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Op-Ed: A Tale of Buyer’s Remorse

Say, as is true anywhere else, costs you something at Emmanuel College.

Take, for example, in the United States. According to a Congressional Budget Office report published in 2013, a middle income, 4-person home in the U.S. in 2010 could expect to pay around $7,000 in federal taxes each year. That amounts to over 14 percent of their total income that is paid by the average citizen to the government each year. Additionally, you can tack on varying tax burdens at the state level.

Of course, that number has increased both for middle income families and all other Americans- but only a little- about three percent. If only Congress had sent me a ‘you’re-welcome’ letter for that.

But, what does this tax money get you? Theoretically, the money Americans pay on each paycheck and purchase is returned to them in the form of goods and services. This is made manifest as we see potholes paved, bridges built, and apparently even rivers renovated. Alliteration makes me cry. Complementarily, Americans also receive services for their tax dollars in the form of Medicaid, Medicare, and other contributions to the common good. Oftentimes, it is the failure of government to satisfactorily provide these goods and services which leads to widespread discontent and their own plummeting approval ratings.

In America, however, paying the oft arcane myriad of taxes the government places in your lap actually buys something far more impressive than any bridge or expressway- it affords each citizen political voice. The American citizens’ payment of taxes is a direct monetary exchange for self-determination. The right to vote is bought and paid for by the American tax burden and while it may not always seem like a bargain, it is a hefty power.

At the end of any term of office- from mayors to Presidents- prospective voters within their district line up to weigh in on their performance and initiate change. Their judgment made sacrosanct on ballot, Americans entrust a candidate to embody all of their values, beliefs, and opinions with each vote. The representatives selected are tasked with representing the needs of their constituency at the administrative level, delivering policy which provides for the betterment of society. Thus is the purchasing power of the American taxpayer.

At Emmanuel, a similar system is at play, though with disappointingly different results.

A full-time student at Emmanuel College pays around $50,000 a year (assuming they are still under their parents’ health insurance and live in a double-room). This figure varies based on scholarships and grants and the average student actually pays somewhere closer to $27,000 per year. A sum of money only the very fortunate would deem paltry.

It would be unjust and petulant to say that Emmanuel students have gotten nothing for their money. Over the past three years Emmanuel has aesthetically transformed itself. The renovation of the Administration building was significant and it did wonders to update an environment that was tired and clearly obsolete. Meanwhile, I may have fond memories of the old Muddy River Café but at least now I can breathe in it, and the project addressed a dire need for additional space for students around campus. We even got printers.

Like the American taxpayer, the Emmanuel tuitionpayer receives- for his or her transaction- these goods alongside additional services. Chiefly among these is its awarding of college diplomas upon the completion of a degree program. By offering degree programs across a diverse array of academic fields, Emmanuel College can call itself a liberal arts school. On paper this means that the arts, sciences, and humanities converge on the Emmanuel College campus encouraging students to pursue interdisciplinary study with incessant curiosity; it means that education is approached from a variety of perspectives which challenge students to form their own opinion; ultimately, it means that Emmanuel students are given a choice as to the path of their academic career.

Lately, however Emmanuel College has been failing its tuitionpayers in this service. In order for an institution to excel at delivering a liberal arts education, it must begin with a strong faculty of professional educators. The commitment to building strong, professional, diversely minded faculty within every department is simply lacking in recent years at Emmanuel College. The result has been the dismissal of widely respected, well-credentialed, and truly loved faculty at a breakneck rate such that, many programs of study are now reliant upon a carousel of adjuncts and visiting lecturers to teach classes at every level. Many students and alumnae view the recent dismissal of faculty in the Political Science Department and in the English/Communications Department as the most recent episode in a longer trend of mismanaged staffing decisions.

The reality is that the effects of these decisions are never felt by those that made them. Neither the members of the Board of Trustees, nor the administration feel the disadvantages that students experience as a result of the chronic inconsistent staffing of departments at Emmanuel. Further, none of the aforementioned feels the demoralization that students endure when notified that a role model’s contract has been terminated, or their tenure left unoffered. This is to say nothing of student organizations who called upon many of these now and soon-to-be ex-faculty members to serve as their advisor- a position without which a club cannot exist.

Of course, the rebuttal is that Emmanuel College is a private Catholic institution and thereby is entitled to run its organization in any way it sees fit, within the confines of the law. So an adherence to Christian values and doctrine is to be assumed, and even encouraged. By right, Emmanuel has sovereign authority over all operations of the college, including staffing decisions. But while each student and alumnus made a choice to empty the coffers and attend this college, many Emmanuel students simply feel as if they aren’t seeing a return on their investment.

If the cost of attendance is not reflective of the value of services rendered, students have every right to demand that the product Emmanuel delivers be improved. This has nothing to do with Emmanuel policy or church doctrine. It’s about self-determination. It’s about the right to choose the path of one’s own education. Really, it’s about getting what you paid for.

Ultimately, the issues being raised have less to do with the decisions themselves, than the manner in which they are made. By virtue of a tuition payment, Emmanuel students are entitled to having their voices heard. Students deserve transparency in the process through which the fitness of educators to educate- a service for which students have directly paid- is judged. To be clear, this shouldn’t come in the form of a regulated input like course evaluations (whose salience in the administration’s appraisal of faculty is ambiguously understood at best) but a direct say in staffing decisions. Some have suggested student-held seats on committees regarding faculty evaluation and given the presence of students on committees which generate both the academic integrity policy and course curriculum, it is not a suggestion without merit. It appears that Emmanuel College will allow students to influence what they will be taught, but neither how it will be taught, nor by whom it will be taught.

Alas, recent days have seen a preponderance of students moving to rectify this widely acknowledged injustice. Hopefully, these will remain the professional, sustainable approaches the likes of which should be considered as the only avenues to achieve a successful revision of Emmanuel’s faculty evaluation policies. At the end of the day however, the Emmanuel community- students and alumnae alike- deserve to be taken seriously and see their voices heard and their concerns addressed. To date their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and their purchase of the Emmanuel College experience rendered unsatisfactory.

It’s time that Emmanuel College holds up its end of the bargain.

-Nathan Benevides ’15

Posted by on March 29, 2014. Filed under Letters to the Editor,Opinions & Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.