“There is, thank God, no such thing as an ‘Illinois student.’ We are so various that not even the most misty-eyed alumni could confuse us. We are not typical — of each other, or of anything else. This University is too big, and we are too many, for it to be possible that a product could be turned out here … And that is not a weakness but a strength.”
— Roger Ebert
Explaining the reasons for the new “Experiential Learning and Wellness fee” last week, Jody Gordon, the vice-president overseeing student services at UFV, said this isn’t merely a fee, it’s a contribution toward taking a good, hard look at how to help the “whole student.” The Cascade covered the new fee in last week’s issue, and there’s an opinion article that takes a different angle on the fee a few pages away in this week’s issue, and the Board of Governors, diplomatically trying to summarize and justify and appeal to everyone, offered an explanation to all in a myUFV bulletin many first saw today (for me, Tuesday) — if your internet connection was working. (The bulletin ends with a promise for a new plan to increase student support funding — how that will fit into a just-drafted budget that added two new fees to an already constrained budget remains to be seen.) So there’s a pretty good amount of information out there if you want to start understanding why there will be yet another line (or lines) on your registration payment slip next fall.
But the “whole student” — I found that term interesting. Administrators tend to use phrases that mean a great deal if you’re reading the same research and attending the same meetings they do, but for those of us not keeping up-to-date with university management trends, it can often end up as jargon that means next to nothing — which is problematic if the university (or a newspaper reporting at a university) wants to be understood.
In this case, the term refers to what is also called “holistic development,” or education that develops a student’s sense of who they are, not only what they picked up from a course. Moral education, emotional education, the link between thinking, feeling, and action. Some courses cover this in part, but it’s not at the surface of a major or minor in the same way as the disciplines we become students of. And Gordon was saying this fee, this fee that isn’t as bad as it could’ve been, according to the university, is going toward that, that’s what will grow because of this fee. No one, of course, could say that sounds like a bad area to grow.
But I’m not sure about this idea. Kathleen M. Quinlan, the head of educational development at the University of Oxford, has written on this subject, and what she says applies to more at UFV than just a single fee.
“In advocating a broader view of the educational process, [this idea] also challenges — either explicitly or implicitly — the purposes of education, typically protesting against economic and managerial discourses,” she writes. “Such discourses reduce students to consumers or to packaged products with a set of specifications (‘graduate attributes’).”
Now, the problem is that many students come to UFV to get a degree to get a better job — the position requires it, employers look at qualifications, part of the university’s mandate is to serve the Fraser Valley, and it does so in a large way by connecting with local businesses and offering a selection of professional and trades programs. Higher education, as we know from the provincial government’s priorities, is a commodity, another section on its budget, a place where people look to find a product. Is, then, the idea of a whole student incompatible with what UFV offers — is it an ideal that we can only claim a piece of?
“We hear regularly from employers how advantageous [experiential learning] is in the competition for post-graduate employment,” writes Barry Delaney, the chair of the Board of Governors. While experiential learning, recreational education, and additional support for the Career Centre and Peer Resource and Leadership Centre could all end up having a positive effect at UFV, the way the university’s highest body of decision-making has chosen to speak about the change isn’t based on the core concepts of holistic development.
One last quote from Quinlan: “To grow students holistically, [leaders] need to attend to and align the culture of the institution, the curriculum, the co-curriculum and the sense of campus community.”
What, a newspaper needs to ask, is going on here? And UFV’s “here” is not easily summarized, and UFV’s “sense of community” is just as vague — is this a large community (the whole of the Valley, the thousands of students), or a tiny one (the numbers of students who have time for recreation, who will repeatedly use the services funded by the new fee)?
These student services are trying to grow the community of UFV, to create a greater sense of belonging for students — the hope that they can be taken care of here. But the misaligned communities of UFV aren’t going to be righted by a fee and a few staff.
In the past, particularly during its era as a publication run out of the Student Union Society, the pages of The Cascade were filled with screeds about lack of activity on campus. “Get involved!” they cried, desperate for people to “connect with us,” providing no compelling reasons for a student over-loaded with other commitments to re-write their schedule.
Decades later, the basic approaches of this institution to connect with students, to build a community, have not changed: mail, posters, public announcements, decisions made based on a focus group or a conversation that involved, in actual numbers, a handful of students or less (a recently added app, with no major announcement and very low download numbers, basically combines these approaches — very similar to the recently discontinued SUS app). Like The Cascade in the past, wishing for a solid, definable group of students to come together en masse is not going to happen. Right now, there isn’t even a single student informed and aware enough to have put their name forward for representative positions on the Board of Governors or Senate for next year.
While no one’s expecting the new fee to completely transform UFV, this move is part of a larger trend — one that is understood and clear internally, but, at its worst, looks like throwing money at a problem that UFV is not equipped to solve — if there’s an idea here beyond staff hires and service campaigns, it has not been stated. Does it make this university look more professional, come closer to completing its range of services, and align with the provincial mandate? Yes, of course. But it’s hard to see how it will change the way students, at least the ones that will never make it onto a top 40 alumni list, routinely go to and from its campuses.