Letter to the Editor: Should universities act as Big Brother in students’ lives?

Perhaps one of the changes facing colleges and universities today is that parents have grown to expect institutions of higher learning to watch over their children. With the high cost of tuition and a move toward the provision of accommodations and modifications that are legally substantiated, a major shift in the expectations of educational institutions for many students, not just in K-12 settings but beyond, has created a sense of entitlement that was not present a couple of decades ago. Has the role of the university changed from one of educator to one of custodian?

Previously, the responsibility of going to class and completing coursework to the professor’s expectations fell squarely on the student. Increasingly, I hear parents calling professors at the end of term, requesting phone conversations and meetings to discuss grades and sometimes to get a report on their child’s participation. That is often when most of us begin our explanation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and walk down a very uncomfortable path as we try to redirect the conversation back to the student. Parents coming to college to advocate for their children was a practice unheard of a generation ago.

Additionally, many faculty members receive calls from Student Affairs about attendance issues, illness on the part of a student or a close family member, and other family emergencies. Those of us who primarily teach freshmen are contacted about filling out progress reports and, while all of this is very supportive of the student and provides information so the university can address issues of retention, it also works to provide a kind of extended adolescence. And maybe that is not a bad thing. Institutions of higher learning should treat their students well. Faculty should be understanding and, when appropriate, accommodating to special needs. Everyone gets sick or overwhelmed at times, and there is nothing wrong with looking out for our students.

Yet, parents appear to have a role in the higher education process today that goes beyond paying tuition and providing transportation to and from campus. Some of these same parents have spent many years attempting to manage their children who present diagnoses like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Bi-polar Disorder. It is understandable that the parents would initially be hesitant to let their children make it on their own in college.

Do parents have the right to expect the University they send their children to to protect them and deliver them at the end of four years safely and with a diploma? I wonder if the faculty’s current expectations of the college experience jive with those of our students and parents. Where does the responsibility rest for students observing the rules of the university as well as the rules of the community? What is a parent’s role in the higher education process?

Is it merely an illusion that college students seem to need more support than in previous years? Perhaps we seem to have a more fragile student body than we acknowledge. And ultimately, do we function as a kinder, gentler college community, or do we function as accomplices? I am not sure that I have the answers, but these questions have presented themselves to me in various forms over the past few years. It might be good to have a conversation about them.

— Michele D’Angelo
Composition Coordinator
Adjunct Assistant Professor of English

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