Every new school year brings its own sense of excitement as we all gear up to do our work. This year is special because, after a slow rollout, the Gold Commitment has been implemented. Last week, faculty and staff received an email from a DePauw administrator, updating us on the implementation, and offering reassuring statistics about student understanding of the details and value of the Gold Commitment. This is certainly good news. What the email did not mention, however, is that far too many incoming students believe, incorrectly, that fulfilling the Gold Commitment is, in fact, a requirement for graduation, when it is not and was never intended to be.
A confession is in order: I was one of those faculty who had my doubts about the Gold Commitment, about how much it was really needed, and about whether it would negatively impact the liberal arts curriculum. But I am also aware that student recruitment at a time of diminishing interest in the liberal arts is not an easy job and not my field of expertise. Not surprisingly, the administration ignored those of us who voiced our doubts and who suggested that limited DePauw monies might be put to better use.
Still, when it became clear that the Gold Commitment would become a reality, I took a wait-and-see attitude: perhaps it will entice students to come to DePauw and perhaps it won’t; perhaps it will prove a transformative way to improve the student experience at DePauw and after, and perhaps it won’t.
In short, I regarded the Gold Commitment as a test of sorts, a test of both its popularity and viability.
Unfortunately, based on what incoming students and their parents have been told, the Gold Commitment is neither being tested for its popularity or viability. Why? Because incoming students have been auto-enrolled in the Gold Commitment as part of the admission process, and this has, in turn, created a widespread assumption that admission to DePauw entails completing the Gold Commitment.
This assumption may be precisely what the administration hopes to foster. For the longer students are confused about the need to be in the program, the longer students will remain in the program…and the longer the administration can portray the Gold Commitment as a success story. However, this success story seems to rely on a disturbing hope that students will be slow to wake up to the fact that they have been signed up (apparently, without their clear-cut consent) for a program they do not require to graduate. I know of no other program on this campus that admits students in this manner.
In a very real sense, the Gold Commitment is like Management Fellows and Honor Scholar in that by “opting in” students take on extra responsibilities, sometimes curricular, sometimes co-curricular. And if students decide those responsibilities are too much or they would rather put their time and effort elsewhere, the students may drop and graduate from DePauw in good standing, as long as they have completed all the requirements as outlined on their Advising Transcripts. Here it is worth noting that the Gold Commitment is not part of the Advising Transcript, which is another way of saying it is not required to graduate from DePauw.
By auto-enrolling incoming students into the Gold Commitment, the administration has fostered two false impressions: 1.) that admission to DePauw and fulfillment of the Gold commitment are inextricably linked, and 2.) that the Gold Commitment is quite popular among incoming students and their parents.
But, let’s be honest, if we choose for students, we will learn nothing about the popularity and viability of the Gold Commitment. Moreover, if we choose for students without informing them that there is a choice to be made, we jeopardize the trust that students, and their parents, place in our institution. We also rob students of the self-determining power that comes from actively choosing to enter and complete a program.
For all these reasons, we must clearly inform students of their capacity to choose, and we must do it now. The longer we wait to clarify this misimpression, the more it will seem an intentional administrative tactic to bind students to something that is optional and perhaps not right for them.
I remain in a wait-and-see mode about the Gold Commitment. But I believe that we, as an institution, need to uphold our values, our integrity, and communicate clearly, and honestly, with students and parents. We owe it to ourselves and to our reputation. And, yes, we owe it the Gold Commitment to allow it to be tested fairly, to allow it to succeed or not on its own merits. If it is a good idea, it deserves better than the confusion that marks its debut.