In recent weeks, Liz Gross and Cindy Kane wrote eloquently about how to leave a position and how a supervisor should help their supervisees leave an office. These are wonderful examples of how we, as professionals, should act under these circumstances.
The reality of the situation, though, is that we also have students leave their positions… and as students come back to the campus on which I work, we will actually be saying goodbye to several of them. Some of these students will leave of their own volition – the demands on their time are too many, their classes too rigorous, their focus or passion has changed. Many of these students, however, will be losing their positions because of poor performance in their coursework during the last semester.
I have no qualms about dismissing students from a position for academic reasons. A student leader on academic probation honestly doesn’t help me achieve the goals associated with my programs – if I ask them to work on something for the program, I know outright that I’m taking time away from them that could be used for studying. (After all, they are in college to focus on their studies, right?) In removing them from their position but continuing to provide support to them, I believe that I’m helping that student achieve more – as well as giving them the opportunity to return to the previously held position upon successful completion of the semester.
The challenge, though, is helping students see that I’m actually helping them. Too many times it’s seen as punishment by the student, when it really isn’t. What’s really happening is that the minimum requirements set forth in their contract to hold their positions are being maintained, and they’re being held to that standard. In holding them to the standard they agreed to, I’m holding up my end of the bargain. In supporting them through their academic struggles, I’m continuing to honor the contract (which states that students struggling with their academics should see me to figure out a way to be successful), even if they’re not in the position.
Not every student wants my support, though, after I’ve removed them from their position. I respect this, but I struggle with it. I know I’m not just being mean. I know I’m doing what I know is best for them as well as our shared program and department. But no matter how I frame it, my sentiment of care and concern falls on deaf ears.
So I work with the students who want assistance, and I continue to reach out to the others and offer assistance. And in the end, some students are able to step back into their positions, and others aren’t able to do so.
How do you help students understand the ethical aspects associated with meeting program requirements? What do you do when your most actively involved students are the ones having the most academic trouble?
Matt Pistilli coordinates evaluation and administration for Student Access, Transition and Success Programs at Purdue University.