Institutional administration

The importance of having diverse administrators on college campuses (essay)

It’s the gray chair. You know, the one across the desk or at the edge of the cubicle occupied by a financial aid counselor, academic adviser or other staff person on campuses everywhere. As colleges and universities have welcomed students back to school and freshmen have begun their much anticipated college years, these gray chairs have been in high demand. As an undergraduate then medical student, I occupied that chair more times than I can count, and more than a decade later, I still remember it well. More important: I remember the staff members who sat across from me.

Today I am an academic pediatrician at an Ivy League institution. When I retrace the path that brought me here, I recall my relationships with staff members as much or more than those with faculty members. In their own way, they were equally -- or even more -- important.

That was especially true for my undergraduate years, when as a female minority student, I watched the rapid decline of pre-meds who looked anything like me. During those years, you would often find me perched in my gray chair, talking to my favorite staff members about life, goals, relationships, clubs and organizations. They were the ones who supported me through the sorrow of my mom’s losing battle with cancer, the joy of planning my wedding and the excitement mixed with apprehension of having a baby. They were my academic family.

There are more than 1.7 million staff members at postsecondary institutions in the United States, a number that continues to grow. In addition to their core functions, they often serve as advisers to student clubs and organizations, teach students life lessons as they navigate their newfound independence living away from home, and serve as support systems as students deal with personal and peer conflicts. Often these additional activities require staff members to attend events or student meetings after business hours, cutting into their personal lives. Yet they still show up smiling.

The role of staff assumes added importance as colleges and universities make plans to increase diversity initiatives in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of these student-led movements across the country called for increased student support and a more diverse presence within the classroom. Staff members from a diverse range of identities are also integral to the overall student experience and the creation of inclusive campus environments. At many institutions, the staff is much more diverse than the faculty. However, that trend often dissipates when you look at senior administrators across college campuses.

To address that, some institutions are incorporating staff initiatives in to their diversity plans. For example, Brown University is starting initiatives to help foster the professional development and career growth of staff members. If other institutions are committed to changing the cultures of their campuses, they should acknowledge the vital role of administrative staff members and ensure their diversity plans incorporate ways to foster those staffers' career growth.

While we as faculty are experts in our fields, we are not the experts in all fields. As we ascend to leadership positions, it behooves us to keep a finger on the pulse of the larger campus community and to foster an opportunity-rich environment for all. Staff members have goals, career plans and ambitions that need to be supported. No one would accept a job if they were told from the beginning that they would have minimal to no potential for growth. But for many staff members at academic institutions, that becomes the reality. They often receive little, if any, career mentoring from supervisors and have to consider other job opportunities (often at other institutions) to advance or reshape their careers. Many of us have had annual reviews that simply serve the purpose of checking the box. While perhaps simple in theory, we should make these opportunities meaningful and substantive. Faculty or leadership development programs may be necessary to support supervisors in providing meaningful mentoring and career advice.

In recent years, inflated administration paychecks have come in for attack as one reason for the soaring cost of student tuition. But let’s be clear: few staff members are making impressive salaries, let alone the jaw-dropping seven-figure packages that have drawn the most attention. This is not an argument for or against increased pay or an increased number of administrators on campuses. Rather, it means to highlight the importance of diversifying the current staff and faculty at colleges and universities. If increased attention were given to current staff members, noting their skill sets and future ambitions, perhaps it could lead to more productivity, lower turnover and increased job satisfaction. All of which could save money in the long run.

In his last State of the Union address, President Obama asked, “How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?” I believe the challenges that many colleges and universities will need to address over the coming year as they create inclusive environments, valuing diversity of all types, will be solved by retaining and strengthening all members of the team. That includes the countless campus staffers who welcome students to their gray chairs.

Stephanie White, M.D., is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth/Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the Geisel Diversity Liaison for Student/Resident Advising. She is a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project.

Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 

Associate provost

Date Announced: 
Wed, 09/21/2016

Director of bands

Date Announced: 
Tue, 09/20/2016

Why IT professionals should receive tenure (essay)

Education technology has become an essential component of modern college teaching. If you doubt this, just ask the students and faculty members at the University of California, Davis. Back in May, they had to deal with the failure of their learning management system right before their final exam period. While the university restored some of its functionality in time for testing and grading, users had to make do without many of the digital services upon which they had become dependent.

Davis has experienced periodic LMS outages for years, ever since it began to outsource maintenance of the system. But it is hardly the only university to suffer from this type of outage, and it is certainly worth considering what higher education institutions can do to avoid such situations. One of the first steps should be rethinking the role and position of IT professionals on campuses.

The people who choose, order, install, build and maintain IT systems on campuses usually have job titles like IT (maybe network) specialist or instructional (web) designer, and are in some branch of the campus org chart under the chief information officer. Such IT service staff almost never have the title “professor,” which means they are unlikely to have tenure.

We think that's unfortunate, because people who make decisions about ed-tech infrastructure need to hear from experts who have the freedom to speak on behalf of what's best for education, not just what's best for a university's bottom line. After all, if ed tech really is the future of education, these colleagues of ours will play a vital role in determining what that future will look like. That means they need the protections of academic freedom, which means they need to be able to earn tenure.

Of course, not all IT staff do the kind of work that justifies the possibility of tenure. The IT professionals who do hardware and network installation, repair work, and other support tasks shouldn't be faculty members. But other IT workers who choose and set up complex systems, work with students and faculty members on pedagogy and research, have advanced and highly specialized training, and who are expected to research and develop new systems for their universities should be faculty and should therefore be eligible to earn tenure.

The situation is similar in university libraries. A library, be it one with miles of stacks housing blocks of wood pulp or simply an air-conditioned server room full of electronic resources, is an essential component of any true university. Librarians affect education, even if they don't run their own classes. The American Library Association's Core Values of Librarianship closely resemble the values codified as academic freedom for more traditional faculty. Some library personnel who do tasks like reshelving books do not qualify for tenure, but certain IT staff could have an expectation of scholarly output, would be given positions in faculty governing bodies, would receive support for attendance at conferences, and so on.

Why should universities extend tenure to a new class of workers at a time when they're taking it away from so many other employees? Quite simply, it will save them money in the long run. If Davis had given its IT specialists tenure, they might have been much more likely to speak out against outsourcing their LMS maintenance. And if there hadn’t been so many outages, perhaps that institution wouldn't have required as many people to respond to each one.

Similarly, at a recent conference, a university IT professional (whom we leave anonymous to protect his job), told us that it would be impossible to use free, open-source software on his campus because the administration liked the control of having a contract with a commercial software vendor. Free software is said to require more and more qualified IT staff, but it still might be cheaper than a paid approach, because it doesn't require expensive licensing fees. This would also leave those IT staff free to customize the open-source software and to innovate with other members of the university community.

Industry generally pays much better than academe, so it can be highly competitive for a higher education institution to hire skilled IT professionals. But the job stability that comes with tenure could be an employee benefit for universities to offer those employees with skills in high demand. This is, in fact, a problem that universities have already solved: they attract people to faculty positions in law, business and the many other fields where there is lucrative employment outside academe by offering other incentives, such as job stability and the possibility to take risks, innovate and expand human knowledge.

Now, however, without the ability to speak freely, campus IT staff can as often be an obstacle as an aid in finding the best solutions that use IT. They usually enforce the use of the particular tools that the administration has purchased or licensed, with minimal regard to whether those tools actually solve the real problems of education or research.

It is unclear to us whether a change in perspective is at all possible with such IT professionals located where they now are on most campus organization charts. That's the main reason why we think the decision makers in IT merit tenure and the academic freedom that comes with it. Giving them protection and stability would co-opt them to work on behalf of scholarship and research, making of them allies of the rest of the faculty and not enforcers of a particular IT regime.

