Ongoing Research Into Student Affairs Technology History

Covers from old ACPA and NASPA conference proceedings. From upper-left, clockwise: NASPA 1930, NASPA 1950, ACPA 1942, ACPA 1932

I’ve written a few times about historical research I’ve done looking into how U.S. student affairs professionals have used and viewed technology throughout the 20th century.  Although I don’t know where my current job search will take me, I feel a responsibility to bring some closure to this research and then ensure it is somehow published or shared.

Much of my previous work was based on documents held at the National Student Affairs Archives at Bowling Green State University, especially the conference proceedings and programs for ACPA and NASPA.  My work is incomplete, however, because those (wonderful!) archives did not have most of the conference proceedings from the first half of the century.  However, another scholar told me that my own institution, Indiana University, has many of these proceedings.  Since I will probably be leaving Bloomington soon, I finally followed up on this tip and requested all of the conference proceedings in the IU library.  The two collections – IU and BGSU – complement each other very nicely, almost as if a single collection of all of the proceedings were divided evenly between the two libraries.  It would probably be a bibliographic faux pas to ask one of these libraries to donate their materials to the other one but it sure would be nice to have a nearly complete collection in one place.  At least the two universities are only a few hours apart so it’s not terribly burdensome for scholars who want to consult these materials.

I’ve only started reading through these documents and I’m already very glad that I requested them!   In just the handful of proceedings that I’ve read so far I’ve found interesting things such as:

  • Discussion of the negative effects of “mechanical devices” on education in 1928
  • A demonstration of IBM equipment for Deans of Men in 1950
  • A new program at the 1950 NASPA conference using audio recorders to collect and then distribute the distilled wisdom of its members.  In the opening session, NADAM President L. K. Neidlinger described this new program to attendees:

    You can also improve your mind and learn how to be a dean by going to the Recording Room, just off the lobby, at any time that suits your convenience, and asking the attendants there to hook you up to one of the tape recordings that we have been busy making last night and this morning. We are conducting there an interesting new experiment in convention technique. On each of several topics we have had a team of five deans record their experience and advice — all on the same tape. Anyone interested in these topics can pull up a chair, light a cigar, and listen at leisure to the advice of five colleagues who could not otherwise be interviewed so conveniently. He can then add his own comments by flipping a switch and talking. Furthermore, six months from now when you may have to educate a faculty committee on the facts of life about one of these topics, you will be able to write Fred Turner for the recording, borrow a machine, and bring these expert witnesses into your committee room.

  • A demonstration of the new Polaroid camera, with specific mention of its possible use in creating photographs for student IDs, in 1951

Even though I’ve just begun reading through these proceedings, I already have examples of (a) worry about the effects of technology on education and students, (b) discussions of the potential benefits of technology in student affairs administration, especially record keeping and processing, (c) demonstrations of new technology by vendors and pioneering institutions, and (d) innovative uses of technology initiated by members of the professional organizations themselves.  A history of regular and continued use of technology, including original innovations and cutting-edge uses, doesn’t seem to be part of the mainstream historical narrative of the student affairs profession but that seems to be the story I’m finding in the historical artifacts.

(Off-topic: Holy crap are these proceedings products of their times!  I knew that the history of these two professional organizations was very gendered given their historical roots but I didn’t expect the volume of casual sexism documented in these proceedings!  I did, however, expect some degree of racism and a large homophobia and – sadly – my expectations have been met.  I’m not even looking for these things but they often come screaming out of the pages. I’m reminded of a moment in this story where a college student asks during a discussion about the Founding Fathers: “If the Founders loved the humanities so much, how come they treated the natives so badly?” It’s mentally and spiritually jarring to read pages and pages of passionate discussion about the importance of each student and their intellectual and moral development followed by a casual dismissal of the competence of deans of women or a reminder of the psychological and moral depravity of homosexuality. The incongruity and dissonance makes me wonder what normal, accepted practices and beliefs we hold today will cause these “Holy crap!” moments for future generations when they read our e-mails and watch our videos.)

