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Should the department share the departmental problems (financial, officials, political, etc) with the students? or it is official matter and none of their business?

For a more specific example. Imagine that students are complaining about the lack of teachers in specific topics. The department head tries to secure fund for faculty recruitment, but Dean refuses. Should the department head consider this as an internal matter between officials or should inform the students why he is not hiring teacher?

Of course, I do not mean organizational secrets. Most of these news spread among students through rumors and gossip. My question is: should a department head directly inform the students about problems? Or according to the common business models, an organization should not reveal its failures and problems to customers unless it is a must?

What is the appropriate scheme for treating students? (1) customers who get service from the university employees in return to tuition fee, or (2) part of the organization? Obviously, these are not solid categories, and I just want to express the issue.

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Can you give a concrete example? I don't know what sort of departmental problems you mean. (I also agree with ff524 that your introduction is based on a false premise.) –  Anonymous Mathematician Apr 23 at 3:30
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As for informing students about problems: there's no universal rule as to when/whether to do it. I've heard about some problems at my school via an official email from the university president, some problems informally from faculty members, and some problems from reading about them in the newspaper the next day (i.e. even faculty were not officially informed right away in that case). –  ff524 Apr 23 at 3:46
    
@ff524 I didn't want to introduce model; I just wanted to categorize possibilities for my example. –  user13854 Apr 23 at 4:24
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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I think a department should share information with students that can affect them. A non-hire of faculty doesn't affect students directly unless the students were recruited to the department with the promise of expanding in a certain area, and then this fell through.

But I don't know of a single department that would make such a promise to incoming students (and certainly not undergraduates).

On the other hand, if the department experiences a shortfall in funding that means that they have to change how they fund students, then these students must be informed as soon as possible since this materially affects them.

Apart from these cases, one can certainly make the argument that sharing relevant information with students helps foster an atmosphere of collegiality and gives the students a sense of belonging. Within reason...

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+1 I think your last paragraph is crucial, though. –  xLeitix Apr 23 at 7:00
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The answer is "it depends."

It depends on:

  • What the specific problem is,
  • The department/university/student/faculty culture,
  • What can be gained by telling students about the specific problem,
  • What reasons there are not to tell students about the specific problem.

There are several reasons to tell students about problems:

  • It can often be beneficial to share information with students so that they feel more invested in their department (as Suresh suggests).
  • Another reason to tell students about a problem is if there is some action students can take to help the problem. (For example: "We have been having trouble attracting the top students this year, and we really need to recruit some great new PhD students to keep this department going strong. Please make some extra effort at the event for admitted students to show them what great research we are doing here and encourage them to accept their offer!")
  • A third (more cynical) reason: if it's a major problem that students will find out about anyways, it's often better for them to hear about it directly from the department/university, so that administrators can add their "spin" to the news. (For example: "Our recent accreditation review didn't go well, as you may read about in the newspaper tomorrow, but here our concrete plan to fix this issue.")

On the other hand, there are good reasons not to tell students about some problems. Here are a few:

  • It can be beneficial to shield students (to some degree) from department politics and financial issues that don't directly affect them, and that they can't do anything about. (For example: I don't need to know which faculty member is mad this week because they feel slighted over not having been asked to come to lunch with a certain job candidate.)
  • Having partial information can be worse than having no information at all, i.e., students can misinterpret the information they are given because they lack certain context (which can't be shared with them for whatever reason).
  • Department/university guidelines may require information to be withheld in some cases. For example, there may be a policy that things said in certain meetings are to be held confidential among the participants unless explicitly approved for outside release. This may allow certain things to be said that wouldn't be said otherwise, but limits the sharing of information with students.
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