Last June, I decided to leave my job at Richard Bland College of William and Mary after three difficult and somewhat rewarding years. One aspect of work at RBC is that the school administration only offers one year contracts to new staff and there is always a threat that someone’s contract won’t be renewed. As the months have passed since I left I’ve stopped by a few times to check in on friends and former colleagues. My replacement staff member, Steven Christian, started around the same time students returned to campus in the fall. By the time I met him, he told me it felt like Richard Bland was like the M. Night Shyamalan movie, “The Village,” in which a group of people live in fear of the outside world, disconnected from normal society. I felt like he had hit the nail on the head. The school has a way of placing very high expectations for staff without the structures to accomplish the goals. Every respectable higher ed professional knows it takes years to build a program.
Today, I found out that after 9 months on the job his contract was not renewed.
I was told by another current staff person that my former supervisor, Dr. Corey L. Scott, Assistant Provost for Student Life, was also not asked to return in the fall. He started in spring of 2016 after his predecessor suddenly left mid-year. I don’t know why his contract was not renewed, but after I left the school did two things that confused me. First, they took my position out from under Student Life and moved it into the Campus Events branch id the college managed by the Director of Grants and Partnerships and ultimately led by the Chief Development Officer. Very strange move to position student development as a wing of find development. Second, the college moved forward with a dubious renovation project that provided a third residence hall while the current two residence halls were already very far below capacity. At the end of the fall semester, around the time the William & Mary Board of Visitors attended a ribbon cutting for the building, all the students living in the new dorm were told they had to leave and move across campus to one of the other two residence halls. Removing Dr. Scott feels like a scapegoat situation where the failures of top leadership are being blamed on middle management.
Finally, Takeya McLaurin, Director is Human Resources, has announced she will not be returning to campus in the fall. I can’t express the size of this loss for the college as Takeya has been a highly competent professional after highly incompetent predecessors. As Director of HR, I’m sure Takeya knows more about about the inner workings of the college than most staff.
During my three years at Richard Bland, there was a spending freeze every year, sometimes as early as December. Every year I had to wait until October or later to receive the students activities fund for student organizations and events. Every year we lost staff in key roles and struggled to find suitable replacements. Every year I wondered if I would be asked to return.
I left on good terms with so many amazing people and students. But when I heard about the most recent wave of staff leaving (and there are certainly more on the way) I was surprised by my own frustration. What is Student Activities without a budget and where does all the money go that students pay in their student activities fee? Why hire a new staff person and move them under someone that has never managed that role then fire them within a year? Why ask the General Assembly for funding to renovate a residence hall when the two existing buildings are far under capacity? What about IBM Portal, the company that RBC paid untold thousands to create predictive analytics then quietly distances themselves from after the project fell apart. Every year there was a new “innovation” that moved everyone in a new direction only to be forgotten and dismissed. It’s one thing to ask incompetent people to leave when they can’t do their jobs, but it’s another thing for a college to move staff around and change the rules so much that no one can ever become proficient.
Not that anyone really wants to get good at living in disfunction.