NASPA Expands Voting Rights to All Members

I have been extremely critical of NASPA’s disenfranchisement of graduate student members, especially since that effectively negated the membership’s desire to merge with ACPA. So I was very happy to receive the following message in an e-mail from NASPA:

After a month-long voting period, the NASPA voting delegates overwhelmingly approved a proposal to revise the voting structure of the association to allow associate affiliates, graduate student affiliates, and emeritus affiliates the opportunity to vote in elections for the chair of the NASPA Board of Directors (previously NASPA President) and Regional Directors (previously Regional Vice Presidents).

“As a result of member feedback, the Board of Directors voted unanimously in May to submit this Bylaw Amendment to NASPA’s Voting Delegates,” said NASPA President Patricia Telles-Irvin. “I feel strongly that this was the right thing to do at this point in time, and I am so gratified that the Voting Delegates agreed and voted so overwhelmingly in favor of the change.”

“Graduate students, in particular, have been increasingly active within NASPA and have been its fastest growing membership type over the past year,” said NASPA Executive Director Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy. “I am particularly pleased to see the governance structure adapted to better recognize the contributions our members along the full spectrum of the student affairs career trajectory.”

The expanded voting rights will go into effect immediately with January’s ballots.

That this was necessary and that the organization denied full voting rights for over a quarter of its membership will remain stains on NASPA’s history. But it’s wonderful that the voting delegates have voted to remedy this injustice as we move forward. Well done, NASPA!

Habits of Successful Higher Ed Doctoral Students

I recently moved to a new apartment and as I was unpacking I came across my notes from last year’s NASPA Doctoral Seminar in Chicago. One page of notes is from a panel discussion where faculty discussed habits and traits of successful doctoral students. Carney Strange moderated the session but I don’t remember or have written down the names of all of the faculty on the panel. I know Deborah Liddell was on the panel because I specifically noted a quote from here. I think George Kuh was also on the panel and I only remember that because he was a faculty member at my institution and the director of the research center at which I worked.

The most successful Higher Education doctoral students…

  • Read
  • Write
  • Read others’ dissertations
  • Keep a writing journal or log
  • Treat their education like a job, including scheduling reading and writing (this tip was aimed particularly at part-time students)
  • Know their motivation(s)
  • Do the damn thing e.g. don’t read about writing a dissertation, just sit down and write it
  • Know that doctoral studies is not about their capabilities; everyone admitted to a doctoral program is capable of completing it
  • Remembers that “it’s just a place to develop habits”
  • Asks questions
  • Knows that “it’s about how you lean into life” and life still goes on outside and beyond their studies
  • Are willing to stick their feet in the water without knowing what will happen e.g. take risks, display trust
  • Know that their dissertation is not their life’s work
  • “Wrestle [their] perfection to the ground” – Deborah Liddel, University of Iowa

Personal Update: It’s Already August???

I’ve been quite disconnected for the last couple of months. I think that I am almost reconnected and settled into my new apartment so I will soon be back to myself with some updates for this blog. Quick thoughts are listed below in no particular order; please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of them.

  • My time at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme was amazing. This was the third young scholar/advanced doctoral student program I have attended and it was by far the best one. The program was fantastic, the location amazing, and the faculty and participants are as kind as they are intelligent.
  • It took nearly a week for my cable company to get my Internet connection working in my new apartment. I’ve never been more isolated or more productive. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Perhaps as a result of my concentrated time in Oxford focusing on Internet studies and my time in a research center, I am feeling more and more disconnected from the student affairs profession. I continue to wonder about the priorities of the profession and the academy-at-large, especially as we continue to adjust to a new reality of limited funds and increased public scrutiny. Although I agree that most of the services provided by student affairs units are good and useful I don’t know if adults should be forced to fund those services. At a more basic level, I don’t know if all of these services should be performed by colleges and universities even if they do contribute to enrollment, retention, and overall well-being.
  • I am immensely saddened and angered by the continuing slap fight between ACPA and NASPA. It’s unprofessional, wasteful, and embarrassing. I have already decided to let my NASPA membership expire and I am edging toward allowing my ACPA membership expire, too.
  • I don’t think we’re quite ready to make a public announcement but I’m extremely excited about a partnership between my current employer and another of my favorite organizations. I’m smack in the middle of it all and so happy to be there!
  • I said “no” today and I’m very proud of myself because it’s not something I do as often as I should. I really wanted to work on the project, too, so I’m a tiny bit sad about the timing. But my time is limited and I must develop and maintain focus.

