. Topline departures like these are worth students’ attention, but there have been other significant instances of important administrators who have left the college. 

Currently, Geneseo also lacks a permanent Administrative Director for Lauderdale Health & Counseling, a permanent Executive Director of Campus Auxiliary Services and a permanent Associate Dean for Multicultural Programs and Services, among other administrative positions. These are clearly crucial positions that help ensure students have proper access to on-campus healthcare, food services and institutional support. 

Even when the college does find replacements, they often provide little notice and less explanation. Of course, this trend includes the unexplained departure of Vice President for College Advancement K. Johnson Bowles two weeks ago, but it also includes positions that greatly impact students. 

Over the past year alone, the college removed the deans of its only two professional schools, which collectively serve more than a fifth of all students, in the middle of the academic year without plans for a transition. Even if the college took the right steps in these cases—and it seems like they didn’t­­—the confusion and consternation that accompanied them created more uncertain learning environments for students in those programs. Unless someone’s presence on campus somehow poses a threat to the college’s security, it seems unreasonable to shepherd them out in the middle of the semester without a valid rationale or transition. 

Of course, some turnover happens naturally. People find better positions at colleges that suit them better, or Geneseo reasonably decides to remove someone from their position. Yet the past few years have included too many departures and prolonged absences to merit coincidence. 

If that assertion assumes too much, the administration could provide more evidence to the contrary when it communicates with the campus community. “Personnel issues” and “respect for a former colleague” may seem like noble reasons to keep quiet, but they do little to help students understand why a major policy-maker has been erased from the equation. 

If the decision to part with an administrator is right and fair, the college should do what it can to justify that decision. Transparency and courtesy are not antithetical to each other. 

It may be hard for students to pay attention to the thrush of emails about someone they’ve never heard of, leaving a position they don’t know much about, but these administrators help define every student’s destiny at this college. It may be time for students to start asking about what this trends means for the college’s present and its future.