Gerard Tate went to Thailand hoping to relax after he retired from the military as a criminal investigator in 2013. He imagined a place with white sand and clear water would be the best Webster campus for a veteran. After eight weeks of studying at the Webster Thailand campus, Tate left due to campus conditions.
“The workout facility has some of the worst conditions I have ever seen… there is one basketball net, the floor’s all torn up, but (Webster) can spend a lot of that money on marketing and recruiting more students,” Tate said.
On April 8, Webster’s international site review published a report on Thailand, Bangkok and Cha-am campuses. A task force of 11 Webster faculty and administrators from the St. Louis campus observed eight different factors of the Webster Thailand (WUT) campuses: communication, student safety, student housing, academics, financial matters, campus facilities, student affairs and academic support in the Cha-am campus.
According to the review, “Webster University would need to invest in basic facilities work to bring Cha-am to an acceptable standard,” which would take an estimated $830,000 to rebuild. To upgrade additional facilities to achieve a condition “reflecting an established Webster campus,” it would take an estimated $1.2 million.
On behalf of the administration, Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said the university plans to improve the campus.
“With these recommendations, we have a concrete action plan that will help us further improve the experience for our faculty, staff and students in Thailand,” Giblin said.
Collegetimes.co published an article in March expressing concerns about the Webster Thailand campus. It claimed administrative wrongdoing, lack of student services, poor Internet connection along with a list of other claims. Webster University Provost Julian Schuster sent a response to the students concerning the collegetimes.co article. The letter stated, “Please be assured that several members of the university’s staff, faculty and administration have investigated complaints of wrongdoing and found them to be baseless.”
Tate said he was not surprised by the provost’s response to the collgetimes.co article. Tate said the response did not answer students’ concerns.
“Calling the claims baseless,” Tate said. “My question is which one? They talked about 20 different things (in the collegetimes.co article); how many of them are baseless?”
Two weeks later, the administration released the Thailand-Cha-am review to faculty. The report stated a number of claims similar to those raised by the collegetimes.co article.
Kit Jenkins worked on the task force in a sub-group focusing on communication throughout the Thailand campus. Jenkins was previously the director at the Thailand campus from 2003-2007 and is currently a member of the faculty in the School of Communications on the home campus.
“I wasn’t going to tell you I was completely surprised. A lot of these issues are not new, but the most important issues that we saw was that communication did not flow in either direction. It was not clear or transparent, and I am talking about communication between (the St. Louis campus) to Thailand and from within Thailand,” Jenkins said.
The review indicated clear communication between advisors and students but showed a lack of communication between the St. Louis and Thailand campuses, as well as from Thailand administration to their faculty and students.
“There is a lack of clarity for students, rank-and-file staff and faculty as to how they should bring up to the (Webster University Thailand) leadership,” the International Site review stated. “There is a lack of consistency in the manner WUT non-academic matters are communicated among administration, staff and students.”
Jenkins said communication is a skill that should be practiced regardless of cultural differences. She said money plays a role in what is done on international campuses, but the ability to convey ideas should be achieved without any excuse.
“Money is money and budget is budget, but communication—that’s not so expensive. That is just the will,” Jenkins said. “I think some of the problems come from (cultural differences), but good communication where people know all the rules and it is transparent, that would go a long way,” Jenkins said.
The Thailand review mentioned a lack of Wi-Fi availability throughout the campus. Jenkins related the issue to the personal experience she had as director of the Webster Thailand campus.
“Thailand is a tough place to operate,” Jenkins said. ”When I first got there we couldn’t get the Internet going, and we went into the field and the fiber optic cables fell to the ground, and an ant hill had built itself on top of the cables. People who have never been to Thailand do not know how difficult it is to operate in a rural area.”
The review also mentioned a lack of English-speaking employees who work in the financial offices, making it difficult to have financial transparency within student accounts. Jenkins compared the Thailand Cha-am campus to rural parts of Alabama and said it is difficult to attract qualified professors who live in a big city to the Cha-am campus.
“To get qualified English-speaking employees is not as easy as it would be if we were in Bangkok,” Jenkins said.
The administration plans to review all of the global Webster campuses. The European campuses will be reviewed during Fall 2015.
Jenkins said the Webster University global campuses would benefit if faculty traveled between campuses. She said students would get the education they expect, and campuses would have clearer communication with other Webster campuses.