This is my first post here at The Student Affairs Collective and I am so happy to be included in this exceptional community of SA practitioners and others interested in lifelong learning and development. I took up this opportunity in order to provide my own perspective on where Student Affairs and where universities are going in general. Though I do not claim to be clairvoyant, I do think that there are significant trends to which we must attend. As the late David Foster Wallace suggested in his address to the graduating class at Kenyon College some years ago, we can often miss what is around us because we’ve become accustomed to the state of things. That is, we don’t always recognize the culture and context we are in and its nuances. We don’t often take the opportunity to really experience what is going on around us. I’m a work in progress, but trying to do so every day! (See this excellent video dramatizing Wallace’s speech).
In my postings I hope to shake us up a bit, to reexamine the culture and context (or as Foster would have indicated, the water in which the fish live). So, on with it . . . .
I often wonder about where academic advising fits in the universe that is student affairs. Many academic advisors come from graduate programs in student affairs administration, counseling, college student personnel, or similar academic programs that focus on topics such as student development, diversity, ethics and legal issues, and college student environments. Very few of us ever had to tease out the meaning of the curriculum, or its “logic,” as Marc Lowenstein has called it, much less explain this logic to a skeptical student body focused on preparing for what is expected to be a lifelong, engaging (not to mention lucrative!) career in a field of their choosing.
It may be useful not to characterize Student Affairs as a box of chocolates, each with its own section, its own competencies, its own professional sub-group. What might be better is to consider Student Affairs as a continuum, stretching and sometimes intersecting with the world of academic affairs. For advisors, “academic” is in our title and job description. We are tasked with both the academic (and therefore, intellectual) development of the students we advise, as well as their social, cultural, and interpersonal development. A tall order, to be sure!
If we view advising in this way, I consider academic advising, as a discipline, straddling both Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. Its practitioners can be from traditional Student Affairs backgrounds such as mentioned above, or may come from the faculty, or from the discipline. For instance, I know academic advisors who were practitioners in various fields before they entered their positions and have done remarkably well at supporting student learning and development. Someone with an MFA or MBA degree, or a journalist with years of experience may be perfectly suited to advise students in an art, management, or journalism programs, respectively. What must be learned on the job through continuous professional development in areas such as student development theory, counseling/communication skills, and otherwise may be outweighed in a hiring decision by one’s professional experiences in the field. Academic advisors with industry experience are in a great position to serve in a capacity as career and academic advisors, assisting students to select and execute not only the academic expectations of a curriculum but also the career preparation necessary to become competitive for employment once a degree is earned.
Being a part of both the SA and Academic Affairs (AA) worlds is a distinct advantage, and one I have shared with graduate students over the years. Academic advising is the one area in which you can have significant, lasting faculty connections and relationships, as well as ongoing relationships with students. For many in SA areas, there is a great faculty-student affairs divide. Certainly the cultures are different, as faculty are rewarded for teaching, creative activities/research, and service and student affairs administrators are rewarded for strong personnel and budget management, student learning/development, and institutional citizenship. Being an advisor means staff interact, particularly in department or academic school settings, with faculty nearly daily. Those working in student activities, orientation, student unions, residence life, or judicial affairs may rarely have interactions with faculty.
Academic advisors, then, often have meaningful careers that require skills in working with both faculty and students, and are called on to translate the needs and perspectives of each group. As gatekeepers of the curriculum they ensure students have satisfactorily completed prerequisite coursework and are both educationally and attitudinally prepared for additional coursework in an academic program. Because advisors are intimately familiar with the academic life and expectations of the institution, they are “closer to the flagpole” and therefore closer to faculty and the academic and intellectual heart of the institution. This often means that retrenchment impacts the advising area less often, as those who can show a stronger connection to the academic performance of students, which is surely a key to student retention and graduation.
Even so, advisors are called on to teach, advise student organizations, provide advising and mentoring for residence hall floors, and a host of other activities that cross over into the realms of the co- and extra-curricular on a college campus. And the institutions are better for it!