By Joshua Ritchey
After my guest commentary in issue 26 of The Journal, I received support from faculty and students through social media, in person, the mail and even a message from a St. Louis news publication to be interviewed. I refused an interview, because I love this university. I don’t believe negative publicity will fix administrative arbitration. Only a call for reform by my fellow students, staff and faculty will fix this problem.
My article criticized the administration’s financial decisions. The chess team was only one illustration of the capricious nature surrounding our officials’ spending habits. It served its purpose in pointing out unbalanced allocations of university funds and resources.
I apologize if my commentary isolated students at Webster University. That was not my intent. I was illustrating the need for administrative accountability. I have transferred colleges four times and empathize with the struggles that it brings. Nonetheless, I advise the Webster community to consider last week’s Journal opinions page and reflect on the other writer’s messages. I admit there were accidental inaccuracies that I was unaware of, and I apologize for that.
Regarding factual inaccuracies, I think it is best to discuss Student Government Association (SGA) member Katie Maxwell’s piece. Maxwell tries to discredit me and inaccurately names instances of President Elizabeth Stroble’s support. According to athletes and coaches at Webster, the baseball team took a bus to Appleton, Wis., and was met on campus by Stroble, making it impossible for her to have “met them at the airport,” as it was attributed by Maxwell.
Furthermore, Maxwell condemns me for my concerns over the administration’s choices, saying they were “off topic and out of line.” It is an SGA member’s responsibility to advocate for students in all regards. I advise students to carefully scrutinize these actions and consider the future of SGA under her. Consider whether you wish for someone who has made such flagrant, disregarding remarks to a student’s opinion to officially represent you. These hypocritical and neglectful statements in terms of student advocacy do not belong in SGA.
Now, contemplate over Paul Truong, the chess coach and marketing director for the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE). The Webster chess team has been branded as “SPICE at Webster” on the university’s website. We not only paid for a risky solution to our financial problems, but the chess team is not even consistently branded as “Webster University Chess Team” on many occasions. Another piece of information is, among Webster’s teams, I believe the chess team is the only one that has its own director of marketing. When Maxwell said in her piece that we are receiving free publicity, it is far from free. Truong is paid an undisclosed salary for his services. I hope the Webster population isn’t fooled that the publicity came unsolicited and free. The favoritism is rampant. Note that Susan Polgar, the chess coach, was wished a “Happy Birthday” on Webster’s social media sites, while other staff members don’t receive similar treatment. How can you deny favoritism?
Furthermore, Truong said the team is the choice of the right personnel. On NPR’s online article about the chess championship, there are comments critiquing Webster for “stacking the deck.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this attention came on its own. If each Webster athletic team had its own full-time director of marketing, like chess, who knows what kind of outcome would exist?
The Webster public relations department held no clarifications of inaccuracies, only citing they were “too numerous to answer here.” One of Barbara O’Malley’s primary responsibilities as chief communications officer is to debunk and accurately reply to university criticism. And this response is a poor example of public relations. The effort is mediocre at best. O’Malley is one of 15 associate vice presidents. There are also two vice presidents, and one senior vice president at Webster.
Solving the problem
Accordingly, here are possible solutions: according to a July 2010 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California-Berkeley have faced similar financial difficulties and hired a management consultant from Bain and Company who conducted an investigation. The report found the largest unnecessary expenditure was the presence of a multi-layered, inefficient, and excessive administrative body which prompted streamlining and reorganizing its structure, saving each school tens of millions of dollars, in one year.
But, as you can see, the chess team is only one example of the administration’s financial indiscretions. We could have saved money by not creating a sand volleyball court, buying and renovating a house on Big Bend Boulevard, heating the ground and creating a concrete circle between the Pearson and Priest Houses. The overspending must end.
Webster could implement a dual-enrollment program for high schoolers, or create an agreement for students to procure a four-year degree at surrounding community colleges and not require them to necessarily transfer campuses. Some high schools throughout St. Louis offer dual-enrollment classes, counting simultaneously as high school and college credit. Webster could attract students studying communications, business, marketing and management in schools where such classes are offered, generating revenue and boosting freshmen enrollment. Apply this to our outlying campuses across the United States and extrapolate the possibilities.
Many universities hold massive open online courses. These courses are open to the public, completely free and have unlimited seats. If Webster were to conduct one of these courses, it could generate interest in the university and be of minimal cost. According to a January 2013 article in The New York Times, Randy Best, chairman of Academic Partnerships, claimed that 72-84 percent of those who took a massive open online introductory course paid to take a second class in the sequence.
Opinion articles inspire dialogue. I believe mine has done so. I have not written this because of my dissatisfaction with my education. But on the contrary, I want Webster and its students to endure for years to come. I implore those that support my messages to write the president, the provost, or our board of directors. I believe this administration can implement the necessary changes to run this university more efficiently, and fairly. I graduate in three weeks. But those reading this can still make the necessary changes and let their voices be heard. Make Webster your university; make it something you are proud of, and something you will be proud of after you have left.