Where Apron
Strings End

by J. Kevin Cool


College, says Dean of Students Janice Kassman, should be a time when adulthood is achieved on several levels, including taking responsibility for one's own education. And that philosophy drives policies governing college-student-parent relationships.

"There is a fine line we must walk between honoring students' independence and keeping parents notified [about problems]," Kassman said. "Our mission essentially is to treat students as adults and nine times out of ten have our dealings solely with students. But we realize that when the ability of a student to remain at the College is in jeopardy, we have to involve the parents."

Associate Dean of Students Mark Serdjenian '73 says students experiencing academic difficulties pass through an alert system before the College involves parents. If a student receives a second warning about academic performance in a different class, parents are notified. "Students don't universally love that system, but we recognize that parents have a huge personal as well as a financial investment in their children's education," he said.

"Our feeling is we don't want parents to be surprised when there is a negative outcome," Kassman said. "Parents are very appreciative of that."

Disciplinary procedures undertaken against a student are not reported to parents, but Kassman says she "strongly advises" students to let their parents know about the difficulty, especially in cases that could result in a student's suspension.

Kassman emphasizes that this policy is not designed to exclude parents-"we'll talk to them at any time," she said-but the College won't initiate that contact unless there is a serious problem. The College goes to great lengths to inform and involve parents, she says, through Parents Weekend, the Parents Handbook and other special mailings. "We want to let them know they're part and parcel of this process," she said.

"What we say to parents is, 'Look, you know your sons and daughters very well; you're going to be the first one to know when they start calling with difficulties. So rather than suffer in silence, please involve us.'

"For example, a parent might call on a Monday morning and say, 'Mary was home this weekend and she's looking tired, she's depressed, she hasn't made any friends; what can you do?' Well, I wouldn't have that knowledge unless the parent called me. Together, the parent and I would come up with a mechanism to get Mary in here."

There is no manual to follow when addressing student concerns, Kassman says. "It's not 'Okay, this is problem number 342, How to Deal With Depressed Student After Weekend at Home.' We deal with those situations on a case-by-case basis. On the other hand, we do have protocols for such things as a death in the family, a suicide attempt, date rape-the major crises that might affect a student."

Colby is very clear about its policies regarding parental notification, Kassman says. "Even if parents arrive with different expectations, they come to understand why we're doing this. They've been struggling with the same issue, which is how much independence do you give the child? We're colleagues in this effort."

Kassman points out that the number of students who experience serious academic difficulties or disciplinary problems is very small. In a given year 35 to 50 students may be on academic probation, about the same number who would appear before the Judicial Board. "Most of our contact with parents is about day-to-day things that are problematic," she said.

Serdjenian says his message to parents is to let students find their own way whenever possible. "It's tough to parent from a distance," he said. "Colby will eventually become like home-or feel like home-to the majority of the student body, but you don't shed that old support system overnight."

He says Colby's high retention rate-among the best in the nation-is evidence that the College, students and parents work well together. "The main thing is to have the family together on where the student is in his or her life. The vast majority of students do very well."

The Parents Executive Committee, a group that provides input on College policies and represents parents' concerns, is, according to the committee's administrative liaison, "consulted by President Cotter almost as often as the trustees."

Sara Waisanen, assistant director of annual giving, says the committee advises the College on a range of issues but is particularly important during debate about ways to improve students' experiences. In the past few months the committee has been consulted on efforts to diversify the campus, the installation of a seamless campus-wide communications network, and the push to increase endowment, she says. A retreat for the group was included as part of planning for The Campaign for Colby.

Established in 1981, the executive committee is charged with representing the concerns of parents through formalized meetings and correspondence. It answers questions of other Colby parents and assists the Admissions Office by reaching out to parents of new and prospective students each spring. The committee also solicits contributions to the Parents Fund, which last year raised $223,000.

The 48 parents/parent couples represent 55 students and come from 19 states. Gerald and Myra Dorros (Ari '93, Eben '96, Isa '98) of Milwaukee, Wis., chair the committee. Co-vice chairs for 1994-95 are Donald and Millicent Abbott (Christopher '94, Nicholas '95), Lutherville, Md.; W. Scott and Jean Peterson (Hilary '97), Waterbury, Conn.; Kenton J. and Susan Sicchitano (Amie '96), Wellesley Hills, Mass.; and W. MacDonald, Jr. and Sarah Snow (Andrew '95), Short Hills, N.J.


Nothing New:
Historical Footnotes from the Colby Archives

What's in a Name
Originally founded in 1813 as the Maine Literary and Theological Institute with a charter granted by the Massachusetts legislature, Colby has undergone several name changes. When Maine became a state in 1820, the school was empowered to grant degrees and soon after changed its name to Waterville College, which it remained for 46 years. Five years earlier a fatherless and impoverished family-including a 5-year-old boy named Gardner Colby-had moved to Waterville from Bowdoinham. College president Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin introduced Gardner's mother to friends in the Boston area who made it possible for her to move her family and start a business there. Gardner Colby rose from poverty to become a wealthy manufacturer and importer. In 1864, upon hearing that Waterville College was financially troubled and remembering the kindness of Rev. Chaplin, Colby made a gift of $50,000 to the school. In gratitude for his generosity the trustees voted in 1867 to change the name of the corporation to Colby College.

But Did They Tailgate?
The time is circa 1860, the occasion Colby's first game against Bowdoin. Students and fans line the field preparing to watch what is sure to become a fierce rivalry. As play begins, a hush falls over the crowd as the first ball heads for the wicket. Wicket?

It's true, Colby's first skirmish with Bowdoin-whose 102-year-old football rivalry is the fifth-oldest in the country-was in the genteel sport of croquet. No records survive from those early days of competition, but we do know that croquet was played intramurally at Colby as early as 1850. Intercollegiate croquet contests with Bowdoin began a decade later, predating baseball's initiation in 1867 and football's in 1892.

Constitutional Questioning
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw revolutionary change occurring on college campuses across the nation and while quieter than most campuses, Mayflower Hill could hardly have been considered serene. In 1969 the college decided to tackle student concerns related to the structure of campus life head on. At the suggestion of Trustee Eugene C. Struckhoff, Colby held a Constitutional Convention, or Con Con as it became known. Representatives of all the college constituencies-administration, alumni, faculty, parents, students, and trustees-met for three solid days of debate and redefined the way the college operated. When it was over, students had won a role in the governance of the institution and a campuswide catharsis had taken place.


Home Base
One out of every 121 Colby students comes from a hometown with Falls in its name.
Here's how they fall alphabetically:

Bellows Falls, Vt. (3)
Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Essex Fells (well, close enough), N.J.
Falls Church, Va.
Great Falls, Va. (2)
Lisbon Falls, Maine
Livermore Falls, Maine
Mechanic Falls, Maine
Steep Falls, Maine
West Falls, N.Y.


Gifts & Grants/Table of Contents/Mules on the Move