Without extending tenure to IT professionals, campuses will continue to spend money on expensive commercial IT systems and the inferior ed-tech tools that generally come with them. Moreover, the people who tend those systems will not be the kind of innovative individuals that institutions generally try to hire for positions on their regular faculty. Since IT professionals will play an ever-growing role in educational decision making in our increasingly wired campuses, giving them the same protections as regular faculty members is both economical and logical. To do otherwise is to risk forfeiting all the educational benefits that technology can bring.

Jonathan A. Poritz is an associate professor of mathematics at Colorado State University at Pueblo, and Jonathan Rees is a professor of history at the university. This piece is adapted from Education Is Not an App: The Future of University Teaching in the Internet Age, published this month by Routledge.

Image Source: 
Istock?Steve Debenport

Many elements beyond financial aid are needed to help underrepresented students succeed (essay)

There is a common expression -- “just throw money at the problem” and it will be fixed. But providing adequate financial support plays only a small part in supporting college students from particular sectors -- underrepresented minorities, those who are first in their families to attend college and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds -- to successfully complete an undergraduate degree.

For such students to succeed, universities need to make a consistent and sustainable institutional commitment toward that goal. They must examine their internal organizational structures and processes to determine those that may need to be rethought or reworked. Senior administrators as well as faculty and staff members should develop what the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education calls “equity-mindedness.” That broad institutional approach accepts responsibility and accountability for student success, as opposed to viewing any student challenges through a lens of student deficiency, ill preparedness, or “the student’s fault.”

This is what the University of La Verne -- a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution with more than 3,600 Latino students, a near majority of first-generation students and more than 1,400 students on Pell Grants -- is doing. It is also what other universities like Stanford University; the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have modeled. This past spring, we were all featured in an Excelencia in Education report that described the tactics that our institutions are using to enroll, retain and graduate more Latino/a students, in particular.

Far beyond only financial assistance, our universities have maintained organizational structures, cocurricular support opportunities and academic curricula that create an environment that helps not only Latino/a students but, in fact, all students to exceed expectations. And all our institutions are in it for the long haul; we introduce many of our initiatives when students are still in high school, provide continuing programs throughout their college years and also offer some initiatives for career and life success after graduation.

Some of the key areas we focus on include:

Recruiting. Support must begin before students apply to college. At the University of La Verne’s annual Latino Education Access and Development conference, high school students and their families meet and engage with Latino professionals, faculty members, alumni and current students -- building rapport and encouraging a sense of belonging among first-generation applicants. Similarly, UC Santa Barbara’s LA2SB program and UC Berkeley’s RAZA Day attempt to demystify the college experience by bringing high school students to their campuses for admissions presentations, tours and meetings with professors. Such programs help all high school students, but they are particularly effective for first-generation students and their entire families, as those students begin to picture themselves as college graduates for the first time.

Retention. It is often assumed that first-generation minority students enter college with the same hopes and expectations as their classmates. Yet they generally arrive with fewer of the skills needed for college success as well as far less familiarity with a higher education environment. It can be daunting for every student to navigate a complex university environment, build college-appropriate study habits, actively seek meaningful advice and counsel, engage in cocurricular activities, and connect with student peers and faculty members. But first-generation, low-income and minority students often face additional challenges. For example, employment obligations are paramount for lower-income students, many of whom are returning to school and are older than the traditional undergraduate age of 18 to 23 years old. Many of these students may also be caring for elderly relatives, siblings or their own children.

UC Santa Barbara and the University of La Verne both employ tactics for continually advising students who are at risk of falling behind in their courses and intervening where necessary. As an example of the need for an intentional focus on those students, consider the first-generation student who gets a D on a biology exam. For most students that might mean, “I need to study more,” or “I need a tutor,” or “I’ll do better next time.” A first-generation student often draws an entirely different conclusion that may sound like, “I guess I really don’t belong in college,” “I am wasting time and money,” or “I cannot succeed here.” Early and active advising stops that thought pattern, boosts students’ self-confidence and helps them develop a sense of belonging. We also offer mentoring programs with a demographic-specific focus, including peer, group and staff mentoring specifically for first-generation students or men of underrepresented populations.