Upcoming Student Affairs Technology Conferences

After many years of being a side-discussion at other conferences, technology in student affairs is finaly taking center stage at two upcoming conferences:

  1. The Student Affairs Technology Unconference is being held on July 29, 2011, at Boston University. Although the agenda is not set (and will not be set until the attendees set the agenda at the conference itself, one of the defining features of an unconference), this unconference is aimed at student affairs and higher education administrators who use technology and want to connect with others who share their interest. The conference is being set up by several persons who frequent the #satech Twitter hashtag; use #satechBOS to follow them. The event is free with participants responsible for their own lunch.
  2. The #NASPAtech: Student Affairs Technology Conference is scheduled for October 27-29, 2011, in Newport, Rhode Island. In contrast with the Boston event, this will be more of a traditional conference with a set schedule, invited speakers, and a call for programs that closes on July 22. The schedule has as many timeslots dedicated to unconference sessions as it does traditional concurrent sessions. This event seems to be aimed at the same general population as the Boston unconference: Student affairs technology users and enthusiasts.

I’m disappointed that I won’t be attending either of these events. I will be returning from England just a few days before the Boston event and the turnaround is just too quick for my comfort. I won’t attend the NASPA conference because (a) I will be attending and presenting at another conference and (b) I don’t care to support NASPA right now. (And while I’m being a Debbie Downer, I’ll also note that these conferences both seem to be aimed at the same audience with those who (a) build and support and (b) study the technologies and their users still lacking homes of their own.)

It’s exciting to see these events on the horizon! I hope this is a sign of more good things to come for those who work with technology in student affairs and other areas of higher education.

Could Graduate Student Members Have Changed the NASPA Vote?

I’ve stated that the NASPA vote against consolidating with ACPA would have been different if graduate student members could have voted. This is largely influenced by my emotions, intuition, and experiences. But how much truth is there in this belief? Can we find evidence to support or refute this assertion by examining the results of the vote and membership data? Would it really have made a difference if graduate students could have voted?

Data and Assumptions

I’m having trouble finding membership data but I have found enough to make some rough calculations. According to the latest Executive Director’s Report to the Board of Directors, in January NASPA had 12,388 members. At about the same time, the co-chairs of the New Professionals & Graduate Students Knowledge Community (NPGS KC) wrote that there were over 3,000 graduate student members in NASPA. Finally, NASPA is reporting that 42% of eligible voters participated in this vote and 62% of them voted for consolidation.

Let’s assume that all of the numbers above are correct or at least close enough for some rough calculations. Let’s also assume that one-quarter of the NASPA membership was ineligible to vote. Graduate student members make up almost one-quarter of the NASPA membership so this assumption is conservative because associate affiliate members could not vote, either. We’ll make this assumption even more conservative and assume there are 3,000 graduate student members. Finally, let’s assume that the straw poll conducted by the NPGS KC is predictive of how graduate student members would have voted and 82% of them would have supported consolidation.

If 42% of eligible voters participated in the vote, that means that 5,203 members voted. Sixty-two percent of those members – 3,226 members – voted for consolidation. Two-thirds of them would have had to vote for consolidation for the motion to carry.

Calculations and Results

Let’s explore two scenarios. In the first scenario, let’s assume that the same proportion of graduate student members participate in the vote as the rest of the membership. In other words, let’s assume that 42% of the graduate student members – 1,260 members – participate in the vote. And as stated above, we’ll assume that the NPGS KC straw poll is predictive of student membership voting preferences. Do these additional 1,033 votes for consolidation meet or exceed 66% of the total number of votes?  Yes, but barely.  That would have resulted in 66.9% of the voters in favor of consolidation, just over the 2/3 required.

In our second scenario, let’s assume that only those student members who responded to the NPGS KC straw poll participate in the consolidation vote. In that case, only 547 new votes are added to the total. The additional 447 votes for consolidation only increases the total percentage of consolidation votes to 64.4 so these additional votes do not change the final result.


As demonstrated by the two scenarios described above, graduate student members would have had to participate in a higher proportion than the general membership and voted for consolidation by a huge margin to have changed this vote. We have good reason to believe that student members would have overwhelmingly supported consolidation. We don’t know how many of them would have voted and whether enough of them would have voted to change the results; it’s very plausible.

