Bridging the Campus Divide

November
2005
Wheeler North, Chair

Raise your hand if at some time in your tenure as a faculty member you learned about a new college policy, process, or form from one of your students.

There seems to be a form for everything these days, and these processes seemingly change every day. at our campus there is a petition to add, a petition to drop, a petition to modify a major, a petition to graduate, a petition to be reinstated, a petition to get assistance in a multitude of areas, and a petition to, well-you get the idea-petitions abound. and these are just for the students.

Faculty and staff have no shortage of forms either: equipment requisitions, revolving cash forms, classroom request forms, civic center forms, gift acceptance forms, sabbatical forms, professional development forms, flex forms. There's even a form for travel on behalf of the college. In fact, there are two different forms, one if you require reimbursement from the college, and a different one if you don't require reimbursement.

Each form comes with a whole set of rules and guidelines. For example, you must use cash or a check but not a credit card. for another a Purchase order must be used. but if you can't buy it because a vendor won't accept a Po, you must start over with a different form.

In the end these processes are convoluted, and driven by many different needs, but they do attempt to bridge communication and process divisions that always occur in larger institutions. We, as public agencies, must comply with many differing mandates and compliance issues. The forms are there to guide process and ensure that compliance happens.

For those of us who are "expert" bureaucrats it can be very frustrating; for our student's who are not yet bureaucratized it can be incomprehensibly frustrating.

Typically the processes your students will face relate to the many student service opportunities our colleges offer. These are often controlled locally within each service area. as such they may develop their own internal process to ensure they operate in compliance with the various laws, regulations and policies.

Take the time to visit these services once in a while, see if they have a listing of the forms they use and how to use them. If you use a form or process that you find to be confusing, work with them to improve it or at least help them to understand why it's confusing. If your office, them to understand why it's confusing. If your office, area or division has such processes, work with your staff development committees as well as your various senates and student bodies to keep everyone up to speed on those processes.

If you are a leader, such as a department chair with several program areas, see where you can streamline these processes, using one form to meet many needs. It is much easier to keep staff trained on one form that has many uses than it is to have many forms in many locations, each with its own use. the reverse is also true. If you truly need two different forms, don't make them look so similar that they are easily confused.

Our role should be to facilitate processes, not to create barriers. take the time to see how many people must handle a form, add to it, sign it, tear something from it, move it to another location and make more decisions about it. Most of these forms and processes were not invented by an omnipotent being with unearthly powers. They belong to us, and should be functional. If a form or process takes 49 steps from start to finish, no one in their right mind will do it. divide the process into stages, or even better, be innovative and simplify the process.

With today's incredible advances in information technology, decide how to utilize the technology to your advantage. A digital form, saved partially filled out, can save a lot of time as you reuse it. Digital forms can be designed to control input, thereby reducing gaps or errors. In today's It age no one should ever need to use a calculator to arrive at a numerical value based upon data entered into a digital form. Those of you with the authority to sign your life away get ready, digitally interconnected signatory approval processes are all the rage, and, if implemented, really will make life easier.

In a very practical sense the obligation to inform and counsel our students resides with every college and district employee as does the obligation to ensure compliance with all these mandates and requirements. Little things like sharing a lunch, asking another for help, or inviting each other to join in on meetings such as department or school/division meetings can provide opportunities for exchange that will bridge the divide directly, rather than having your students be the primary means of cross college communication.

Whatever you do, if a student brings you a form that you have never seen, go find it's origin and become in "form"ed.

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