Winthrop University President Jamie Comstock Williamson might avoid future acrimony by making sure all interested parties are aware of significant changes in policies and pay levels well in advance.
Two such recent changes – a large pay raise for some Winthrop employees and a 40 percent increase in summer tuition – drew a heated reaction from some quarters on campus. And in both cases, the complaints had less to do with the new policies themselves than with the way the news was delivered.
Last month, Williamson approved raises of $10,000 or more for at least six employees, including $27,442 for the school’s police chief and $26,192 for Athletic Director Tom Hickman. Soon after, indignant members of Winthrop’s board of trustees said they had not been consulted before Williamson awarded the raises.
Williamson was under no obligation to consult the board before awarding the raises. And one board member said she had made an “innocent mistake” by not telling trustees.
Nonetheless, board members say they now will draft a new policy that will give them oversight over future raises proposed by the president. The change in the bylaws could be approved as early as this month.
Board members, after meeting with Williamson behind closed doors last month, apparently had resolved any issues. But hard feelings might have been avoided altogether if Williamson had informed board members and others on campus of the raises in advance, not as an obligation but as a courtesy.
A similar situation last week could have an impact on a much larger number of people. Some faculty members and students were blindsided by a 40 percent increase in summer tuition this year. While Winthrop officials published the new tuition rate on the university’s website about 20 days before the first day of registration for summer classes, some remained unaware of the increase.
Winthrop boasts some of the lowest summer school rates of any colleges or universities in the state. Even so, the cost of most classes increased by $363.
That could be a significant economic hurdle for some students, especially those who are paying for their educations out-of-pocket and not with long-term loans. Students need time to make their financial plans.
School officials say the notification process was similar to what the school has used in the past. But summer tuition hadn’t gone up in eights years, so students had no real motive to look online to see if tuition had increased this summer.
Again, the confusion might have been avoided by a concerted effort to make sure everyone who could be affected by the change knew about it in advance.
Williamson, to her credit, has pledged to announce any future summer increases when tuition rates are announced for spring and fall semesters. The board typically votes in June on whether to increase spring and fall tuition, so rates for the following summer would be announced then.
A conscientious effort to make sure members of the Winthrop community are informed about decisions that could affect them should be part of the process involving any major policy change. It’s also a good way to head off grumbling before it starts.