200811cover
THE
BULLETIN
Volume 76 | Issue 6
November 2008

Guest Column: Rising to the Challenge: The right imperative

Tim Arth

tim112008It felt like a boxing match. Or a professional wrestling match. To be honest, I couldn’t tell whether those commenting on several higher education websites regarding a statement published by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) in July, titled “Rebuilding Campus Community: The Wrong Imperative,” would have been able to settle their feud in a four-sided boxing ring or a steel cage match.

The NAS statement detailed a lack of movement toward the liberal base of education and called upon faculty to be more involved in the education of students at the undergraduate level. This editorial also detailed how the education of students had been led outside of the academic realm by student affairs practitioners. It goes so far as to claim that student affairs practitioners, especially residence life staff members, have in part diminished the educational mission of the university.

In response, some comments posted on the NAS, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed websites were negative in nature toward the NAS, faculty members, and student affairs practitioners. Overall, the comments were made by people passing extreme judgments from one side of the university (student affairs) to the other (academic affairs) and vice-versa.

I can see where faculty members feel that their voice has been lost in the university setting. In reality, if faculty members left the university, few academic classes could be taught, thus the basis for the university system would be erased. However, if student affairs practitioners left, the university could still function without cocurricular activities. This may strike people the wrong way and make the argument appear to denigrate student affairs, but student affairs must complement the academic mission of the university.

I can see why student affairs practitioners, especially those working in residence life, could become emotionally charged after reading an article that belittles their vocation. It’s easy to become defensive about your role within the university community, especially toward faculty members in this instance. However, I challenge everyone to use this as a call to become better student affairs practitioners. Regardless of what could be perceived as personal attacks, there are several salient points in this NAS statement.

Whether we work in college unions, student activities, student affairs, or other university departments, we need to explore how we can become more intentional in creating a true community among our students, faculty, and staff. The NAS editorial and its fallout both with student affairs practitioners and with faculty and academic affairs reactions can be a fantastic opportunity to bring a collaborative approach in working with our students.

As student affairs professionals, establishing long-term relationships with faculty members, deans, and academic affairs as a whole should be a major goal. To make this a reality, we can rise to the challenge and:

 

  • Reach out to faculty members (tenure and non-tenured track) and ask them to join a student group in the college union or eat in an on-campus dining hall for a meal.

  • Ask to see “their side of the house.” Visit a lecture by a faculty member, whether in class or as a special session. See where faculty members work and how they work to instill a sense of belonging to the campus not just for the students but for faculty and staff members.

  • Invite faculty members into the residence halls and the college union to interact with students informally at night. Show faculty members where some students congregate after classes.

  • Offer faculty-initiated programs in the union (e.g., “last lecture” series, “how to” series).

  • Invite faculty departments to have meetings and programs in the college union for a discounted price.

  • Invite faculty members to take part in discussions that impact the students holistically.

  • Prepare our undergraduate student leaders, residence life staff members, and students that mentor others to have open discussions for the purpose of a well-rounded education. Be open to hearing points of view that create dissonance with our own ideals.

  • Train graduate assistants and undergraduate paraprofessional staff to be inclusive of everyone’s backgrounds.

  • Ensure that all points of view are heard,regardless of whether one may agree or disagree with those comments.

  • Engage faculty to host office hours in the college union.

  • Establish a faculty position on any long-range planning teams within the college union.

  • Host a scholarly festival at a college union.

  • Invite faculty members to host faculty conferences in the college union.

  • Encourage faculty members and academic affairs to host academic classes in the college union.

The time is ripe to assess how we work with our campus colleagues. Let us form new partnerships for the betterment of our students. Working with faculty members can only mean more eyes and ears to be available for students. Rather than taking offense and turning away from the NAS critique, let it be a call to action. Let us rise up to the challenge, throw open the door, and welcome faculty members into forming a true cohesive community on campus.

Tim Arth is an ACUI educational program coordinator.