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 www.supportnaspa.com 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.

Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar Updated

I have updated the Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar. I added webinars this time but I did not include state-level events.

This has all of the national, regional, and webinar events currently listed on the websites of the following organizations:

  • ACPA
  • ACUI
  • NACA

As I said when I first created this calendar: I don’t want to maintain this calendar. I don’t think it should be one person’s job. If I could immediately and automatically give everyone the ability to edit this calendar, I would do so. But I can only give specific people permission to edit. So if you are interested in helping to maintain this calendar, please contact me. NACA is maintaining their events and Jeannette Passmore has added several events so please join them!

I also renew my earlier plea for our organizations to please adopt more open, accessible calendars. They don’t have to be Google calendars but something easy to view and to which we can subscribe would be wonderful. Pretty please?

CFP for Articles About Technology and Greek Life

The editors of Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors are putting together an issue dedicated to “empirical research on technology.” Examples of such research may include:

  • Technology’s effect on fraternity/sorority recruitment
  • Studies regarding the ways alumni(ae) connect online
  • Relationship of technology use and fraternity/sorority involvement
  • Impact of email/twitter/facebook and other social networks for Greek organizations

Kim Nehls, Executive Director of ASHE and Visiting Assistant Professor at UNLV, is the guest editor of this issue. Please contact her at kim.nehls@unlv.edu if you’d like to contribute to this issue or have questions.

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 StudentAffairs.com. 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!

NACA on Board With Our Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar

A few days after announcing the centralized and public Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar, folks at NACA contacted me to ask if they could have edit permissions to add more of their events.  So not only is someone at NACA so clued in that they noticed this calendar but they’re also willing to pitch in and make it better!

One of the specific questions they asked me is if they can add their webinars to the calendar.  As I was initially creating the calendar, I had to decide whether to include webinars or just conferences.  I opted to exclude webinars for two reasons.  First, there are so many of them that the calendar would get very busy, perhaps making it less useful and more confusing.  Second, I don’t know how often webinars are changed or rescheduled; I don’t make any promises or assurances but I hope we can keep the calendar up-to-date and correct.  However, NACA is going to add their webinars to the calendar.  We’ll see how that works out and maybe we’ll want to add webinars from the other organizations.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of those NACA folks with their ridiculously fun conferences (they have many performers – musicians, magicians, etc. – at some of their conferences because those conferences are a great place to audition and book performers for campus events).  But I’m reevaluating my opinion after this wonderfully positive response!

Assumptions and Stereotypes

A few days ago, Beloit College published their annual “Mindset” list describing how this year’s incoming college students differ from previous groups of students.  The list is humorous and largely fills its role of reminding college and university faculty and staff of how culture continues to change and shape the expectations of our students.  While I acknowledge that the list is not intended to be taken completely seriously, I think that we can see a serious message if we look behind the list and it’s not the message the authors meant to convey.

This list says more about those who wrote the list than the students they are purporting to write about.  Moreover, it reveals assumptions that many of us make about college students: too many of us still think that the typical college student is just out of high school and enrolled full-time for four years before graduating and moving on.  That may be accurate on some campuses but at many colleges the student body is becoming increasingly “non-traditional:” older, part-time, and unlikely to graduate in four years.

With respect to Beloit’s list, we first observe that students beginning college now may not be in the “Class of 2014.”  The 4-year graduation rate for all first-time first-year students who matriculated in 2001, the most recent year for which these data are available, is 36.2%.  In other words, just over a third of the students* who began college graduated in four years.  Of course, Beloit College has a much higher 4-year graduation rate of about 75%.  But if we want to apply this list to all students at four-year institutions then maybe we title it the “Class of 2016 (We hope!)” list.

Second, this list assumes that the students matriculating this year are young, probably fresh out of high school.   This is probably the case for Beloit as it is a small, residential college with only a few transfer students and virtually no part-time students.  But the picture is different for many institution.  Nearly one-third (29.3%) of all college students are 25 years of age or older.  Further, of all of the nation’s students at four-year institutions, over one quarter (26.5%) are part-time students who are typically much older than full-time students.  (Edit: NPR has more about the growth of non-traditional students in U.S. higher education.)

