Volume 78 | Issue 5
September 2010

Their $.02: Advice that doesn't pay

Advice can be helpful, obvious, patronizing, and sometimes bad. Even with the best intentions, our friends, mothers, co-workers, and complete strangers can give us poor counsel. However, the result can be an important lesson. What follows are some college union and student activities professionals' thoughts on the guidance they received and how the situations became teachable moments.

The bad advice:
It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. I thought this was a free ticket to push forward my ideas.

The lesson:
I learned you have to choose your battles. In the world of facility management, you sometimes learn the hard way that you need to make the right people happy. With our buildings on campus, emotions can be deeply tied to what you might think are the smallest of things. This is especially so in a student union or activity center. A president could have a sentimental tie to a piece of art hanging on the wall or a vice president may have a connection to the chairs used in a particular room. Whatever the case, it is hard to know all of the emotional and political ramifications of your decisions. Permission from a supervisor can help to protect you if something does go wrong. While it may be easier to ask forgiveness, in the long run it may not be better for you or your career.

Submitted by Charles M. Hueber, Director of Student Activities, Georgia Southern University

The bad advice:
After I was told that I was being promoted, a superior/predecessor once said to me that I “should not worry, because all of the important things will find their way to you.” It was this person’s way of letting me know how overwhelming things were about to become and that the truly important things would rise to the top.

The lesson:
The true lesson was that we all have our own techniques. While advice, especially from those who we succeed is an incredibly valuable commodity, we still must observe and manage things in a way that will be successful for us.

The funny thing is that this person was correct, and the really important things did surface among the many things I had to manage. The problem was that using that method of reaction versus being proactive was not good for someone like me who needs time to process; thus, it created a loss of control both in how I managed these situations and the time allowed to resolve matters. If I waited until an issue “found me,” it was bigger and tougher than when I sought to resolve issues or tried to anticipate future problems along with scenarios for resolution. My predecessor was better at “improvising” than I was, so this method allowed them success; however, for me it was quickly obvious I needed a different method.

Submitted by Timothy J. Bank$, Director, Office of Event Services, The University of Chicago

The bad advice:
As a young professional, I was in a discussion about starting a program at our institution that another institution was doing at theirs. I asked colleagues and students if they thought it would be something to work into our schedule and try. Looking at the differences between the other university and ours and what we were trying to accomplish, we determined the commitment and return the other university enjoyed was good for their programming, but was not on target for our purpose and goals.

A colleague from the other university responded by saying we were making a mistake for not replicating the program. My reaction was that of surprise because it seemed as though he thought because the program was right for his campus it had to be right for ours as well, not taking into consideration our goals or campus dynamics.

The lesson:
After a careful review, there was no doubt our university made the correct choice. I understand it is great to keep an open mind about various possibilities, but I did learn to know your institution, know your constituency, and realize that each campus has its own “personality.” What may fit one place may not fit at another. It especially showed me despite the “nuts and bolts” of work and plans and ideas, and the differences we may have, a humble attitude and a supportive spirit go a long way.

Submitted by Tim Danube, Associate Director, Student Union, University of Nebraska–Kearney

The bad advice:
Trust the process. Some recent experiences on hiring committees and with facility decisions have made me leery of anyone who says “trust the process” when I see red flags everywhere. When the process results in decisions with which I disagree, after I’ve tried to raise issues that concern me, it takes me a while to regain my trust in the people involved.

The lesson:

The lesson I relearn each time this happens is to detach from the outcome and to trust my instincts.

Submitted by Barbara Delansky; Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Student Life, Multicultural & Women’s Programs; Lane Community College

The bad advice:
I spent 26 years in the military, and the long-standing advice people would always give is: “You never want to get stationed in North Dakota!” I never knew why, but eventually, as time went on, I bought into this paranoia. Then it happened. I was stationed on the island of Guam when I received orders for Grand Forks Air Force Base, in North Dakota. I panicked. My worst fear had come true. I was going to North Dakota.

The lesson:
As it turned out, I “retired” from the Air Force in 1995, and we (family) decided to make Grand Forks our home. The community is wonderful, the people are wonderful, and so on. We bought our first home ever, and I got a job with the Chamber of Commerce. Soon after, in 1998, I got hired by the university, and the rest is history. The university is a great employer, and I went to school and completed both my bachelor’s and master’s degree. I am now the director of the union, and it’s the greatest job I ever had in my life. I can’t see us ever leaving North Dakota!

Submitted by Tony Trimarco, Director, Memorial Union, University of North Dakota

The bad advice:
First I would have to say, tongue-in-cheek, that the worst advice I have received (and accepted) in my career was actually from a student who said with great sincerity, “Trust me Mr. Shepard, I have learned my lesson and will never do that again!” It is incumbent on us as student affairs professionals to fall for that one ... once.

A more administrative but dated example ... We were making over $30,000 per year in revenue in our old 400-square-foot video arcade as we were planning a massive building expansion in the early ‘90s. All advice pointed toward building a space that was three times larger—so we did. Before the project was complete, advances in home gaming systems had caused revenue to drop by half and eventually to less than $10,000 per year. We ultimately pulled the plug and reconfigured the space for a better use.

The lesson:
The lesson we learned was to do our homework, especially as it relates to doing trend analysis. We could have probably predicted that demand would go down if we had involved more students in the process.

Submitted by Bill Shepard, Assistant Vice President for University Programs, Wright State University