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Posted at 9:25 AM ET, 01/10/2011

Prince George's faculty unhappy with customer-service badges

By Daniel de Vise

Community college professors don't always get the respect afforded to their counterparts at four-year universities.

That may explain why faculty at Prince George's Community College have not warmed to a campus-wide initiative that asks them to wear name badges and little white cards that ask, "Have we served you well?"

"It's the Walmartization of higher education," said Earl Yarington, an associate professor of English, venting in a summer 2010 issue of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors.

The badges appeared in fall 2009, part of a new electronic system for identity and access on campus, according to college leaders.

At the time, a college committee was recommending "that we needed to be paying more attention to providing quality service to students," said Sandra Dunnington, vice president for academic affairs.

One idea was to clearly identify every college employee, so students and visitors would "know to whom they're speaking," she said.

Employees were encouraged to hang the new name tags around their necks, tucked within clear plastic sleeves along with a white card bearing the new customer-service slogan.

The question - Have we served you well? - is being posed by community colleges nationwide. The sector is re-assessing relationships with student-consumers, partly in response to rising competition from for-profit and online higher education alternatives.

(For what it is worth, the available evidence suggests that Prince George's Community College actually serves its students rather well. In a recent post, I published data on student engagement for several Washington-area community colleges from a respected national survey, and PGCC had the highest marks of them all.)

But for some on the Prince George's faculty, the new badges screamed big-box retailer.

"The language on the badges seemed to imply that education was a product," said Mike Gavin, an associate professor of English and president of the Faculty Organization at the Largo college, which serves about 20,500 for-credit students.

He hastened to add, "Many of those who do not wear the badges still believe that the motives of those who created them were genuine and good."

Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the national faculty organization, said the badges struck him as "more like a p.r. stunt than a serious investment in the conditions that would enhance student success. Students are not simply consumers or customers
who are being delivered a service, they are students, being educated."

In response to mounting complaints at the Prince George's school, someone in Human Resources issued an edict: aggrieved employees could simply remove the solicitous white cards. Tumult died down.

A year later, Dunnington and Gavin estimate perhaps half the faculty wear their badges and that some smaller number still carry the little white cards.

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By Daniel de Vise  | January 10, 2011; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Community Colleges, Labor, Marketing  | Tags:  PGCC faculty reject name badges, community college faculty badges, faculty reject nametags, professors protest wearing nametags  
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What the reporter put in the paper regarding my comments for the AAUP journal is somewhat out of context for the following reason. My main focus in that article is on the adjunct (part-time) faculty issue and academic freedom. I was interviewed by Daniel a few days ago, but he chose to use none of what I said to him for this current article.

In short, I agree with Dr. Gavin and Dr. Dunnington's statements, and I told Daniel that the college does not force employees to wear the badges. But for some faculty members, the badges go against the true idea of what education is supposed to be. I am not teaching to make students happy or satisfied. I am happy if they are so, but my job is to teach them and help them learn, and learning is very hard sometimes. Students may not always like who or what they should like. Education is not a product that a survey can justify by itself.

I know. I quit school at seventeen, and after seven years at dead-end jobs and being disgusted with a "for-profit" college, I went to community college. I stayed in school for eleven years and have four college degrees. There are few who understand community colleges as well as I do.

PGCC does very well, and I love my school, but I want my school to do even better. Therefore, I practice my right to academic freedom and my right to voice my experiences with education. In truth, the badge issue is a past issue that is being blown up. What we really should be discussing is why the majority of part-time faculty in the U.S. have about as much rights as migrant farm workers. I may add that the pay is about the same as well all throughout the U.S. Many part-time teachers are making way below minimum wage and have no benefits. This is true here in Maryland as well and at PGCC. About 60% of our faculty members are part-time. So, in short, my emphasis is really on what part-time faculty members are feeling.

-Earl Yarington

Posted by: writeearly | January 10, 2011 5:27 PM | Report abuse

i love it. an instructor at a community college is too good to wear a badge associated with one of the most succesful retail organizations in the country. it has also created thousands of millionaire
retirees unlike our parasitic banks, wall streets and public institutions which consume our resources and need bailouts. if wal mart is so despised why are the lines so long and the demand fo its merchandise so high? has it crushed local retail-sure just like 40k student community colleges have crushed smaller private institutions. weat your bad proudly educational tax consumer, i wore a very similar one as a senior customer service employee and later consultant for a couple of major wireless providers.

Posted by: george32 | January 11, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

george32: Let me break it down for you. Walmart is successful at selling things. The college is successful at educating people. Educating people is different from selling things. Get it? Didn't think so.

Posted by: StevenM1 | January 11, 2011 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Are you truly so obtuse that you don't understand: a) the difference between what a college does and what Walmart does; b) how they go about doing it, i.e., the "business model" they use; c) what the Professor was actually saying?

Finally, judging from your posting you could stand to spend a little more time in a basic English Comp. and Rhetoric class - unless you're freaking e.e.cummings

Posted by: overed | January 11, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Mr. de Vise should not use the word "venting" to describe Prof. Yarington's writing.

Posted by: AJJJ | January 11, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

The issue of college education as a consumer product has been growing for some time. The danger is the student seeing him/herself as a customer and entitled to have certain things done "for" him, as in "the customer is always right". This leads to outright laziness and arrogance on the part of the "student" who communicates that the classwork required is "too hard", so it's your job to dumb it down for me so I can get the diploma on time for which I have paid!

My brother got this exact attitude very clearly more than ten years ago while teaching for DeVry in the midwest. Many of the faculty there protested to the administration about this and other organisational matters to no avail. They were told to not rile or challenge the "students" too much because the school did not want to get a bad reputation and make smaller profits. When it was pointed out that this would lead to a cheapening of the degree and future employers would not see well-trained products from DeVry, the adminstration did not care.

Education is being taken over by the corporations for profit. Good luck really learning anything!

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | January 12, 2011 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I am a community college graduate now completing my 4 year degree at UVA. I'm very disappointed to read that faculty at PGCC are encouraged to wear these badges. It's demeaning to their roles as educators & undermines their authority in the classroom, as if they are "selling" a product to students as consumers. It's up to the students to serve themselves. This is prime time for students to learn that life does not just serve you - you have to go out & take responsibility for yourself.

Posted by: goldenpumpkin | January 14, 2011 10:08 AM | Report abuse

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