Adding course credit, decreasing compensation will deter students and faculty from Servicio Program

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When it came time to make my college decision, I was torn between DePauw and Northwestern University. I knew I wanted to pursue journalism; Northwestern’s Medill Journalism School was second to none, but the Media Fellows program at DePauw seemed equally enticing. The choice seemed impossible, until I learned of DePauw’s Servicio en las Américas program. The program, which combines service, the Spanish language, cultural immersion and the opportunity to meet fellow incoming DePauw freshmen, was the deciding factor in my higher education choice.

For this reason, the article that David Kobe wrote last week, entitled “Possible reforms coming to Servicio en las Americas program,” troubles me. For those who didn’t read it, the piece discusses possible changes coming to the Servicio program, including the possibility of reducing faculty compensation for leading the trip and offering students course credit for taking part in the program. The reason behind this possible change, according to sources within the article, is that the course credit offering would provide students with incentive to participate in the program. The possibility of reduced faculty compensation arises from the fact that the University wants to make sure that all compensation for faculty-led courses abroad is equal. Faculty compensation for the Servicio program currently comes from the budget that was set up by Steven L. Trulaske ’79, the donor and founder of the Servicio program, while compensation for other faculty-led trips abroad comes from the University payroll.

This may not seem like a big deal to people who have no connection to the program, but those who have experienced Servicio en las Américas know that these changes can alter the program’s culture for the worse.

First of all, I disagree with the article’s point that not offering course credit leaves students with “no real incentive” to participate in the program. Clearly, the program itself was incentive enough for me not just to apply to it, but to choose DePauw entirely. A free opportunity to travel the globe, meet people who are different from you, experience a new culture, hone your Spanish skills, and give back to a community in a hands-on, tangible way was all the incentive I needed.

Likewise, if the course were to give students credit, it would draw an entirely different pool of applicants. Adding a course value would require that a tuition price tag be stamped on the program. Most people in my Servicio program participated because it was free. They would not have been able to afford the tuition necessary for a credit that they did not even want to begin with. If anything, adding course credit would dissuade applicants because the cost would outweigh the opportunity for course credit.

While it is true that faculty members who lead trips abroad put in a lot of work and deserve equal compensation, dealing with freshly-graduated high school seniors takes a lot more discipline than students who have already had a semester or a year or two of college experience. They tend to need more direction and careful watching. The five-week program also lasts longer than Winter Term and May Term courses. The fact that participants are required to speak Spanish for the entire trip adds an extra disciplinary measure to keep track of. The DePauw was unable to determine exactly how much faculty members get compensated for leading the trip because the fund is private, but if faculty are in fact compensated more for this program than faculty members leading other trips, I would argue they deserve it.

All that aside, the money that Trulaske donated to Servicio en las Américas should be used in the way he intended it to be used, regardless of how much the University is paying faculty leaders of other trips. If I donated a large sum of money to be used for a specific cause, I would be insulted if the University started dictating how my money would be spent. Furthermore, if faculty members are being compensated with no expense on the University’s part as it is, why would DePauw want to take on that financial burden during a time of financial stress?

As a Servicio alumna, none of these proposed changes make any sense. Without Servicio en las Américas, I likely would not be at DePauw. It would be a shame if DePauw lost potential students in the future because of what the administration perceives to be a small shift in an already-stellar program. They say “don’t fix what ain’t broke.” I say, don’t destroy it.