In this brief exercise, the assumption that seems weakest is that the NPGS KC straw poll would have been predictive of the behavior of the entire student membership of NASPA. This is primarily due to the fact the straw poll was only administered to the members of the NPGS KC and we don’t know how representative those members are of the larger student membership of NASPA. Personally, I believe that student members would have overwhelmingly voted for consolidation in line with the straw poll. But I don’t know how many students would have voted and I am not confident that the straw poll can tell us much about that.


It is likely but not inevitable that graduate student members would have changed the result of this vote. Evidence seems to show that graduate student members were solidly in favor of consolidation.  But we don’t know if enough of them would have voted to change the final result; it’s likely but not certain.

Of course, this exercise in arithmetic ignores all social, cultural, and historic issues (and many others).  If support for consolidation was indeed extremely high among graduate student members, what emotional impact does it have for their votes to have not been counted even if they would not have changed the final result?  Will graduate students feel more aligned with ACPA who allowed student members to vote and whose general membership seemed to favor consolidation by the same margin as graduate student members of NASPA? Finally, how much does it matter if the graduate student vote could have changed or not changed the final result?  How much weight is carried by the symbolic act of inclusion or exclusion?

(And what about the associate affiliate members who were also denied the right to vote?  If they could have voted, how many would have voted and for which result?)

Initial Reactions to Failure of NASPA & ACPA to Merge

I haven’t fully thought through this and my reactions remain primarily emotional so I’ll try to keep this brief: I am disappointed by the results of the recent vote by members of NASPA and ACPA to not merge these organizations. Although I am disappointed in the result, I am much more disappointed by the process, specifically the fact that NASPA disenfranchised its graduate student members and associate affiliate members. Graduate students alone make up nearly one quarter of the organization’s total membership and a straw poll indicated very high support (82% in favor) for consolidation among graduate students so it’s likely that had student members been allowed to vote the outcome would have been different, especially given how close the vote was without our voices being included (62% of the votes were for consolidation, just shy of the 66% needed).

I’ve written about this in the past and I was part of a failed effort to allow graduate students to vote on this important issue. My feelings have not changed and in fact they are being amplified by the fact that this important vote failed likely because so many members of NASPA were not allowed to vote on the future of their organization (Edit: I’ve looked at the numbers and it is indeed likely that graduate student members would have changed the vote had they been allowed to participate).

NASPA’s Board of Directors has released a statement responding to the vote and indicating some future directions. To their credit, the first on their list of “areas for change and innovation” is “Governance review, including voting eligibility.” That is absolutely necessary to correct what appears to me to be the stinging hypocrisy of an organization that proclaims to value students and its members but doesn’t allow student members the right to vote on the future of their organization. NASPA likes the proclaim that “NASPA is its members” but right now it’s more like “NASPA is [three quarters of] its members” and that must change.

But I don’t know if changing the bylaws now are sufficient. For reasons I won’t discuss publicly, I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason why some opposed allowing student members to vote is that student member were so firmly in favor of consolidation. Moreover, it really bothers me that student and associate affiliate members were denied the right to vote in the first place and I can’t help but wonder what that says about the power structure and influences in NASPA over the years. I don’t know if I can continue to be a member of this organization given the disconnect between its espoused and enacted values especially given the way that this important vote was affected by the disenfranchisement of so many of its members.

Finally, I feel horrible that I did not notice and act on this issue until it personally affected me. I like to think that my reactions and emotions would be the same if I were still a full-time professional and eligible to vote. I don’t hold myself singularly accountable but now that I know about it I can’t turn a blind eye, even as I begin to move toward the end of my student career and start to look at rejoining the ranks of those employed full-time. But right now I don’t know the best way for me to move forward. I don’t know if I can in good conscience continue to advocate for this from the inside or if it’s time to move on from an ethically unacceptable situation.

E-mail and Web Campaign Against NASPA/ACPA Consolidation

Update: I received a response from someone associated with the group that sent this message. Apparently NASPA allowed them to send this message to all NASPA members “to assure that those opposed to the proposed merger had an equal chance to communicate with NASPA members.”

