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Not Everything is Sunshine in the Sunshine State

Sometimes when you really care about something, you tend to minimize its flaws and play up its positives. That certainly applies to an alma mater as well: we brag about a new rec center, a new football stadium, raised GPAs, stores hanging up FAU banners.

But then there are people out there who aren't like us, dissenters who see FAU quite a bit differently, and they've been spreading their vitriol all over the internet, discouraging potential students to stay far, far away from the Boca Raton campus. Granted, the gripers who have been burned by certain people or certain situations are the ones that are most likely to post this stuff, but there's a kernel of truth in each case and like it or not, this is part of the free "publicity" we're getting.

To paraphrase, here are some the main complaints and the rebuttals they deserve:

"Parking sucks."
Nothing new there. Of the 30k+ students that attend FAU, ~23k of them use the Boca Raton campus as their main campus. Numbers aren't available for how many students use the campus on which days, but let's assume that all 23k are attending every day at some point to maximize the "issue" at hand here. Now, as discussed in the Parking Garage 3 article,  there are currently around 10,000 spots on campus that need to be used by students, faculty and staff... so not even half of the Boca Raton student population. To accommodate everybody, FAU would probably have to build another 15,000 parking spots. The problem with this is twofold, A) We don't have the money, and B) We don't have the land (even if we did, half of campus would be a parking lot... it'd be like Disney World). on top of which, let's say we somehow did have the money and space for 25,000 parking spaces - they're not all going to be close. You'd still have to park and walk... and walk... and walk to class. And students would just complain about that too. So the bigger problem here is that we don't really have an efficient public transportation system either. To our credit, we did institute the campus shuttle service to try and mitigate complaints of parking too far away. That was a nice move, as are the new parking lots. But we may need to consider other ways to stem the anger, such as offering "premium" parking spots closer to campus proper that students can pay extra for. That's a way of re-envisioning your current parking inventory while still making more students happy.

"Academic advisers don't know what they're talking about."
A number of students who enter college aren't entirely sure what to major in. Even if they do, they often change it because age or exposure changes your view of what you'd like to do with the rest of your life (or at least until you go to grad school, as the current trends are dictating). Students look to advisers to give them direction, though students get frustrated when they don't get the answer they want or can't get something accomplished on their schedule. Even worse, I've heard stories of advisers telling people they had "no shot" at professional programs, like a Physician Assistant hopeful who was told she had no shot at admissions even with a 3.8 GPA. on the other side of the table, advisers get frustrated when students haven't thought things through, acted irresponsibly or expect special exceptions to made for them. There's give and take here, and sometimes student and adviser are like ships passing in the night. And that's if you can even see one, as budgetary issues have slowed hiring despite increased enrollment. FAU's BOT may need to prioritize academic advising and ensure they are getting the right numbers and the proper satisfaction from students.

"Classes are too easy, too much extra credit is given out, you don't learn anything, this is busywork compared to a real university."
The load of an individual class is highly dependent on the instructor, the general quality of student taking the class and the expectation of the department. Some professors don't care. Some professors recycle tests because it saves time. In an ideal world you'd have to work your butt off for an A, memorizing every last detail and then applying it as a process rather than word recognition or "match the terms." Even better, tests should probably require you to formulate and defend an argument. That's really what higher education is about - active expression of education versus passive test-taking. However, the reality is that multiple choice tests are useful because you can just run scantrons through a machine versus losing entire nights grading short answer responses, almost none of which are concise enough and usually ramble on about nonsense in a shotgun approach to throw everything a student knows on a paper and hope they get credit for some of it. once you do lose all your life grading short term responses, students will then fight you tooth and nail in office hours that a vague sentence in the answer is actually saying one thing even when you've decided it absolutely isn't. It all becomes very political, and I've seen instances wherein deans and even lawyers are involved. So multiple choice trims all this down into more black and white, but it also means that a student succeeds by agreeing with a professor's "voice" ("Which of the following BEST describes..."). It's a complicated issue, made more complicated by the fact that students can be mixed in a class such that certain questions are too tough for certain students and "way too easy" for other students. There's a fine line to walk there, and hopefully professors care enough to walk it, constantly tuning it to be just right. If too many fail, there's administrative heat on the professor, and if too many pass, students can complain it was too easy, too much extra credit, too much busywork. Given those two outcomes, is it that hard to understand why professors tend to lean on the side of too easy? Still, perhaps each dean needs to scrutinize the class offerings and ensure that students are being adequately challenged - a tremendous task, to be sure, but perhaps a necessary one. We cannot have people graduating from this school saying it's too easy or they simply cheated their way to a degree.

"Staff is rude, unhelpful and doesn't know what they're doing."
This one I mostly agree with. Getting anything done administratively - whether it's registering for classes or checking on Financial Aid or getting certain papers signed - is usually an absolute nightmare. There needs to be a Customer Service program employed here because the attitudes and the misinformation can really turn people off. A student shouldn't have to go to three different offices on a wild goose chase to turn in a form to the right person, each office telling them that they're in the wrong place. Financial Aid shouldn't be snapping at students who don't understand and treating them like an inconvenience. Everybody has a bad day, and good days can become bad days when something that seems so simple to you is misunderstood by so many people, one after another, yes, but that's the job. These are customer service jobs and students have more frequent contact with these people than most others except for professors, so how they're treated is exceptionally important. Most of the complaints about FAU all stem back to customer service, how students don't feel welcome and then don't feel satisfied that they accomplished what they wanted. This cannot continue. Really.

Then there are the crazy misunderstandings, like "FAU has money for a $6 billion new football stadium but not summer classes?" In fact, the football stadium has gotten (and continues to get) a ton of flak from students, because in their mind FAU somehow pulled tens of millions of dollars out of its pocket to build a stadium for a "mediocre team" instead of applying that same tens of millions of dollars to their classes. This complaint comes up over and over and over. There may be a point in the near future when FAU has to release a press release saying, "We didn't take millions of dollars to build a football stadium instead of investing in your education."

Similarly, students believe that since they're paying so much in tuition, everything should be perfect. They think FAU is like an expensive restaurant and their power as a customer supercedes any and all other directives, including the wishes of other customers, and that every new fee or tuition increase isn't going toward operating costs but is instead driven by desire for profit. It's a weird assumption but for some reason students keep making it, and I think it's mostly perpetuated because they keep getting hit with tuition increases every. single. year. It wasn't until recently that someone on the BOT other than the SG President expressed remorse for having to raise the cost. The BOT doesn't have to pay these fees, but they do have to pay the bills, so the tuition and fees go up and up and up.

Meanwhile other schools have BOTs that have really fought for students and said, "you know what, we're not going to raise the cost of ______ this year. We did that for you."

It's a small gesture that goes a long way and I think it's the kind of small gestures FAU may need to start making to improve its customer service rapport and establish this as the exciting, forward-moving institution we all want it to be. We need everyone on board for something like that, and as the complaints build up over the course of an undergraduate career, they pull people further and further away from being faithful, philanthropic alumni who promote the university to young college hopefuls they know. Everything comes back around.



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