Educating the Whole Student: The Growing Academic Importance of Student Affairs

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               The Growing Academic Importance of Student Affairs

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University North Carolina - Chapel Hill]On: 06 December 2014, At: 08:54Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Educating the Whole Student: The GrowingAcademic Importance of Student AffairsArthur SandeenPublished online: 25 Mar 2010.

    To cite this article: Arthur Sandeen (2004) Educating the Whole Student: The Growing Academic Importance ofStudent Affairs , Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 36:3, 28-33, DOI: 10.1080/00091380409605577

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  • The Growing Academic Importance of Student Aflairs

    rofessors, department chairs, and deans no longer are the sole sources of the learning experiences that undergraduate students benefit from on our cam- puses. Recent years have seen the growth or expansion of a wide variety of out-of-the classroom supplements to classroom education, including learn- ing communities, theme housing beyond the traditional language-focused

    settings, service learning, leadership-development programs, and peer-related edu- cation. Central to many of the new learning venues that have blossomed over the past decade or two are student affairs professionals.

    ~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~~~

    A rtlrirr Santleen is professor qf educational leadership at the Universitji oj Florida and served as vice presi- iItwt,fiw student ulfirirs ther(,,from I973 to 1999. 28

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  • 29

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  • What is now called student affairs formally began in 1890, when President Charles Eliot was busily transforming Har- vard College into a university. As faculty interests shifted to scholarship, and as Eliot engaged in institution building, someone was needed to look after the undergraduates. Thus, Eliot asked LeBaron Russell Briggs, a young and popular English instructor, to serve as a student dean.

    the humane values of the old college at a time when the more worldly goals of the university were becoming dominant. While the personal concern he demonstrated for Harvard un- dergraduates became legendary, Briggs himself saw his work as an important part of the students education.

    Many other colleges followed Harvards example, and while these early student affairs deans struggled to define their work, the education of the whole student was eventually adopted as the core idea of student affairs, and it remains so toclay. The student affairs function in higher education has hecome more complex as the age, ethnic, academic, social,

    Briggs position mainly represented an attempt to retain

    30

    and financial backgrounds of students have become more diverse.

    A student affairs division today typically includes respon- sibility for such functions as enrollment management, finan- cial aid, housing, counseling, student health, judicial programs, career services, recreational sports, and student activities. It also may include campus services such as trans- portation, security, child care, and student academic support.

    Thus student affairs leaders have expanded their profes- sional interests and reject any suggestion that they are just service providers. They see themselves as an integral part of the academic programs of their campuses and as active contributors to student learning.

    Bolstered by higher educations increased emphasis upon improving undergraduate education, they have found support for their efforts in the research of Astin, Chickering, Boyer, Pascarella and Terenzini, Schroeder, and Kuh.

    They have made efforts to collaborate with provosts, aca- demic deans, and faculty members to improve the student

    CHANCE M A Y ~ J U N E 2004

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  • learning experience. They still sometimes encounter obsta- cles i n these efforts, though. The belief that the classroom and the laboratory are the exclusive locus of student learning still persists among some academic administrators, and to some degree, may be reinforced by faculty.

    student affairs staff should be expected to contribute signifi- cantly to broadened student learning experiences on their campuses.

    In turn, top administrative and academic leaders should be open to a view of undergraduate education that transcends traditional classroom boundaries and includes the total life experiences of the students. For example, helping students learn to work effectively with others from diverse back- grounds presents many opportunities for faculty members

    f student affairs professionals have previously remained on the periphery of core academic programs and have overseen only traditional services like

    counseling, student health services, and judicial programs, faculty and academic administrators may be understandably skeptical about what it is that student af- fairs staff might contribute to the im- provement of undergraduate learning.

    affairs personnel to become part of the campus educational program also have heen thwarted by their own use of jargon, which has not been recognized or appre- ciated by their academic colleagues. Fur- ther, some faculty may hesitate to participate in joint efforts with student affairs-for example, in developing resi- dential learning communities-if they see no professional rewards for them- selves. This is especially the case if pro- motion and tenure policies continue to give little recognition to collaborative service activities or to non-traditional scholarship.

    ing their undergraduate programs, many institutions now understand and support the contributions that student involve- ment, leadership, student-faculty engage- nient, and community-service programs

    Some well-meaning efforts by student

    However, i n the process of re-examin-

    In the

    decade ahead,

    student affairs staff

    should be

    expected

    to contribute

    significantly

    to broadened

    student learning

    experiences

    on their campuses.

    can make to improving student learning. Finding ways to get students more involved with faculty, creating student-learn- ing communities, and encouraging students to participate in group projects thus have all become natural activities for stu- dent affairs staff.

