A recently added post on The Chronicle of Higher Education website discussed the opinion of a few faculty members on the effectiveness (or in their view, lack of effectiveness) of student programming. In fact, they were not only making the case that student programming is not effective, but it is counter productive, and hurts, their classroom work:
[H]alf my time is spent unraveling the messages, axioms, and truisms of the diversity trainer when students must confront, again intellectually, difference, power, and oppression. Some conundrums cannot be ended with a group hug, unfortunately.
The biggest voice of opposition, or citation, for the post is blogger, Oso Raro. I’m not completely clear if O.R. is blaming the problems on the type and quality of student programming or the gap between faculty and student activities. This quote tends to lean toward the latter:
[T]he Student Life professional represents a new cadre in the academy, one imbued with considerable power and influence over the structuring of students’ social lives and, consequently, some of their relationship to the dynamics of the classroom.
O.R. seems to think there is a power struggle between the two sides and student affairs is sided with the administration:
They are a competing power centre in the institution, and they tend to be allied directly or indirectly with the concerns of administration..
The belief in a limited pie that everyone is grabbing at is dangerous in education. In the end, the goal should be 100% focus on the growth of the students. It does sound hookie to say win-win, and to increase the size of the pie, but that’s the ideal situation.
O.R. makes a great point about how student affairs rarely reaches out to the enormous amount of faculty knowledge and experience:
Parallel Programming— At a former institution there was quite a strong student centre for LGBT students, run by an efficient and well-organised Student Life professional who was also gay. However, any connection or co-programming between faculty who taught in these areas and the student centre were practically non-existent. In fact, there seemed to be a mild antipathy between faculty and Student Life around any co-programming. Once, I met with the Student Life professional who ran the student centre to offer my help in whatever events my presence could be relevant. The Student Life professional was courteous but guarded, declaring at one point that attempts to connect faculty to programming had been met in the past with disinterest, and hence dropped. So, this incredible social resource for students was effectively divorced from whatever might be going on in their classrooms. This same Student Life professional later directed a disgruntled student in my class to the Dean, bypassing both either a conversation with me or with my chair (and therefore university policy as well), underlining an open antagonism towards faculty that I found bothersome at the time, but had I been more vulnerable would have been much more dangerous.
How often do you dip into your faculty to run a diversity training or leadership retreat? I don’t think the problem is student activities programming, or lack of faculty interest, but instead the real problem is the gap between the two parties.
Student activities should extend the branch first and invite the faculty to take part in events. This will not only allow us to utilize their skills and save money, but it will also get greater understanding from faculty that we are all working together for the same cause.
The article cites another blogger, Jonathan Sterne of Super Bon!, who reiterates the missed opportunities from the gap:
[P]rogressive faculty probably have a whole group of allies in this other wing of the university of whom we don’t even know to avail ourselves. Having once worked in academic advising, I, at least, should know better.
So think about your upcoming events and retreats, and think about how you can include faculty members beyond hoping they give extra credit to their class for attending an event.
Update – Take the time to read the comments under O.R.’s post. They are fantastic!