This discussion fits the topic of this blog in at least two ways:

  1. These assumptions about students are the same assumptions that lead so many to believe that all college students are technologically savvy.  That’s not a fair assumption and it’s simply not true.
  2. It’s possible that these assumptions are particularly widespread among student affairs professionals, particularly younger or newer professionals whose experiences (residence life, student activities, greek advising, etc.) have only been with traditional students.  This is understandable given their experiences but it’s out of line with the reality of American higher education.

I admit that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon.  But we make too many assumptions about students and this list is an excellent example of a set of those assumptions.  We have to fight our natural tendencies to stereotype and make assumptions lest those tendencies continue to lead us astray (Irma Pelt gets what I’m trying to say).

* – Graduation rate is a tricky measure to interpret because of how it’s defined.  Basically, it doesn’t include all students, particularly transfer students.  But good or bad, it’s a widely-used measure so we’ll go with it for now.

Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar

A few days ago, someone asked if there was a centralized calendar of student affairs conferences and events.  To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t.  So I’ve created one:

This has all of the national and regional events currently listed on the websites of the following organizations:

  • ACPA
  • ACUI
  • NACA

I did not include state-level events or Webinars.  I think you could make a good argument for including them; if you’re interested in making that argument then you’re more than welcome to add those events!  I’m also sure that there are many organizations and events missing from this calendar.  If you notice something, please let me know.

I don’t want to maintain this calendar.  I don’t think it should be one person’s job.  If I could immediately and automatically give everyone the ability to edit this calendar, I would do so.  But I can only give specific people permission to edit.  So if you are interested in helping to maintain this calendar, please contact me.

(A side note: It would be nice if we didn’t have to create and maintain this calendar by hand.  Most of the organizations already included in this calendar only had an HTML/text calendar on their website.  A few had RSS feeds for their calendar.  And only one had a more helpful calendar – a Google calendar – but it is embarrassingly out of date.  Once again, we can do much better than this.  And we can do it cheaply and easily. How wonderful it would be if these organizations all had up-to-date calendars to which we could subscribe, automatically updating our own calendars!)

Assessment in IT

A few weeks ago, I attended the 2010 ResNet Symposium in Bellingham, Washington where I was invited to present a preconference session on assessment.  I presented two identical sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  In this post I’ll reflect on what we discussed in these sessions and my perceptions of assessment in IT in American colleges and universities.

ResNet preconference session

I was invited to present these sessions by one of the conference organizers who has a strong student affairs background.  As a profession, student affairs has tried to embrace outcomes assessment so this person is familiar with the issues.  We both share a perception that IT professionals and organizations in American higher education have not yet begun to understand and perform outcomes assessment so an introductory session at the ResNet Symposium would be beneficial for attendees.  I didn’t know how well it would be received but I was pleased with the turnout: 15-16 attendees were in the two sessions, a good representation of the 101 attendees of this small conference.

At the beginning of the session, I asked the attendees to write on the whiteboard the words they associate with “assessment.”  I wanted to gather a bit of information about the attendees and their preconceived notions and I also wanted them to begin thinking about the topic.  The words they wrote most often were analysis/analyze, data, measure(ment), and evaluation.  Not a bad start.

In the first half of the session, we talked about assessment in broad, general terms.  I began by trying to provide some context for the importance of assessment, concentrating particularly on the political context and how academic and student affairs have reacted.  Next, I tried my best to introduce topics that I believe are important to understand or least know exist such as direct vs. indirect assessment and formative vs. summative assessment.  I also tried to get attendees thinking about issues and collaborating with one another by having them brainstorm in small groups to generate a list of sources of data already available on their campuses.

In the second half of the session I focused on surveys and survey development.  Not only are surveys (unfortunately) one of the most common ways of gathering data, they are also a topic in which I have some expertise.  After discussing some survey methodology concepts, primarily sources of error as identified by Dillman in many of his publications, we looked at a survey instrument I recently put into the field.  More specifically, we looked at different iterations of the survey and discussed how and why the survey changed throughout the development process.  I closed with a brief list of survey tips.

