‘Students lost their freedom of choice’

Westville faculty, students grow frustrated with the campus’ treatment

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For the second consecutive meeting, Faculty Senate members and senior administrators discussed declining student enrollment, class cancellations in Westville and a perceived lack of parity between campuses.

The discussions, which took place during the Dec. 14 and Jan. 11 Faculty Senate meetings, provided a glimpse of the lingering acrimony that surrounds unification and the urgent issues that both campuses face over declining student enrollment, retention and the utilization of facilities.

Ralph Mueller, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, related the issues, explaining that the “hostile” perception of unification from some Faculty and Staff has steered students away from the Westville campus, in effect, lowering enrollment and retention. Mueller declined that there has been any discussion about closing the Westville campus.

Steve Turner, vice chancellor for Finance and Administration, said student enrollment is down on both campuses, but continued that the effects of low enrollment have been near double on the Westville campus.

“Enrollment is down and has been down; no campus is exempt,” Turner said. “We should all be concerned.”

Since Fall 2016, PNW’s enrollment has declined from 15,286 students to 10,473 in Fall 2018, according to enrollment reports. The Westville campus experienced a loss of 3,032 students — 2,378 of whom were dual-credit students — from Fall 2016 to Fall 2018. The Hammond campus lost 1,781 students over the same time period, 966 of whom were dual-credit students. The decline of enrolled dual-credit students occurred, in part, because of the Higher Learning Commission’s increase in dual-credit teacher requirements. The Spring 2019 enrollment census will be released on Jan. 22.

The Westville campus’ declining enrollment has led to numerous class cancellations, and, as a result, the directing of students toward the Hammond campus.

Mueller addressed the growing concerns from faculty, staff and students who have been required to travel between campuses due to class cancellations or the offering of a class on only one campus.

“We need to get away from language about programs being unique to Westville or Hammond,” Mueller said. “We are one university that utilizes both campuses to offer programs.”

Geoffrey Schultz, CHESS senator, said the language about one university is “political,” and is opposed to how the university operates.

Kim Scipes, CHESS senator, said he “vehemently disagrees” that the campuses are treated as one university, continuing that senior administration is “not understanding the real differences between the campuses.”

“To paper this out by saying we are all one campus is a mistake,” Scipes said. “[There has been] no recognition of imbalance between the campuses.” 

Scipes, during the Dec. 14 meeting, offered pointed comments toward unification, which occurred in July 2016, saying that it was a “loss” for the Westville campus.

“It’s awful close to a failure,” Scipes said. “It should have never been done.”

Megan Carden, SGA College of Technology senator on the Westville campus, when asked about students who need to travel to the Hammond campus to take classes, said: “Students, I feel, have lost their freedom of choice.”

James Schooley, SGA vice president, cited the “unfulfilled promise” from PNW administration, referring to the early policy that, despite unification, students would be able to complete their necessary classes at each respective campus.

“Re-evaluation of the policy needs to happen immediately,” Schooley said.

Mueller said the upset students were likely admitted before unification, and that when a cancellation occurs, PNW has a unique advantage of providing a second option on a different campus. He said newly hired faculty and enrolled students are told that travel may be required between the two campuses.

“We cannot offer under-enrolled classes,” Mueller said.

Schooley said some PNW students are looking at attending other institutions or taking canceled Westville classes at online institutions.

Further discussion of the topic will occur during the Feb. 8 Faculty Senate meeting.