200511cover
We can try to avoid making choices by doing nothing, but even that is a decision.
– Gary Collins
THE
BULLETIN
Volume 73 | Issue 6
November 2005

Bringing the Academic and Cocurricular Experience Together through Advising

Christopher Kandus

Higher education professionals, both faculty and administrators alike, need to have proper training when taking on an advisor role. Regardless of why individuals become advisors—be it a role freely chosen or one asked of them—an understanding of the challenges and rewards of advising will help in fulfilling responsibilities more effectively (Dunkel & Schuh, 1998).

But what if the advisor to a student organization is a member of the faculty? Of course, as vested members of the college community, faculty members have a strong interest in students’ development. But how are they trained? Does the training of faculty members prepare them for the world of student involvement and the cocurricular experience? As student involvement administrators, do we assume that all faculty members understand and are well versed in college policy, how to plan and register events, how to negotiate contracts, who are the key point people in the college community, how to be a crisis manager, and how to set appropriate boundaries with students? Student involvement administrators can be a source of outreach, training, and support for faculty members as they take on advising roles. And these questions are ones that we need to consider when designing training programs for faculty members who want to be successful advisors to student clubs and organizations.

If we call ourselves the campus community builders, we need to be educators and ambassadors who can clearly identify what and how to best train members of the faculty on their role as advisors to student organizations. We must recognize faculty members’ education, backgrounds, experiences, and approaches they would pursue and the key advising points that will help them be successful campus community builders. We need to identify advisor training programs that explain expectations, responsibilities, and educational approaches, and then be a resource during their tenure as advisors.

Part 1: Setting expectations

For all advisors, expectations from the college and the student leaders should be clear. A good point to remember is that faculty have a somewhat less convenient passage to the ranks of student advising in that student group advising is not among the faculty’s primary responsibilities of teaching and conducting research. Faculty members will want to know exactly what being a student organization advisor means in practical terms—they will want to know “What do I have to do?” Additionally, student leaders should be encouraged to meet with the faculty members before the title of “advisor” is assigned. The students should feel that they can talk openly with the faculty member about their expectations and vice versa.

The students and faculty advisor need to set appropriate guidelines to ensure a successful relationship. Several colleges and universities have both the faculty and student leaders sign expectation agreements at the beginning of the year to acknowledge that they have discussed expectations and responsibilities. Within this discussion answers should be determined to such questions as will the faculty advisor attend weekly organization meetings, be present at all events, meet regularly with the organization officers, or be a signature on important forms? Similar to a basic written job description, an expectation document that student leaders and the advisor sign and retain copies of can be helpful to limit confusion and build a strong foundation for the advisor-advisee relationship. Studies in areas as different as medical care (Staniszewska, 1998), sales (Fornell, 1997), and higher education (Fagan, 1998) have found direct links between expectations and satisfaction. Therefore, in terms of advisor-advisee relationships, when expectations are clear and agreed upon, both parties will be able to find satisfaction more easily. It is incumbent on the organization to discover not only those roles that maximize the advisors’ capabilities, but also those in which they are most likely to find the most personal satisfaction in being of service to the group (Komives & Woodward, 1996).

In addition, arguably the most critical question potential advisors with ask is: How much time can I expect advising responsibilities to require? Therefore, depending on what student organization the faculty member is approached to advise, a clear understanding of time commitment is essential. Again, set expectations and make sure that the time commitment is clear to all who are involved.

Part 2: Duties of the day-to-day

As we try to develop the best training module for educating faculty about advising, we must understand that many faculty members do not have much administrative experience. Faculty members are provided little, if any background about the nature and structure of the organizations in which they are likely to spend their career. Therefore, duties can be broken down into the following key concepts:

Prepare for and anticipate possible complicated situations

More often than expected, the student group the faculty member advises may have to resolve challenges stemming from an activity or event the student members created. The faculty member needs to be prepared to not only address the students about what is appropriate for the college community, but also be prepared to serve as a spokesperson for the student group. Understanding the mission of the institution will be a good point of reference when trouble-shooting these complicated situations.

