SHSU faculty, administration voice concerns over customer service in higher education
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 01:09
Dissention and dialogue arose among faculty members and administrators during discussion of applying aspects of customer service to education at Sam Houston State University in the President and Provost Roundtable Discussion on Wednesday.
President Dana Gibson presented a handout outlining customer service principles that could be applied to higher education that revolved around treating students as “professional clients” and their education as a product.
Several of 100 faculty members that packed LSC room 320 voiced their concerns over challenges applying the principles outlined in the agenda with budgeting issues, identifying student expectations and maintaining university goals and expectations.
Chair and associate professor of Economics Ed Blackburne, Ph.D., expressed his frustration with possible inconsistencies of the customer service principles.
“I think the faculty feels frustrated when this topic comes up because they feel squeezed,” he said. “I think [the faculty feels] the administration is not giving them enough room to do what they need to do, do it unapologetically, and give a good service, but at the same time is being told it might not be ‘their realm’ as a customer service department but you will be held to the same standard’.”
Gibson addressed these frustrations with faculty members and stressed that although the principles were not required, it is important to adapt to some principles of customer service based on outside influences from the state, especially with funding in the future. According to Gibson, state funding from SHSU is about $4,065 per student versus $15,000 per student at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Part of my job is to discuss the pertinent topics that will affect us in over the next five to ten years,” Gibson said. “I do think it’s not broken here, but how do we respond to what is becoming blatant consumerism [.…]The state dynamics are such that some of the performance indicators [for state funding] will be based on some of [these principles] for our funding.”
Provost for Academic Affairs Jaime Hebert agreed with Gibson, noting it is important to achieve a balance between applying new principles of customer service in higher education and university goals and traditions as SHSU looks to move forward.
“The reason why we have these discussions is to see how we adapt these aspects of customer service without losing who we are in basic principles,” Hebert said. “The topic helps the university see how we can adapt.”
Faculty members also voiced concern with identifying roles and responsibilities of students, parents and faculty members when looking at students and parents as “clients,” especially when they pay for their education.
Hebert gave a solution, stressing it was important to recognize the difference in treating students in and out of the classroom setting.
“In my years of teaching, I never looked at student as customer,” Herbert said. “There were points when I became a chair, when I did look at them as a customer because they were coming to me for immediate services or answers, so I approached them differently than I would have as a professor.”
Director of the Counseling Center Drew Miller, Ph.D., agreed with Hebert and suggested to begin building expectations with students and parents as a part of customer service to better inform them of what services they are getting.
Despite the disagreements over some topics during the roundtable discussion, Herbert said the diversity of opinions is key to the future of the university.
“This was open discussion, not official objectives,” he said. “It’s important to us to hear diverse opinions about controversial topics to help us function as a university. The point is we’re all thinking.”
Hebert feels confident about moving forward even though there might be challenges incorporating the customer service principles into higher education.
“Changes are not based on terminology and language,” he said. “They’re based on the demographics of our students and the location of our students and as we continue to grow, we will adapt.”
The next President’s Roundtable is scheduled for Oct. 23.