I received this e-mail today:

Now the choice is yours.
Together We Can Preserve NASPA and Make it Better

It is now time for us to stand up for NASPA to prevent it from being dissolved.

Since we established the NASPA Yes! Consolidation No Committee several months ago, scores of members contacted us to thank us for taking a stand to continue our association. They affirmed our belief that the proposed new association is not in the best interests of our members or advancement of our profession. It is too cumbersome, disenfranchises important constituencies and would require years of effort and additional financial resources that may or may not create the kind of effective, top-echelon association that we already have in NASPA.

In that spirit, we organized a campaign to preserve NASPA so it can continue to provide valued and valuable services to its membership, and can continue to evolve and improve based on input from you as a member, followed up with thoughtful planning and execution as we work together to deepen our expertise as professionals and increase our influence in shaping the future of the institutions we each serve.

We want the organization to be inclusive—there for all people at all levels of our profession, and through all stages of their Student Affairs careers from graduate students and new professionals to mid-level professionals and SSAO’s—drawing members from institutions of all sizes, and in all regions. NASPA has proven itself, and has played these roles effectively for many years. We don’t believe that any objective case has been made that a new organization is needed.

We developed a website to reach out to you as a peer to provide information to those who want to understand why so many of their friends and fellow-NASPA members fervently oppose consolidation with ACPA. We invite you to join us in this effort.

To learn more about the NASPA Yes! Consolidation No effort and save NASPA, please visit our website at and provide us with your comments and suggestions.

NASPA, Yes! Consolidation, No! Committee

I resent being sent this message. It’s inappropriate for a group of senior student affairs administrators to use their power to attempt to sway others, especially much younger members, to their side. It’s very poor form to further inflame what is already a passionate debate. And it’s particularly galling to be sent this message telling me how to vote in an election in which I AM DENIED THE RIGHT TO VOTE because I had the audacity to go back to school full-time for my doctorate, especially when it’s the older and more senior members of NASPA that have repeatedly denied student members voting privileges!

I get enough junk e-mail; please don’t send me more.

Reflections on the Current State of Technology Organizations in Student Affairs

There seems to be three groups of people in student affairs interested in technology: administrators who manage technology projects and groups in student affairs departments and divisions, student affairs scholars who study technology and its uses and impact, and student affairs professionals with interests in technology but a different primary focus. How well are these populations being served right now? How are they organizing to serve themselves and one another?

My big hope for using the resources of a large and well-funded organization to organize and serve at least one or two of these populations is NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community (KC) and they seem to have lost momentum. I haven’t seen or heard a peep from or about them in many months, their website has been broken for several months, and only four of the seven regions in NASPA have representatives in the KC. When I co-chaired the KC a few years ago, I privately wondered if the KC would ever find coherence and purpose and right now it seems that the answer may be “no.” I intend no disrespect at all to the current leadership of the KC as I know how challenging and demanding their job can be.

The struggles of the Technology KC raise the larger question of whether a group serving more than one of these populations could ever be formed and sustained without herculean efforts on the part of its leadership. It is possible that these three populations are too small to form a coherent and sustainable organization. It’s also possible that their needs and interests are too divergent for them to coexist in one organization; this is the second time that NASPA has tried having a group like this as the first one couldn’t cohere around a solid set of goals. I imagine these questions must have played a role in the decision to not include a technology group in the ACPA/NASPA unification proposal. As much as I would like to disparage the decision, my experiences in the Technology KC convince me that it’s probably the right one, at least during the formation of a new organization.

I am also unsure of the current status of I know their journal has struggled recently and I hope that is a temporary state of affairs. It’s a low-prestige journal which makes it a publication venue of last resort for the best scholarship but it serves such a unique niche that it would be a loss if it were to cease publication altogether. Any updates or thoughts, Stu and Gary?

With the slowdown of NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community, I worry that we are losing an opportunity to create communities among student affairs IT folks, especially the IT administrators in student affairs (I also worry about the scholars but we’re a very, very small group). However, the success of groups outside of the traditional power structures of student affairs gives me great hope that at least one of the three populations – student affairs practitioners – is being well-served. The group of student affairs professionals at the Student Affairs Collaborative blog, Kevin Prentiss and Tom Krieglstein at Red Rover, Jeff Jackson and his awesome collection of resources at BreakDrink, Ed Cabellon and his tireless stream of resources, Eric Stoller‘s new column at Inside Higher Ed, and many others are serving this population very, very well. They’re serving this population well in part because they are almost all members of this population but largely because they’re tremendously enthusiastic and very clever at engaging others to use their energy, input, and work.