Developing a professional relationship

Advisors need to be cognizant of developing a professional relationship based on agreeable boundaries. Students naturally will have times when they think of advisors as friends, mentors, and even equals. However, it is extremely important for advisors to let them know that some topics and situations will be off limits to the relationship of advisor and advisee. As stated earlier, it would be a good idea to discuss this in the expectations conversation that the faculty member and student leaders have prior to the faculty member’s term as advisor.

Discipline

Student organization advisors may have the role of disciplinarian. This role is one that can be difficult for many professionals. In striving to build community and to ensure that student leaders are enjoying and learning from their experience, it can be tough to confront a student about inappropriate behavior. As a resource for these undesirable situations, it might be a good idea for student leaders to develop a leadership contract. Student leaders can design this contract based on their expectations for organization membership. Student officers and members should sign this document and retain copies. Additionally, it may be wise to encourage the student leaders to add a section to their organization’s constitution that states what the disciplinary protocol is for members who fall short of expectations. This enables the students to feel empowered through governance and can be a step toward allowing the advisor to be more of a mediator instead of an enforcer.

Recognition

It will be necessary for advisors to understand what motivates the organization’s student leaders. Do they like to be recognized publicly at a group meeting, privately through an e-mail or card, or via rewards like food and candy? Having a discussion with student leaders about what makes them feel appreciated can be an initial relationship-building step. Motivated members are ones who are willing to put more into the organization, especially when they know that they are appreciated.

Financial management

Every institution has a different approach to financial management when it pertains to student clubs and organizations. It will be in advisors’ best interest to understand who controls the purse-strings to their organization’s funds. Will they have signature power for the organization’s money? Will the student leadership have the sole rights? Or will there be joint ownership? Additionally, knowledge of the budgetary process will prove to be beneficial to many advisors. Does the organization collect dues? Does the institution provide money to all clubs and organizations, or does the student government association allocate funds? What expenditures can the organization anticipate? Are there traditional fundraisers or other revenue sources? A clear, up-front understanding of these issues will allow the advisor to be an asset in alleviating confusion throughout the year.

Stress the importance of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance

Part of advising a student organization is being able to educate student leaders about the importance of understanding diverse communities culturally, socially, and economically. Group members may also need the advisor’s help to understand the nuances and possible consequences of seemingly minor actions; for example, recruitment practices, membership requirements, or meeting times and locations that restrict participation (Komives & Woodward, 1996).

Liabilities

Faculty members need to be aware that assuming the role of “advisor to” also comes with the responsibility of legal liability. Concerns are specific to each student group, but might include such issues as alcohol at student organization events, nondiscriminatory recruitment policies, and transportation to off-campus retreats. Meeting with the institution’s legal counsel before they are needed can be insightful and a positive precautionary step for advisors and student leaders alike.

Study, study, study

Advisors need to be prepared to deal with potential problems. During the training, faculty members can be given a functional knowledge of the institution’s mission, major campus policies, the code of conduct and expectations, the climate on campus, both politically and socially, and most important, local laws.

Part 3:

Student development 101

Let’s reflect. As administrators, what do we do yearly? We go to conferences, attend workshops, trainings, and phone conferences, all of which have a tone or theme regarding student development. We attend educational programs that reinforce best practices for advising student leaders and organizations. Additionally, the learning and professional development that takes place, reinforces the importance of the cocurricular experience for a complete college experience. Therefore, advising becomes second nature to most administrators.

Faculty members, on the other hand, do not receive this same type of training or reinforcement. Faculty are pushed to conduct research, have special assignments, and write and publish articles and books. Understanding or even participating in the social life on campus is probably the least of their concerns. However, researchers and professionals in the field have concluded that “Student-faculty contact and student learning are positively related, and it would seem that finding ways to promote such contact is in the best educational interests of both students and institutions” (Terenzini, Pascarella, & Blimling, 1996, p. 155).

