An internal site review report released on Monday identifies a range of problems at Webster University's campus in Thailand, which the university promotes as offering American-style higher education. These include “substandard” facilities; student safety issues and a sorely “underdeveloped” student affairs apparatus; inadequacies in some academic support services and resources; “inconsistency” in communication or implementation of faculty policies and procedures, including those related to termination processes; seeming “inconsistencies” and “inaccuracies” in information included in accreditation reports; and “a lack of direct communication to students as well as rank and file staff or faculty.”
The 18-page report, compiled by an appointed task force of faculty and administrators at Webster’s main campus in St. Louis, Mo., does not point fingers at any single individual or call for a change in the senior administration of the Thailand campus, which is one of seven residential campuses that Webster operates overseas.
The report, which was based on a nine-month review, was released just after Inside Higher Ed published an article on concerns at the Webster Thailand campus raised by current and former students, faculty, and administrators over a period of nearly five years. Although Inside Higher Ed’s article cited concerns regarding academic rigor, the review committee found that the academic quality at the Thailand campus meets Webster’s standards. It did, however, make some specific recommendations in the general area of academic support, including the need to establish a writing center, appoint an internship coordinator and improve Internet and library resources (the task force found inadequacies in the library resources at both of the Thai campus's locations -- the main campus in rural Cha-Am as well as an academic center in downtown Bangkok).
In some other areas, the task force’s recommendations are extensive, perhaps nowhere more so than in the domain of student life. The task force found that the student affairs division at Webster Thailand (WUT) “is underdeveloped to such an extent that the notion of ‘a baseline of services and expectations that advance the university’s mission’ is currently out of reach. Student distrust of senior administrative leadership, inadequate communication mechanisms and a lack of processes and accurate information place WUT at risk.”
The site review report continues: “This organizational deficit has resulted in a number of negative impacts on the student life at WUT today, including, but not limited to: inadequate judicial processes and practices (including a lack of a basic understanding of university policy, protocol and federal legal precepts); a housing and residential life program that is undervalued and underprioritized; a student leadership culture that is more interested in combat with the administration than it is in collaborating within the campus community; facilities and support services that have gone neglected so long that a majority of students believe that no one cares and nothing will ever change; and a widely held belief among students that numerous student fees are concocted, unregulated and indicative of an administrative leadership culture at WUT that they see as untrustworthy and exploitive.”
The report makes a number of specific recommendations in the area of student affairs. These include adopting a student conduct system that mirrors that of the St. Louis campus, documenting “how campus crime statistics are collected and reported as required by the Clery Act since the full complement of judicial practices that provide the data for this report is not in place”; hiring a professional mental health counselor; providing campuswide education on the topic of sexual offenses as well as “immediate and extensive training of the WUT campus sexual offense advocate”; increasing support for student housing and the resident assistant program; and enhancing communication between the administration and students, including in regard to the use of student fees.
Other areas covered in the report include:
- Facilities: The task force found that the facilities at the main campus in Cha-Am “are generally substandard, negatively impacting the educational experience of WUT students there and the ability to recruit prospective students. In addition, some facilities issues are safety concerns.” The task force recommends immediate investments in the Cha-Am facilities and the creation of a task force to determine whether the campus should be moved to another location.
- Faculty policies: The task force found the “recruitment, vetting, orientation, grievance, evaluation and termination processes” for Webster Thailand faculty to be “unclear and inconsistently applied.” The report notes the lack of a dedicated human resources officer (which, task force members wrote, “makes clarifying faculty contract questions confusing”) and the absence of a Faculty Senate or similar body. The report recommends that “some form of faculty representation needs to be established.” (The report does not raise concerns about issues of academic freedom or fears among faculty that dissent will lead to their contracts not being renewed, topics that were raised in Inside Higher Ed’s article.)
- Accreditation: In addition to being covered under Webster’s American accreditation, the university’s Thailand campus is also subject to the Thai government’s quality assurance system. The task force found that “some apparently conflicting details” appear in the quality assurance reports and on the WUT website, and raises questions about whether Webster is in compliance with some Thai quality assurance requirements. (For example, the report notes, “Thai accreditation requires five full-time, research-active faculty for each program offered. The academic leadership of WUT and St. Louis must discuss how WUT can meet this requirement….”)
- Finances: The report states that financial procedures at the campus “are well regulated and accurate records are maintained.” The task force identified “no financial improprieties” at WUT, but recommended, among other things, greater transparency in student billing and more English-speaking employees at the Cha-Am campus “to work with students regarding student accounts and billings.”
- Communication: The report identified a need for improved communication processes, characterizing the communications culture in place as being “on an ‘as-needed’ basis.” The report also characterized communication between the campuses in Thailand and in St. Louis as being “inconsistent.”
The task force identified recruitment, marketing and admissions as an area of strength for the campus.
The site review report concludes by calling Webster Thailand “a major asset to the Webster University network, which provides skills and experiences to transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence. By committing to implement the recommendations outlined in this report, WUT and Webster University can resolve these significant concerns and contribute to Webster's strategic plan to develop a network of academic and operational excellence.”
Webster released the following statement on Monday in regard to the report’s release: “The Thailand campus review represents the dedicated and thoughtful analysis of faculty and staff during the past nine months, and we are grateful for their contributions, assessments and recommendations. The report represents an in-depth look at the Thailand campus and presents us with a number of well-thought-out recommendations and plans of action to address areas of concern, as well as pointing out areas of strength at the campus.”
“An important recommendation in the report has already been implemented. The university has hired a full-time human resources manager for the Thailand campus to address some of the issues regarding processes and procedures in hiring and evaluating employees. Other recommendations will be reviewed and assessed as part of our ongoing continual improvement process.”
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