#NASPACPA Consolidation - Are we practicing our values?

My first post about the proposed consolidation between ACPA and NASPA (they are the largest student affairs associations in higher education) was mostly neutral. I will admit that it had a slight pro-consolidation bent to it. However, I tried to present a list of resources that I thought would be helpful for members as they contemplate the proposed consolidation logistics. Am I for consolidation? Yes.

January 31, 2011

My first post about the proposed consolidation between ACPA and NASPA (they are the largest student affairs associations in higher education) was mostly neutral. I will admit that it had a slight pro-consolidation bent to it. However, I tried to present a list of resources that I thought would be helpful for members as they contemplate the proposed consolidation logistics. Am I for consolidation? Yes. Do I think that there is still a lot of work to do in order to create a unified student affairs association? Absolutely. Now that I have outed my thoughts on consolidation, I want to segue to an interesting development in the emerging controversial consolidation conversation.

Last week, an email was sent out to members of NASPA from a group calling themselves the "NASPA, Yes! Consolidation, No! Committee" (NYCNC). The full text of the email can be found at Kevin Guidry's blog. According to a tweet from Eric Grospitch, the email was sent out to all NASPA members. Even though I am a member of NASPA, I did not receive the email. Thankfully, a couple of my peers sent me copies to make sure that I saw it.

The NYCNC is made up of an extremely powerful and influential group of student affairs practitioners. In fact, I have debated writing anything about them because of a slight fear of professional retaliation. It is difficult to challenge the wisdom, experience, and positional power of such a well-known group of senior leaders. Especially since as a higher education consultant, I might be upsetting potential clients. When I mentioned this sentiment on Twitter yesterday, Chris MacDonald-Dennis said something that inspired me to continue writing:
"[W]e teach our students to speak truth to power." The issue of consolidation has the potential to polarize the global student affairs community. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from bell hooks: "To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination."

The rhetoric on the NYCNC site comes across as hierarchical and is extremely negative towards ACPA. Change is framed as being detrimental and preservation of the current NASPA structure is placed in a position of quasi reverence. Overly charged words like "abolished," "monstrous," and "complicated" are peppered throughout the site. As someone with a degree in public relations, I must say that my PR hackles went up immediately as I read words that were clearly intended to generate an emotionally polarizing response.

Change is something that student affairs professionals talk about quite a bit. It's almost a mantra for the profession. We champion change because it is how we improve the future. The intro to the "Why Vote No" section of the NYCNC site leads with the historical meeting of three deans of men. It is fairly ironic when you think about it. NASPA was created by 6 men. Women weren't invited to the table due to the overt sexism of the day. The history of NASPA on the NASPA website talks about the "old boys" club mentality that was pervasive in the early days of the association. The NYCNC site feels like a last minute grab for power. When you frame NASPA as a top-echelon association and simultaneously affirm that graduate students should not have a vote regarding consolidation, I feel that that is more about preserving/maintaining power than it is about what we can do for our students and our profession.

The language around "professional status" is extremely disturbing. Prohibiting graduate students from having a vote on association matters / bylaws is so blatantly hierarchical. I worked in Student Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago prior to beginning my graduate program at Oregon State University. According to the NYCNC site, I had professional status while at UIC, but then I lost it when I became a graduate student at OSU. Really? We talk about equality and justice in student affairs. It's part of our shared professional values and yet when power and tradition is threatened due to the possibility of change, we readily throw them out. It's really disappointing. The NYCNC says that "professional status is earned by employment in the field." Last time I checked, the majority of student affairs graduate students are employed via graduate assistantships.

The NYCNC website lists several reasons for why consolidation should not occur. In fact, the reasons are rather fallacious. The wording uses "will result" instead of "may result." It's a textbook PR maneuver.

Here are my thoughts on each point:

  • "Unnecessary organizational complexity": We work in higher education. Organizational complexity is something that we all deal with. Creation of a new association will most likely involve some challenges. However, both ACPA and NASPA weren't created overnight. It takes time for a new association to find its way.
  • "Loss of a volunteer run association": This one is a bit tricky. The language that is used is overtly polarizing...I highly doubt that people will stop being involved in significant volunteer leadership roles.
  • "Abandoning NASPA's many successes": The use of "abandoning" is a blatant attempt to tug at our professional heartstrings. Our memories and histories will not simply disappear. Brands come and go all of the time...it is the people who are involved in our associations that truly matter.
  • "Unknown costs": This is a brilliant tactic. Higher education funding has been a source of consternation for several years. Whether intentional or not, this affects folks due to the subconscious connections of unstable higher education funding that might be taking place on their own campuses. Of course the costs are going to be unknown. Fear of the unknown should not stop us from acting.
  • "Marginalization of important constituencies": The trope of "us" versus "them" makes an appearance in this bullet. Voices will only be marginalized if we allow them to be marginalized. The ironic part of this is that I feel that NYCNC has, through creation of their site, covertly marginalized the voices of those who are in less powerful positions.
  • "An unnecessarily large organization": The rhetoric surrounding the joint conferences has been used over and over again as a lever against consolidation. However, and I know that this might sting a bit, just because there were significantly negative issues with previous conferences does not mean that future mega-conferences would be less than successful. Meaningful connections can be made at large events. It's all about structure, format, and logistics.
  • "Eliminating NASPA and ACPA's long-standing cooperation": This is like comparing apples to oranges. Merging two associations into one would not "eliminate," it would "create."
  • "Reducing the important diversity of multiple 'voices.'": The fact that this bullet point begins with "Rhetoric aside" should be enough to call for its elimination from the list. And/or it at least acknowledges that the rest of the reasons against consolidation have been spun rhetorically. ACPA and NASPA are the "general" student affairs practitioner associations. Again, comparing the effectiveness of other functional area associations is just another apples to oranges comparison.

I think that the "Why not the best" pro-consolidation piece does a great job of explaining why consolidation should take place. I do want to disclose that Dr. Larry Roper, one of the co-authors of "Why not the best," was, and still is, one of my professional mentors. He is one of the wisest student affairs practitioners that I have ever known. It should be noted that both Dr. Roper and Dr. Michael Jackson (the first name on the NYCNC site list) were both awarded NASPA's "Pillars of the Profession" awards.

I want to mention that I really appreciated reading consolidation-related blog posts from Kristen Abell and Sean Grube. They presented extremely articulate and insightful responses to the NYCNC email/website. I found their words to be quite inspiring and instrumental as I framed my own opinions on the matter.

Unification / consolidation has been a topic of conversation for the past 30 years. I think it's time to make consolidation happen. Let's keeping talking and find a way to make it a reality. Let's act on our shared values and continue to serve our students and our profession.

If you want to follow the #NASPACPA consolidation conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag: #NASPACPA.

Do you tweet? Let's connect. Follow me on Twitter.


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