Prepared by Dr. James Morales, Vice President of Student Affairs
The modern, research university is a complex, multi-faceted institution that can become self-centered if not effectively managed. Programs, internal and external stakeholders, societal forces, and other demands can exert great pressure on a university to assume a posture directed away from its most important constituency: its students. This drift may not happen intentionally nor with malice, but simply as a result of the institution’s inability to cope with the competing demands constantly being placed upon it. The Student Affairs Division must ensure that the students who place their trust in the university to provide them the best possible opportunities for learning and growing, in fact, does so. The responsibilities of the division are best grouped into the following categories: 1) Access and diversity; 2) Student success; 3) Community-building; 4) Effective stewardship of resources; 5) Accountability and communication; and 6) Mentorship and inspiration.
Access and Diversity
The Student Affairs Division at a research-intensive, land-grant university must play a pivotal role in ensuring that the doors to the educational opportunities that the institution has to offer are open to people from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups, geographic origin, etc.
Student success is defined differently by each student and their parents, guardians, or families. Some define it as obtaining an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree while others consider success as having obtained value-added learning experiences that serve to further propel them within their chosen career or vocation. Still other students define success as the nourishment of their hunger for learning and their development as a well-rounded human being. All of these definitions are appropriate and intrinsically right. The Student Affairs Division must be in tune with these definitions of student success and must foster the type of environment that will ensure as many of those definitions of success as possible. However, because of the mission of the institution and finite resources, not every definition can or may be fully served.
An accessible, vibrant community provides the best foundation for student success. The strength or quality of that community can be measured by the degree to which it allows for a diverse population to engage each other and the institution in a productive manner. The Student Affairs Division must monitor constantly the health and status of the university community to enable the institution to detect and address proactively, any issues that may threaten to alter or disrupt the accessibility and vibrancy of the community. It is the responsibility of the Student Affairs Division to take the lead, along with other members of the university community, in establishing the indicators to be monitored to detect emerging issues. These indicators may be varied and complex but at a minimum should include the feedback gathered via direct connections with student leaders and student organizations, faculty and staff groups, other administrators, the local, regional, state, and national communities, the student affairs profession, and external stakeholders.
Effective Stewardship of Resources
Regardless of the circumstances, whether in times of fiscal constraint or largess, a land-grant institution must never forget that its resources have been entrusted to it by the citizens of the state, region, and/or nation. Resources from private sources must also be regarded in this way because they have been given to support a vision of learning and growth shared by the benefactor. The Student Affairs Division is responsible for ensuring that funds allocated to it are used to further the mission of the institution and where appropriate, the wishes of the benefactors. There is no room for waste or misuse, period.
Accountability and Communication
Complete accountability and effective communication must be hallmarks of the work and activities of the Student Affairs Division at a modern, research-intensive university. The division is responsible to multiple stakeholders including the President of the university, students, legislators, donors, members of the community at-large, families of students, division members, faculty, and other members of the university community. Transparency is of paramount importance and every effort should be made to achieve this goal when it comes to budgets, issues that arise and their resolution, and the responsiveness of the Student Affairs Division to its stakeholders.
Mentorship and Inspiration
Members of the Student Affairs Division have a unique role to fill as both mentors and role models for students and members of the University community. As mentors, division members must understand the aspirations of their colleagues in the division and be active in providing and/or supporting opportunities for their professional development. Likewise, the division has the responsibility of developing and promoting opportunities for students to apply their learning via real-world experiences. Some of these opportunities may be offered within the Student Affairs Division but the division must also engage the university and broader communities to ensure that opportunities for student development are being made available. The members of the division also have the responsibility of being role models of the behaviors expected of students and University community members. This includes demonstrating strong and effective leadership, exhibiting understanding and empathy, and participating in the community as a model citizen. In the end, nothing should be more satisfying to members of the Student Affairs Division than to see students and community members alike, engaging in those behaviors promoted by the Student Affairs Division that result in academic, personal, and professional success.