18.4.05

WHY I KEEP POSTING ON THE SAME THEMES. Northern Star columnist Genevieve Diesing reflects on Northern Illinois University's retention problems.
When I got here, I liked NIU right away - the people were nice, the classes were interesting and despite the unusually frequent car alarms and train whistles, the atmosphere had promise. And then I went to pay for my books.
The prices of which may be higher to reflect the high proportion of book purchases underwritten by third parties, whether parents or taxpayers providing grants and loan guarantees. I paid $50 for The New Haven Railroad in the McGinnis Era; there is lots of color, there are plenty of halftone engravings, and it's about 200 hardbound pages. I don't know what the press run is; probably not close to that of a principles of microeconomics book in softcover.
With a bad taste in my mouth about the expense of textbooks, I then learned that although I paid a decent sum for the right to park on campus, there really wasn’t any room to park anyway. Then there was the inefficiency of the newly redesigned DuSable bus turnaround.
Here we'll have to agree to disagree. Before that turnaround was redesigned, class-changing time offered a parody of middle school, with students rather than parents dropping off students. It's not as if ours is a sprawling campus. Everything is within easy walking and biking distance, even for 50 year old professors who understand "use it or lose it."
When second semester rolled around I discovered, as did many of my peers, there just weren’t enough classes available for us. Some students were forced to pay thousands of dollars a year for courses they didn’t even need, in hopes they could get into required ones at a later time.
Although there's something called strategic management of your core courses (I ended up taking more political science electives at the expense of philosopy electives during more prosperous times for the academy; getting closed out of your first choice isn't something new) there is still too much of the enhance-productivity-by-running-fewer-sections-with-more-students mentality at work around here.
I got a taste of what administrators and NIU officials meant when they spoke about "priorities." Our football team’s success is clearly reflected in head coach Joe Novak’s salary, (which is far above the pay of many of NIU’s full-time professors) although, in a March 28 article in the Northern Star, President John Peters was quoted as saying "Accomplished professors aren’t paid what they should be."
Thank you. Words are plentiful, deeds are precious.
There was the renovation of the gleaming Altgeld Hall and the luxurious administrators’ offices - just blocks from the Stevens Building, which was reported last week to have a computer lab in a former janitor closet and problems with heating and mold. The building was not even constructed in accordance with the American Disabilities Act. And as I write this, the flooding in Cole Hall has caused one of my classes to be canceled.
I think that's called expense-preference behavior. To be fair, many of our buildings are in 1960s Institutional Expansion style, before the building codes calling for ramps and wider doors were in force.
Perhaps the low point of all this was discovering that summer commencement had been sold out from under us. That decision outraged hundreds of students, yet was made without any of their or faculty members’ consent.
The Convocation Center was built without the consent of students or faculty, and the Jehovah's Witnesses were willing to pay a substantial rent for its use. (But it has nothing to do with money. Service and social justice are the objectives.) The administrators will note that no other Illinois public university has a summer commencement: apparently they too were closed out of philosophy.
I would be lying if I said the general impression I’ve gotten so far didn’t make me feel, well, slightly unimportant. If administrators focused more on the issues that concern students and less on the potential to make money from them, they wouldn’t have to research why students don’t want to come back.
And that's a column without mention of the "access" fiction and the "assessment" of the obvious, two other sources of the dropout rate.

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