WingOpinion

No access, no bueno

Actions necessary to reverse unintended consequences of college's policies

Political Cartoon

Students at Laramie County Community College may be saying, “Yo quiero viajes internacionales,” but they may have to settle for a trip to a Taco Bell in Cheyenne.

That’s because LCCC’s recent attempts to address issues on campus have resulted in a number of policies, rules and statements being revised with unintended consequences.

During the past year or so, the LCCC administration has experienced a handful of problems that were addressed with newly created or revised policies, rules and statements. Most of these have undergone revision because of faculty, administrative or board requests. Undoubtedly, some needed updating.

However, LCCC has created at least one policy and a statement that have become solutions to treat symptoms, and the results have created unintended consequences.

Faculty stiffled

Employees have been overwhelmed with requests to provide feedback to the proposed revisions, so much so that some employees have simply stopped responding.

But for students the situation is entirely different. Students have absolutely no access to the Web forums in which this feedback is encouraged. Students can neither contribute to the forums nor read other comments that have been written. Students don’t even have access to look up what policies or statements are being considered for change.

Not one person who was interviewed could tell Wingspan where students could comment on these policies, nor could they tell us why. Even the president, Dr. Miles LaRowe; the LCCC attorney and the public relations director didn’t know of an outlet in which students could engage in any form of discussion dealing with these policies, rules and statements.

If students cannot find an outlet, neither can the community in which the college is designed to serve.

A policy and a statement have caught our attention: the travel policy and the civility statement. These both have effects on students, yet we have nowhere to voice our opinions about them, or more important, we were never given notification that these policies were being changed. No one seemed aware that for so long students have been unable to provide feedback.

Faculty Senate president Jeff Schmidl explained because the policies were outdated, it was time for some of them to be rewritten. But he didn’t believe any intentional negative consequences have come from the revisions.

Yet after being informed the students have no access to participate in the revision process, he said, “Students should take action and ask for it.” Without being aware of an issue, how can students take action?

Civilty denied

Take the civility statement, for example. It can be found in LCCC’s catalog or in a student planner. The statement seems clear and understandable with no need for questions:

“LCCC is committed to learning. We believe that academic inquiry, personal integrity, and respect for self and others are the foundation of the educational experience. Therefore, all members of the campus community will strive to create a campus environment of mutual respect and high ethical standards. LCCC students, faculty, and staff have the right to experience, and the responsibility to maintain, a safe educational community that is civil in all aspects of human relations.”

The way the civility statement is written is not the main issue. Instead the issue is how the statement is being used on campus.

LCCC attorney Tony Reyes said some people are unhappy with the civility statement, but it doesn’t seem a high priority. A few faculty members disagreed, and College Council has decided to tackle it this semester.

“I’m not opposed to a civility statement; I am opposed to how it is being used on this campus,” said Leif Swanson, LCCC English instructor. “There is evidence on campus that the civility statement is being used to suppress free speech. People are being threatened and in some cases threatened with punishment.”

Swanson and another faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal said an employee could be reprimanded for something as simple as voicing an opinion or engaging in rigorous discussion. If an employee so much as disagrees with a supervisor, even in a civil manner, that employee could be written up.

The administration in certain areas of the college is using this statement as a way to keep people quiet, Swanson said. The other faculty member agreed it is important to have a civility statement, but the way it is being used is beginning to affect faculty and, in turn, affecting students.

The faculty member said, “We no longer have First Amendment rights when we work at LCCC.”

Moreover, Swanson said it has had a “chilling effect” throughout the campus. “Unfortunately, this statement has allowed certain administrators to suppress free speech, which has opened the college up for serious litigation,” he warned.

Additional stress

Although defying the civility statement is not grounds for termination, it could very well become possible in time. The fact that an employee could be declared “uncivil” and be written up for voicing an opinion or suggesting alternatives someone didn’t want to hear seems absurd. But, regardless, after so many write-ups, it makes sense an employee may be viewed as unfit for his position.

“Higher education is founded on free speech and academic freedom, and we have to fight vigorously to make sure that we are not being suppressed in any way,” Swanson said. “The best outcome comes from open discussion, and if we don’t have free speech and academic freedom, we don’t have a college.”

Swanson pointed out the irony of the situation by asking what could be more uncivil than the administration suppressing free speech?

