» Bill Chesney, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Students
When I started working at Waterloo in 1993, the Arts undergraduate population was significantly smaller than it is today. The landscape has changed a lot since then, and the student experience along with it. Even in the 11 years since I started as Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies, there have been big changes: for one, we admit almost twice as many students now. That increase means our student body is far more diverse — in every sense. They arrive at university differently prepared, and they have greater expectations for their overall student experience.
The world has changed. Young people have changed as well, in some respects; in others though, they are as they have always been: excited to be on their own, anxious about making friends and doing well, curious about the world and their evolving sense of their own path in it. What’s different now, however, is that undergraduates start university in the context of a world that delivers consistent messages of doom and gloom: an impending climate change crisis that is unstoppable; evident economic and social inequality; a strong sense that things in the world are getting worse, not better. As are we all, students are drowning in an ocean of information. What they need are tools to help them chart their own path to make a positive difference, large or small. Allegedly, those tools are what they are here to acquire.
No wonder they are stressed!
I sympathize; I really do. When students wind up having a Policy 71 meeting with me, 9 times out of 10 I can see that they are not “cheaters” in the way we used to understand the word; they are young people who ran out of time, and out of options, and who have made a bad or sloppy decision. My job in that moment is not to pass judgment on their characters; my job is to try to protect the integrity of the credential, and the work of other students who have also struggled, but without resorting to such desperate measures. At the same time, I take into account, as I can, the individual situation that presents itself. It’s been endlessly interesting, and by no means the most difficult part of the job.
The work has challenged me to strike that balance over and over again: imposing a fair disciplinary outcome that reflects the gravity of the situation, while still making evident my own reading of the individual circumstances. It has taught me to make decisions based on something more than “trusting my gut” or my own “common sense,” which, as we all know, can be biased if not examined carefully. It has taught me to weigh evidence in a more formal way – very different from the kind of creative decision-making in the theatre with which I am familiar.
And while I have had my decisions appealed a number of times, and not always upheld, those of course are also the most important learning opportunities.