I am writing this in response to a piece published here recently entitled “Letter from a recent grad” by Julia Volpe’18.
Knox did not prepare me for the technical elements of my current work. I have had to learn on the job and teach myself. This is to be expected Ð the work is specific and there is no way Knox could have prepared me for the particular skill set I am now expected to use. I cannot blame Knox for failing to expose me to life without luxuries that are taken for granted in the US. Nor can I blame Knox for failing to teach me to cook, to manage my finances, or to manage loneliness (although I did learn a great deal about all of these things at Knox outside of the coursework). These are not academic issues – these are more fundamental and universal. Individuals who do not attend college still figure these things out.
The college is designed to provide a specific service to those who purchase it. That service is to be exposed to ideas and opportunities, to have doors opened that were previously closed, and to make many elements of life (food, shelter, leisure) convenient so that we, as customers, can better take advantage of those opportunities. This is what every school is selling. I agree that Knox cannot take credit for my accomplishments, but I do not resent the school for using my success to sell their product to more potential customers. I know that I am where I am now because of the opportunities I took advantage of at Knox. For this, I believe Knox deserves credit. Their product worked for me.
The crucial failure that I see is that the college has no mechanism to receive feedback from those for whom the product did not work. There are no customer reviews. There is no way for alumni, who have been using the product for some time, to provide feedback to the college on its quality –– good or bad (unless we take it upon ourselves, as Julia and I have now done). The college has no mechanism to improve its product for future generations of students.
I do not believe this failure is unique to Knox. There are probably few schools that have such a mechanism in place. The only time that Knox seeks the voice of its alumni is to find success stories that help sell its product. This is market motivated, and the motivation will not go away short of rewriting the funding model for higher education. Knox also relies on nostalgic, successful alumni to sustain itself. By asking alumni to reflect, they keep them feeling indebted to the college and keep donating. Despite my cynicism, I still donate to the school each month (just a few dollars, but still, they’ve got me on the hook).
The college already has a robust infrastructure in place for keeping tabs on alumni and soliciting success stories. Why not use this existing infrastructure to solicit honest feedback and improve the product? I believe that the college is acting in bad faith and against its own values when it wields a tool that could be used to improve its product, but instead uses it to ask alumni only for quotes to fill promotional pamphlets.
That said, we, as alumni, need to act in good faith as well. We should not leave the kind of lambasting customer reviews that sites like Yelp or Amazon are known for. We need to recognize the limits of the college and its responsibilities, and evaluate it on those grounds. Because some issues are crucial to getting one’s money’s worth (e.g. building an environment that is not abusive to student victims of sexual assault), and others are not (e.g. teaching students to live without appliances).
I ask that the administration take this request seriously and respond here in the public forum. As far as I am capable, I would be happy to collaborate in this effort. You know how to reach me.
I hope that, as alumni, we can hold the college to a high standard while recognizing that despite the success stories that were advertised to us, the college can only provide so much. That said, we have an obligation to demand that Knox advertise in good faith and, if we find the product doesn’t meet our expectations, demand that they work to make a better product.
Coltan G. Parker, ‘16