I think the session was successful in introducing some of the important concepts in assessment.  It was hard to figure out what to concentrate on during this brief session (the Assessment Framework developed by NASPA’s Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Knowledge Community was very helpful!)  and I’m still not sure that I struck the right balance between introducing important ideas and engaging the participants and meeting their expectations.  It would have been easier, I think, if I had titled the session “Outcomes Assessment” and used that phrase throughout the session; that would have provided some needed focus and better described the topic I intended to introduce.

Outcomes assessment in IT

As mentioned above, this preconference session was developed because of a shared concern about the lack of outcomes assessment in higher education IT.  We’re doing a very poor job of not only establishing how we contribute to the bottom line of our institutions (and the bottom line, of course, is the production and dissemination of knowledge) but also if we’re actually succeeding in meeting those objectives.  I believe this is fundamentally important in justifying the resources expended on in-house IT operations.  You should know why you’re doing what it is you’re doing and you should know if you’re succeeding.

Student affairs professionals realized this a decade or two ago and began emphasizing assessment both in practice and in their graduate programs.  I think that was a very smart move in that it tries to move student affairs from the periphery of the academic enterprise to a place much closer to the center, making student affairs more visible and important in many ways.  Much of IT is in the same boat that student affairs was in a few decades ago where there is an implicit belief that their services are necessary but it’s hard to explain exactly why they’re necessary and should be supplied by the institution itself.  Simply arguing that the services are “important” or even that they’re in demand doesn’t give us a license for incorporating them into our colleges and universities.  Many services are important and desirable but we’re content to contract them, outsource them, or just rely on the outside world to provide them.

We have to prove that what we do significantly contributes to the mission of our institutions and that we do it better – more effectively, more efficiently, cheaper, etc. – than anyone else.  I know that it’s hard to do that; the rest of the campus has been trying to do that for some time and they’re still struggling!  But IT has to get on board and move beyond mere measures of satisfaction and internal metrics that are uncoupled from the mission of the institution.  It’s not even about self-preservation (although that should be a motive!).  It’s about know what you’re doing, why, and if you’re getting it done.

My Professional Philosophy

(Sorry, not much technology in this post.  My blog, my rules.  And I can break those rules when I want to.)

It is common in student affairs Master’s programs for faculty to require their students reflect on and document their professional philosophies, documents that are analogous to faculty teaching philosophies.  A recent thread on CSPTALK, a listserv for student affairs faculty, focused on these professional philosophies and it inspired me to look back at the document that I wrote as a Master’s student nearly 7 years ago.

Of course, it’s interesting to see how I’ve grown as a writer and as a professional.  I cringe at some of what I wrote, especially my naive citations of “the literature.”  It’s hard to be impressed with a paper that quotes Monty Python in the second paragraph.

It greatly pleases me, however, that the fundamental ideas expressed in this 7-year old document remain sound and close to my heart:

  • We are all individuals: I continue to fervently believe this and I cite as evidence my distaste of generational stereotyping.  As someone who often conducts large-scale quantitative research, I struggle to balance this belief with the (natural) desire and need to generalize.  This belief may stem from a keen awareness of the importance of context, an awareness that some of my colleagues seem to lack or disregard at times (e.g. students who are “minorities” in some situations are not in others).  And this belief in and awareness of context is one of the primary drivers of my dissertation.
  • We are all students: I’m back in graduate school so this one is a gimme.  But what I really meant – and still mean – is that in nearly all situations we have much to learn from one another, even as experienced professionals working with undergraduates.  I think that this belief contributes to my seemingly-misplaced admiration for well-conducted qualitative research, research where the reader and researcher find themselves moving with and learning from the research subjects as the boundaries between them blur.
  • We are all teachers: This belief complements the previous one.  More specifically, I think that this belief speaks to a deeper belief in altruism, empathy, and perhaps even love.

If I had to write this all over again, I don’t think the big ideas would change, just the details (I might want to add something about empiricism or a belief in evidence but I’m not sure). Despite the immature writing, numerous APA errors, and poor grasp of (outdated) literature, I remain proud of the ideas expressed in this document.

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.