Posted October 6, 2016 by Benjamin Perlman 

How Directors Can Support Research and Writing

Some of the common complaints we hear from ACUI members regarding research and writing is that they do not have the time or that their supervisors do not support members making time to focus on research and writing. As an association, we must continue encouraging scholarly activities, both for the professional development of our members as well as the advancement of ACUI’s research agenda.

One of the ways to increase research and writing activities in the college union profession is for college union directors to make it a priority for their team.

One of the most effective things college union directors can do when approached by an enthusiastic team member interested in research and writing is to encourage them to pursue research topics where their union’s strategic plan and ACUI’s research agenda overlap. This allows the union team to benefit from any work product written while adding to ACUI’s body of research. These research questions are much easier to support as a supervisor, as Sujit Chemburkar, director of the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida, states, “If research is directly related to the area we work in, like research on the student center, I’d be more likely to realign work assignments to free up research opportunities that might improve service. I would go as far as to cover the cost of work-related surveys, instruments, etc.”

Union directors who really want to emphasize research and writing within their staff can make sure that these activities are part of their job expectations. Assessment projects are being included more and more as an individual staff expectation, or an expectation for the team as a whole. Going a step further and expecting staff to participate in research and publishing signals to teams that they can and should make time to conduct research.

“It is too labor intensive to do for a pat on the back, and at the expense of the job on which you are being judged,” said Dean Smith, director of Student Centers at East Carolina University. “Ideally, it should be in the job description.”

College unions already actively participating in assessment on a regular basis have a great opportunity to convert those studies into publishable research. Reviewing your methodology and instruments more closely, examining longitudinal data from multiple administrations of the same assessment, participating in your institution’s institutional review process, and/or partnering with other institutions to complete the same assessment instrument for comparison data are all ways to convert assessments your departments are already doing into publishable work that adds to ACUI’s body of research.

College union leaders should also remember that undergraduate academic programs need research opportunities for their students, which may dovetail with the union’s interests. Many institutions have programs in architecture, management, civil engineering, art, design, and hospitality where students can use the college union as a research site. Staff can partner with these students to turn their research projects into publishable papers, blog posts, or magazine articles.

We recognize that it is challenging for directors to emphasize research and writing when competing with so many other priorities within the union. However, union directors already have a model for encouraging this type of work: Their encouragement of their team’s participation and service to ACUI. Just like participating and volunteering in ACUI activities, research and writing helps both the staff member and ACUI by giving professionals important experience for advancement and by giving ACUI additional data and analysis with which to inform its membership.


Benjamin Perlman

Benjamin Perlman is the Director, Dobbs University Center at Emory University.

Ben serves as the director of the Dobbs University Center at Emory University. He has served in multiple roles on the Region III Leadership Team, currently as membership chair, a member of the Research Program Team, and leader of the Community of Scholars. He completed his undergraduate degree at Emory University, his master’s in higher education administration at Florida State University, and his Ph.D. in counseling and student personnel services from the University of Georgia.


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