“This is a statement leftover from a disgraced president, and certain administrators are carrying out a practice of limiting academic inquiry, and this needs to stop,” he said.

The leaving of LCCC’s president, Dr. Darrel Hammon, in January shows we do not want to be led this way, Swanson said. But what the administration is doing seems to indicate the old ways are still being practiced at LCCC.

Swanson and Dave Zwonitzer, another English instructor at LCCC, have rewritten the civility statement, hoping it will make a difference. Swanson said it should be rewritten to say a disagreement in itself does not constitute incivility. He and Zwonitzer are working to reword the statement to make it impossible for the policy to be misused as it is currently—one of those unintended consequences.

The faculty member who requested anonymity said it had been hard finding the motivation to return for the fall semester and be excited about teaching when these practices are going on behind closed doors.

When faculty are less than enthusiastic, it affects students, yet again, another unintended consequence.

Swanson said he believed students are affected when instructors aren’t allowed to engage in rigorous discussion about issues.

In a meeting full of faculty or staff members who are afraid to disagree in a civil manner, the lack of communication ultimately means the best decisions for students are not being made.

Another policy that has been going through drastic revision is the travel policy. Before 2009, LCCC had no campuswide travel policy for students. After President Hammon chaperoned a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, certain incidences occurred during the trip that triggered creation of a complicated policy.

It is understandable that LCCC needed its own policy, but the policy ultimately created under Hammon made some travel impossible for students and faculty—an unintended consequence.

Complex policy

To get an idea of how drastic this policy is, hear this: The travel policy in effect for LCCC students, which keep in mind is a majority of adults, is 23 pages long.

The travel policy for elementary, junior high and high school students is less than one page. It is a permission slip that must be signed by a legal guardian. It contains a space for a Social Security number, an insurance company and the insurance policy number.

The LCCC policy first classifies travel based on the risks, the location (remote wilderness or international travel) and distance from the college, the duration of the stay, the number of participants, access to readily available emergency services and the presence of multiple communication barriers. These classes are divided among A, B and C.

An example of a class C travel would be is taking a rock climbing trip to Vedauwoo west of Cheyenne. To be able to go on this trip, a student must first provide all that’s needed for class A and B travel and, in addition, must sign a form agreeing that he will not engage in any inappropriate activities during the trip such as smoking, drinking or sexual conduct of any kind. Another requirement for class C travel is a student must visit a doctor prior to leaving to obtain a signature stating he is fit “physically, psychologically and physiologically” to travel.

One unintended negative consequence of this policy is it completely wiped out at least one class from the college catalog. A three-credit-hour course numbered 2071 “Studying Abroad” involved one trip, for about 15 days, to a foreign country to gain knowledge and experience in other cultures and languages.

This trip was solely directed toward educating students. Each weekday students had four hours of class; they went on shorter outings to visit cultural sites and stayed with host families for the duration of the trip. This course was a great way to gain experience in learning language, culture and life. The cost of the trip was usually less than $3,000 and affordable to not only traditional students but also community members. The last time a class was able to take this trip was in 2009.

The complexity of the new travel policy made traveling for students and faculty too difficult. A faculty member said no doctor would sign a medical form like LCCC’s travel policy because if something happened, the doctor could be held liable.

The travel policy also states that the instructor or faculty member hosting the trip would be held liable for any students who might make the decision to smoke, drink or engage in any sexual activity during the trip.

Insane liability

It’s silly to believe an instructor could be held liable for a student drinking during a trip. To put one adult in charge of other adults who should and would do as they please is simply unrealistic.

This policy has directly affected students because the trips are no longer offered. Fortunately, the college is in the process of rewriting the travel policy yet again.

Although LCCC attorney Reyes said he does not know why this policy was initially written, he does think it is “quite cumbersome” now and could use revision. He said there is a plan to split the policy up into three separate policies to attempt to make it less complex. We can only hope more unintended consequences don’t result.

One way to avoid unintended consequences is to obtain legitimate feedback from the people who will be affected by these policies, statements and rules.

LCCC needs designated places, both online and on campus, to gather information and to express concerns. That way, students can offer suggestions for improvements that can be made to make LCCC into the best college it can be. And we can start by listening to our students so that they can gain cultural experiences deeper than ordering a chalupa at Taco Bell.