Yes, the title of this post is a nod toward Star Wars. But more about my love of Star Wars some other time. Our story begins at a college or university not so far away. A dialog I’ve seen ramp up during my time in the field is one centered on legitimacy. Student affairs folx increasingly bemoan the fact that the field is not seen as an equal to the academic side of the house, and that inequality is accompanied by questions of legitimacy of the field. In this post, I want to offer my perspective as student affairs professional turned faculty member.
In my eight years on the practice side of student affairs (2 as a grad assistant, 6 as a professional staff member), I never felt that I had to prove the legitimacy of the work I did, especially when working with faculty. And, I worked closely with faculty for all of that time. What I did experience were questions. I met (and continue to meet) faculty who have no idea what student affairs is, or what student affairs faculty do.
In my nearly 12 years on the academic side of the house (including my year as a research assistant in my doc program), I have come to understand faculty on a whole new level. Not only because I am one, but because I’m surrounded by fellow faculty day-in, day-out. I’ll let you in on a secret: we’re experts in our academic disciplines, and generally within subsets of our disciplines. Some of us are clueless when it comes to anything beyond our areas of expertise. I can’t begin to tell you how often I answer questions about how colleges and universities function, and about student affairs. More specifically, I spend a lot of time explaining what student affairs folx do.
But here’s the rub. The question of legitimacy comes from within. I don’t doubt that some student affairs folx have had negative experiences with faculty or academic administrators who openly question the use of institutional resources for student affairs functions. There have been articles in the Chronicle about administrative bloat (story behind Chronicle login), and the interwebs are filled with commentary on how institutions waste money on things like lazy rivers. But back to my point: in conversations I’ve had with student affairs folx, much of the questioning of legitimacy comes from within. And a lot of it stems from beating our chests and insisting that student affairs is equal to the academic side of the house.
Student affairs is not equal to the academic side of a college or university. Student affairs folx perform a number of critical support functions, without which many institutions would struggle, and maybe even crumble. However, the academic mission of an institution comes first and foremost. Student affairs folx have to be able to identify how their work supports and maybe even augment the academic mission of their institution. So it’s not about legitimacy, but about thinking critically about the place student affairs occupies in an institution, and adapting to, and adopting, the language of the academic side of the house, which in all reality, is the house.
The saga continues in a future post . . . .