Establishing a sense of community on the campus is also vital. UC Berkeley and Stanford offer Chicano and Latino centers as places to help foster a feeling of belonging among Latino students. The University of La Verne provides a thriving Latino student forum, a first-generation club, a common ground club that promotes religious diversity, a multicultural center and regular programming focused on student identity. We also routinely support events such as the Latino Heritage Month Fiesta, Black History Month Celebration and National Coming Out Day.

Through our signature four-year undergraduate program, The La Verne Experience, we integrate high-impact practices throughout every student’s undergraduate years. Those practices include interdisciplinary, student-focused learning communities intended to increase academic and personal support between student peers and faculty members. Starting in the freshman year, such communities gather entering freshman and transfer students with similar interests into the same set of three linked classes -- two distinct discipline classes and a smaller writing class. Over the following years, a series of cocurricular activities supplement what students learn in the classes. In addition, we offer high-touch/high-tech tutoring and career services in person and through telepresence across the university’s multiple campuses. (Telepresence is essential for the university’s regional campuses and of great value to students over traditional age.)

The La Verne Experience also includes mandatory civic and community-engagement activities, bringing curricular theory into practice and keeping students’ interests tied to their cities and focused on the assets of both the students and their home communities. During New Student Community Engagement Day, held on the Saturday before fall classes begin, first-year and transfer students volunteer across more than 20 community organizations. They distribute water and ice cream at Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, meet with incarcerated women and their children in Pomona, paint a mural at the Boys and Girls Club of Pomona Valley, or clean and harvest at the Huerta del Valle Community Garden in Ontario.

Students also become examples to other youth in their communities by demonstrating what is possible when they attend an institution that offers an inclusive environment and is attuned to supporting all students. One University of La Verne student who was raised in the foster care system fulfilled his academic community engagement requirement by volunteering at a group home, where he worked with children who shared his background. He found his own mission mentoring those children, and after he completed his service in his junior year, the organization hired him on its staff, where he continued to work after graduation.

Of course, in some situations throwing money at the problem -- expanding financial-aid opportunities to increase retention -- can be an important and effective strategy. The Excelencia report itemized various creative approaches in the junior and senior year of college. UC Santa Barbara awards some low-income high school graduates $120,000 scholarships to cover all four years of education, which reassures students from the outset that their financial needs will be met through graduation. At the University of La Verne, we offer additional scholarships when students might have to step out of college as a result of an increased or changing financial need. We also hold Starbucks nights at local coffee shops for students and their parents to discuss -- in Spanish, if necessary -- the financial aid that will be available at any point in their education.

Graduation. Career preparedness and workforce connections should be threaded throughout students’ experiences, beginning when they first arrive on campus. For example, The Convergence -- a partnership between our university and local health care organizations -- generates employment opportunities for our graduates in fields where diversity is highly desired. By working together, the partner organizations are more accurately forecasting workforce trends and developing educational programs and campaigns to make sure students are graduating with the knowledge and skills needed to for high-paying, meaningful careers. Just recently, the university launched a physician assistant program in response to the feedback we received about the need for the profession in the region.

We also provide extensive undergraduate research opportunities for all students. Any opportunity to bridge theory, skills and practice -- such as with research, community engagement or internships -- assists students to understand and appreciate the relevance and value of their education.

The results of these and other focused and intentional practices aimed at supporting the student body at our institution have been noticeable. Our four-year graduation rate has increased from 40 percent to nearly 50 percent in three years. The six-year graduation rate climbed from 59 percent to 64 percent in just one year.

Enhancing financial support alone did not achieve this improvement in student outcomes. While scholarships and other forms of student aid cannot be undervalued, it is the responsibility of a university’s leadership, along with the entire campus, to build an academic environment where all students feel comfortable, connected and confident, where they access support and resources are available to them, and where they realize the institution is focused on their ultimate success. You cannot put a price on that.

Devorah Lieberman is president of the University of La Verne.

Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 


Subscribe to RSS - Institutional administration
Back to Top