    The success of these activities, though, may depend on how faculty and academic leaders perceive the abilities of their particular student affairs staff. More than a few joint ef- forts between academic and student-affairs staff have failed because of poor communication or an inability to look be- yond traditional status differences between academic and student affairs personnel.

    Presidents, provosts, academic deans, and faculty mem- hers should expect student affairs staff to be efficient admin- istrators. effective problem solvers, and sensitive handlers of student crises. But, most importantly in the decade ahead, C I I A N ( ; E M A Y / J ~ J N E 2004

    and student affairs staff to work togeth- er-and when provosts and presidents get directly involved, the importance of this educational goal is strongly rein- forced.

    Student affairs personnel should, o f course, be expected to know and under- stand the diverse academic and personal backgrounds of entering students and to be effective advocates for these students needs. The knowledge and understanding they should have about new students can contribute to improved student recruit- ment, orientation activities, and retention programs.

    But this knowledge also should be used in improving the general education program, academic internships, students group projects, and special learning experiences such as freshman or senior seminars. When jointly planned and conducted with their colleagues i n aca- demic affairs, these efforts can support and enhance the educational goals o f the campus.

    By focusing attention on specific groups of students (for example, those who are transfer, pre-professional. or un- derac hieving) , effective targeted pro-

    grams can be developed. If, however. such efforts are pursued in isolation by student affairs, or if academic affairs staff and faculty view them as disconnected from the real academic program, they will most likely fail to improve un- dergraduates educational experience.

    Even at relatively small colleges, there are several studcnl cultures present, and student affairs professionals should use their close contacts with these student cultures to help con- nect them more effectively with the academic programs o f the institution. International students represent a rich re- source, for example, and too often, their potential contribu- tions to campus life are not acknowledged or developed. Student affairs staff and faculty members can develop social and cultural programs with international students that can en- hance their education and enrich the learning experiences of U.S. students as well.

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  • f faculty and academic affairs officers can look beyond traditional departmental boundaries, which often have been barriers to coherence in undergraduate education,

    new approaches are likely to emerge. Student affairs staff, of course. must understand and support the educational goals of their institutions, and work collaboratively with academic deans and faculty in achieving these goals. Student affairs professionals cannot expect to be real contributors to the edu- cational program if they are not familiar with what freshmen and sophomores are reading in their his- tory, political science, and English class- es, or what these same students are studying i n their math classes and in their science laboratories.

    I n turn, faculty and academic affairs leaders also need to become familiar with student residential life, social activities, and student organizations on the campus i f they are going to enhance their aca- demic influence upon students. Whether i t is a living-learning program in a resi- dence hall, a re-entry program for stu- dents returning from study abroad, a service-learning class, or a language theme house. student affairs staff can contribute to the success of these efforts i f they forge close links with their aca- demic colleagues.

    Among the most promising student alfairs/academic affairs collaborations i n recent years have been student Icadership-development seminars, inter-group relations retreats, values- clevelopment workshops, and programs to improve academic integrity and honor codes. But if such activities represent only an isolated component of students

    efforts to provide a caring campus environment through sound educational and support programs. At times, student affairs leaders have declared themselves the exclusive ex- perts in such matters. By staking out what they viewed as their special professional turf, they sometimes have dis- tanced themselves from their academic colleagues.

    In turn, when faculty members ignore the serious per- sonal problems students face, they are contributing to the fragmentation of the campus and denying students the ben-

    Student affairs

    staff must

    demonstrate with

    their knowledge,

    insight, and

    organizational skills

    that they have

    something real

    to contribute

    to the

    academic process.

    cxperiences. they likely will be viewed as little more than curious diversions from the main academic program of the campus and achieve far less than they otherwise C O L I I d.

    One area that particularly cries out for more mutually supportive links between faculty members and student af- Iairs officials is the set of problems created by student stress and mental health. These difficulties can signifi- cantly affect the quality of the educational experience on m y campus, and there is no escaping the fact that in 2004, many students arrive on campus with serious medical, psychological, and family problems. Any college that ig- nores these facts or denies their reality is likely to face se- ri ous difficulties.

    Student affairs staff should be expected to be on the cut- ling edge in handling such matters, but their academic col- leagues also must be willing to engage in, and be drawn into, 32

    . - efit of their counsel. Since the best way to improve undergraduate education is to focus on the total student experience. paying close attention to students men- tal and physical health is critical. Iso- lated or disconnected efforts to resolve students difficultie can undercut stu- dents potential for learning.

    I recall the example of a very promising student who left college when his father died. Distraught and out of money, the young man found hope again when two of his professors and a student affairs adviser traveled 200 miles to the students home to see him. Their encouragement and creative use of college resources resulted i n per- suading this student that he could and should continue his education.

    s is the case with other profes- sional fields, student affairs has

    ,grown increasingly specialized in the past 35 years. While some of this may be healthy, it too often has resulted in...

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