I’ve had the chance to do some fun things over the course of my career. I was invited to do a workshop for women athletes on ethics that followed a speech by Barbara Jordan. I had just told my supervisor I wasn’t going to accept any extra invitations for a bit, but I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to share the stage with Barbara Jordan even if I barely got to say hello. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Jordan She understood.
A bit later in my career as part of the Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Values, I shared the stage with Arthur Chickering.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_W._Chickering Dr. Chickering was in his eighties and retired at that point, but he came to Florida for the Institute as a favor to Dr. Dalton. He made his remarks on Friday morning. I made mine on Saturday morning. On the evening in between we sat down for a conversation with all the Florida State higher education graduate students. It was a delightful experience and we covered a lot of topics. At the end we were asked for one piece of advice as these students started their careers. My answer was “say yes to opportunity.” Dr. Chickering’s answer was “turn toward challenge.”
Two similar answers, two exhortations to try new things and be open to possibilities, two mantras that I think, each in their own way, are important to remember at every point in our careers. I think both versions are especially critical for higher education and particularly Student Affairs right now.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to lead some focus groups for nurses working in hospitals attached to a university where I have been doing some consulting. Afterward, as I talked with the person who had asked for my help with this, I heard myself saying, “As I listened to the nurses and the way things are working for them in the hospitals, it sounded similar to what my Student Affairs colleagues often feel in their work. Everyone is glad to have us around in a crisis, but once the crisis is over, we’re just more administrative overhead.”
And it seems to me that’s where many student affairs teams are on campuses across the country right now. It’s true that Student Affairs teams everywhere pitched in to help campuses, students, and colleagues manage COVID and all that came with it. It’s also true that for decades Student Affairs has been committed to student success though we never called it that. Now, in multiple campuses and in different ways, Student Affairs divisions are being pulled apart to meet the needs of the moment. I know full well that there are many ways to organization work and multiple versions of organizational designs. What I don’t see happening are conversations about what is lost when these divisions are picked apart with no discussion about what is gained or, as importantly, what is lost in these new designs.
I think Higher Education, in general, and Student Affairs, in particular, are facing both challenges and opportunities right now and I wonder what challenges are we turning toward – or ignoring. What opportunities are we grasping (saying yes to) or letting pass by?
My colleague and friend, Laura DeVeau has written about this eloquently in her Substack column and I’ve included a link to her article below. I hope you’ll read it and think about these important questions and how they are playing out on your campus. Is there an opportunity you should say yes to? Is there a challenge you should turn to face? This is an important time in the lives of our institutions. is there an opportunity you shouldn’t miss or a perhaps a challenge you should offer to others?