Opinion: The destruction of the Simpson experience

Photo courtesy of Blake Carlson

Photo courtesy of Blake Carlson

by Blake Carlson, Staff Writer

There is an enrollment crisis in higher education. The Simpson College administration has decided they are going to solve it with one simple ratio:  15:1.

For every 15 students on campus, there will be one faculty member.

This is simply not a promising model.

The 2018 Condition of Higher Education in Iowa Report states the Regents universities saw only a 12 percent increase in enrollment from 2010-2017. Community college enrollment has dropped 14 percent since 2010 and private, not-for-profit institutions dropped 7 percent.

These are not encouraging trends, which means faculty cuts are likely going to continue to happen.  

And as faculty cuts continue to happen, the Simpson experience continues to be destroyed.

In the first week of the fall semester, the college hosts its annual opening convocation ceremony. At the conclusion of the alma mater, the college faculty garbed in their robes and hats, line the sidewalks of College Hall high-fiving, fist bumping and shaking the hands of every first-year student as they parade through the gates and officially enter the campus community.

That’s the Simpson experience.

The Simpson faculty have this way of connecting with students that just isn’t found at another institution.  A way of taking the underdog student and unleashing their full potential. Through mentorship and one on one guidance both inside and outside the classroom, students who attend Simpson College exit the gates of College Hall upon graduation with a unique sense of their own ability.

When I was a first-year theatre major, I was assigned to complete 10 hours of service learning in the Theatre Simpson costume shop. While I grew up involved in the arts, I was never involved in costumes. When I was born, I had a pediatric stroke affecting the dexterity and fine motor function in my right hand. This setback is referred to as an invisible disability, in everyday interactions people don’t realize I have it.

When I told the costume professor of my situation she simply said, “That’s OK, now let’s learn how to sew on buttons.” For every hour I was assigned, she took the time to walk me through the process while also teaching me soft skills like problem solving and self-confidence through her mentorship.

That’s the Simpson experience.

In the second round of recent faculty cuts, the costume professor position was eliminated from the theatre department. While yes, students probably can run a costume shop on their own, they cannot teach classes for a well-rounded major or supervise other student designers and they most certainly cannot mentor the physics major doing service learning for their arts credit.

Those are the hallmarks of a liberal arts education, right?

At the Oct. 10, faculty meeting last semester, President Jay Simmons outlined his vision for the future of the college: “The vision is we have to maintain our identity as an arts and sciences institution that offers high-quality programs that prepare our students for their careers and lives and purpose.”

While Simpson College currently maintains its identity offering programs in the arts and sciences, faculty are being stretched so thin they are struggling to find the resources to continue offering the quality of education that the Simpson experience is known for. The costume position is just one example of the multitude of student experiences with professors being cut across campus.

The administration needs a more sustainable, long-term solution.

Current recruitment strategies should undergo a serious analysis, with a public report released stating results and what changes will be made for the future. Additionally, digital marketing strategies should continue to be strengthened and provided the resources necessary for the college to have a vibrant online recruiting presence.

The Simpson experience is the faculty. When the administration chooses a student to faculty ratio as their primary benchmark for maintaining a budget, the Simpson experience will continue to be destroyed. And as that destruction occurs, students are going to get out while they still can.

Program prioritization? It’s not over. It’s only just begun.

And that might mean an end to the Simpson experience.