I am also heartened by the inclusion of technology as a “thread” in the new Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners created by ACPA and NASPA. Technology is one of three threads identified by the task force that created this document. But what are threads?

In the course of determining the competency areas, the joint task force identified a number of “threads” that are woven into most of the competency areas. The joint task force, based on feedback from members, determined that these topics were best represented as components of the expected knowledge, skills, and attitudes described within each competency area, rather than as separate competency areas themselves. In other words, these threads are considered essential elements of each competency area and therefore should be incorporated into the professional development design of each competency area, rather than exist as competency areas themselves (Joint Task Force on Professional Competencies and Standards, 2010, p. 5).

The task force correctly identified technology as a thread that runs throughout most student affairs work instead of a separate competency area. I know that others disagree but I believe this places technology in its proper place as a tool to facilitate our work instead of being the focus of our work. Technology is a tool, not a goal (it says so right at the top of this webpage!).

Although I wonder about the experiences of technology scholars and IT administrators in student affairs and how well we are supporting them in student affairs (I don’t think we are), the amount of activity occurring among student affairs practitioners – on blogs, in Twitter, through podcasts, and during conferences – is tremendously exciting and encouraging. If scholars and student affairs IT administrators want to build communities, perhaps they can emulate or even join these groups and activities because for all of their messiness they seem to be working pretty well. These activities are sometimes a bit messy and uncoordinated but that is the nature of dynamic, grassroots activities and I wouldn’t trade their energy and excitement for anything.

Update: It looks like we may soon get some answers (or at least some interesting questions!) about IT practitioners in student affairs, particularly those who lead them, from Leslie Dare & Kyle Johnson!

Personal Reflections on NASPA Student Voting Proposal

A few days ago, I submitted a proposal to the NASPA Board of Directors requesting that student members be allowed to fully participate should the issue of ACPA/NASPA consolidation come to a vote before the NASPA membership.  As things stand right now, the Board interprets the NASPA bylaws as not permitting students to participate in any votes.  This blog post is about some of my personal emotions regarding this situation, emotions that purposely and prudently are not fully reflected in the proposal and related professional communications.

Although I did my very best to keep my emotions in check as I worked on this proposal, this proposal was primarily motivated by emotions:  Incredulity.  Frustration.  Anger.  Disbelief.

First and foremost, I am appalled that NASPA denies me the right of full participation in this and other issues while never hesitating to ask for my time and money.  I am furious that my right to vote in this and many other matters was stripped from me when I made the audacious decision to return to school for my doctorate.  This anger is driven not only by the fact that my voice is being silenced but that it is being silenced by educators who not only purport to value education but also profess to have a deep concern for students and the future.  I don’t know how to reconcile those professional values with a set of bylaws that explicitly denies student members – including students who have many years of professional service within NASPA and many students whom NASPA has worked very hard to recruit – a voice in the most important decisions affecting the organization.

Moreover, unless I’ve made a mistake or missed something, student members are not even represented in any of the Divisions or the Board of Directors.  Not even one student member is listed in these groups on the NASPA website!  This complete lack of representation in these powerful groups is so out of line with our professional values that it beggars belief and I sincerely hope that I’ve made a mistake or looked in the wrong places on the website.  Not only does this lack of representation present a profound problem with respect to representation and diversity in these groups but it also denies student members incredibly valuable opportunities for professional development and education.

My tremendous disappointment in NASPA is tempered by the personal actions of the senior members who have guided me and my colleagues in putting together our proposal.  This is a terribly political issue so I will not write their names here (I’ve already thanked them in private) but I am tremendously grateful for their time and the knowledge and experience they shared with us.  Although I am profoundly confused and frustrated, I retain some hope that NASPA will correct its course and align its actions with its values because I have some trust in the influential and experienced people who provided us with guidance.  NASPA must learn to practice what its members preach.