They Have a Parent Coordinator! | Confessions of a Community College Dean – Inside Higher Ed

In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
Observations from TG’s new student orientation at UMD.
The Girl had her new student orientation at UMD on Monday and Tuesday. She went down a few days early to spend time with local family; TW and I went on Sunday to attend the parents’ orientation on Monday and to drive her back home on Tuesday.
TG loved her experience. She quickly found some like-minded sorts and bonded with them. She also found what may be the best academic adviser ever; we’ve counseled her to check in with him on the regular and not to be shy about it. (The curriculum requirements are far more complicated than anything I’ve ever seen at a community college. Clearly, the “guided pathways” movement hasn’t yet hit there.) She’s excited about her classes and excited about the next stage of life.
The parents’ version, predictably, was a bit more pedantic. I honestly lost count of the number of slide-deck presentations, but I’m pretty sure it hit double digits. Happily for TG, the only overlap between the students’ time and the parents’ time was at the very beginning of the first day.
A few impressions:
Parents are a tough crowd. I had to admire the patience of the guy from dining services, as he had to explain the same basic point at least four times. Residential students have four dining plans from which to choose. Each one offers unlimited dining hall visits seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The differences among the plans are for “dining dollars” (a sort of scrip usable at third-party vendors on campus) and guest passes. For whatever reason, a distressing number of parents just couldn’t process the idea—repeated serially and with a visual aid—that every plan offered unlimited dining hall visits. They just kept asking about it, changing only the phrasing. Kudos to the director for keeping his cool. I flashed back to the old “we are out of sweet rolls” bit from The Electric Company.
The campus police force has a therapy dog on staff. They bring Teddy with them to certain community events, and they use Teddy to help people who’ve just been through something terrible to gather themselves. I thought that was brilliant. Many campuses bring in therapy dogs during midterms to help students destress, but the idea of a therapy dog as a regular member of the campus police was new to me. Teddy introduced himself laconically but effectively.
We connected with Anne Hofmann, an English professor I knew through Twitter who also has a daughter starting in the HoHum program. She and TW immediately hit it off, so we had a partner in crime with us. That helped. It turned out that she has a dog very much like Teddy, which naturally occasioned the ritual sharing of the dog pics. I’ve heard it said that the internet was developed to share cat videos; smartphones were developed to show off dog pics. Her dog even has his own Instagram. We’ve been careful not to mention that to Penny.
The students who worked as tour guides were winsome and extremely energetic. Monday was uncomfortably muggy and Tuesday was repent-your-sins hot, but they kept their spirits up, as far as I could tell. TG reports that they were the same way with the incoming students. I was impressed.
The bookstore closed for the day before parents’ orientation ended, which struck me as a terrible business decision. You have a captive audience of people primed to buy sweatshirts, stickers and all manner of swag; close the deal! They really should have connected the dots on that one.
But the most striking moment, for me, was the introduction of the parent and family affairs coordinator. They have someone whose full-time job it is to deal with parents! That position likely would not have existed 20 years ago. As an administrator, I was struck by the retrospective obviousness of the idea; as a parent, I was glad to have a point of contact if I needed one. His presentation was fun—it stayed just on the good side of cynicism—but I was impressed that it existed at all. For institutions of sufficient size and with sufficient funds, a role like that could save everybody else a great deal of time and stress. In terms of productivity, it may well pay for itself. I can’t imagine many people targeting a career in that role, but I’ve been wrong before.
TG is back home with us for the next six weeks or so, enabling my denial to last just a little longer. Part of the difficulty of transitions like these is that you feel the loss before you experience the gain. We all got a taste of the gain. That should make the loss a bit easier to swallow. At least for her …
 

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