Until recently, few faculty were taught how students learn or the impact of the outside-the-classroom environment on student performance and retention (Brown, 1990). Therefore, a necessary part of their training as advisors must be to educate them about the importance of the cocurricular experience. As student organization advisors, they have an integral part in completing the circle of experiences from both academic and cocurricular sides of the college community.

There are several ways that institutions train advisors. Student involvement administrators will have to decide on what method of training will work best for the specific group of advisors or the trainers. For example, Northwestern University has a manual for its advisors, quarterly meetings, and discussion groups relating to issues or concerns. The University of Pittsburg–Bradford and The Ohio State University–Mansfield have manuals and initial meetings with the advisors before the advising term begins. It is all about finding the right fit when it comes to the type of training and resources to offer.

Furthermore, we must encourage the faculty to buy into and demonstrate an effective partnership between classroom and out-of-class learning. As Love and Love (1995) say, “The intellectual, social, and emotional elements of learning can be integrated in and out of the classroom” (p. 78). This concept is imperative to future training.

Theory grouping may be a point to consider, when trying to relate advising to a faculty member. These theories are ones that most faculty should be able to relate to, since it may have been part of their early training as educators. There are several that may be useful in designing a training model.

Psychosocial theories

These theories are ones that can be identified with theorists such as Keniston (1967), Chickering (1969), and Erikson (1980). Psychosocial theories focus on an individual through a sequence of stages that define the life cycle (Kramer, 1995). These theories will help faculty members identify where student leaders are in their life journey. They also will assist advisors in determining the best approach to take when dealing with a novice leader compared to a veteran student leader.

Cognitive developmental theories

These theories are ones that can be associated with theorists such as Piaget (1932), Perry (1968), Kohlberg (1976), and Leovinger (1976). Cognitive developmental theories focus on how development is viewed as a sequence of irreversible shifts in the process by which individuals perceive and reason about the world. These theories will be helpful for the faculty member in understanding why student leaders view certain events on campus, the community, and world in the way that they do (Kramer, 1995). Advisors need to understand that not every student will have the same outlook on approaching their leadership position.

These theories will assist the faculty in focusing less on what they do as educators, and more on what the student group and organization needs and does. This theoretical knowledge base also can be helpful in aligning the students’ developmental needs with the faculty member’s advising style.

Part 4:

Ongoing support

What happens after training is complete? What if the advisors have questions? Where do they go and who do they talk to? Advisors will have further questions throughout the academic year. They need to know where to find answers and, most importantly, support. It may be wise to give the faculty member a list of important contacts and a general description of the chain of command. Every institution’s staffing structure is different, but there should be a point person in the student activities office, college union, or student life office who works with student clubs and organizations and their respective advisors. Reinforcing the faculty members with proper post-training support will allow them to feel even more comfortable in their new role. However, we do not want the faculty member to rely solely on us. Another good resource to point advisors to is each other. In most cases, there are other advisors who have gone through the same situation and can offer a unique perspective on how to solve the problem or answer the questions at hand. Make sure that each of the student organization advisors has access to each other’s contact information. Reiterating the training, the campus resources, and the institution’s mission will ultimately enable them to solve or offer solutions to their challenges.

Bringing it together

Although our campus communities continue to change, the importance of student involvement and out-of-class learning remains a crucial element of the college experience. Faculty members who reinforce that philosophy will become key stakeholders in the overall development of students. We need scholars who not only skillfully explore new areas of research, but also integrate ideas, connect thought to action, and inspire students. The complexity of modern life requires more, not less, information; more, not less, participation (Boyer, 1990). Faculty obligations must extend beyond the classroom, and both the academic and civic dimensions of collegiate life must be carefully melded to serve the mission of the college community—educationally and through the cocurricular experience. As the administrators who often serve in the role of training the faculty to be student organization advisors, we must develop clear expectations, educate, and offer a strong functional knowledge base to help them be successful. A quality advisory relationship can positively affect students’ involvement and persistence in college (Frost, 1991). Faculty members serving as successful advisors help to reinforce this partnership toward student learning and achievement and we are matchlessly positioned to support them.

References

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