While so many watch the Olympics in London, I am in the Green Mountains of Vermont with faculty and administrators from community colleges – amazing teams in their own right. While I am representing NASPA as a consultant at the AAC&U Summer Institute, “Bridging Cultures to Form a New Nation,” my experiences with both academic and student affairs in community colleges make me feel right at home.
As with any great team, there is preparation to be done, and ours came in the form of what could easily be a semester’s worth of readings on difference, community, and democratic thinking. Since learning is my number one strength, you can imagine how much I enjoyed prepping for the Institute. I am working with some highly skilled colleagues and we all have talented and committed faculty and administrators in our particular reading seminars.
In addition to the reading seminars, concurrent sessions were held on various topics such as diversity, high impact practices, and gaining faculty buy-in for Bridging Cultures projects the teams brought to the Institute. For the concurrent session on faculty buy-in, I teamed with a professor of philosophy and an administrator of service learning programs. We were to talk about faculty buy-in generally and collaboration between academic and student affairs.
If participants divided equally among the concurrent sessions, we could have expected some 20 in attendance. We were puzzled, then, when only six participants came to the session when, just the day before, teams had identified faculty buy-in as their biggest concern regarding successfully implementing their plans.
Following the session, I did some checking around to see why faculty had not come to the session. The main reason given was that faculty did not see “getting faculty buy-in” as their responsibility. It seems that collaborating with student affairs is not on the radar screen since they have difficulty collaborating among themselves. While we in student affairs often talk about the difficulty of cultivating collaborations with faculty, it looks like we need to get in line.
Something that was reinforced for me during the presentation and in my subsequent discussions on the topic is that we make a mistake when we paint faculty with the same brush. The philosophy professor who was one of the session presenters had his ideas about getting buy-in:
- Have a problem that matters to faculty (the old “What’s in it for me” question)
- Have a mandate
- Allow faculty to take the lead in finding a solution
- Implement their solution
- Get feedback for course corrections
- Act on the feedback
When I talked about faculty and student affairs working together to foster civic learning and democratic engagement, I asked what questions faculty have for student affairs. The immediate response was, “How much money do you have?” Faculty want to have additional resources and they believe that student affairs has more resources than they do.
After discussing how willing student affairs often is to support faculty initiatives and how student affairs is often willing to do the administrative work around a program, the faculty said they liked the idea of collaborating. Of course, I asked about faculty seeing student affairs as educators. I talked with them about my idea of cocurriculum laboratories attached to academic courses, and there was much interest in having their course content reinforced in a systematic manner with the addition of a thread of civic learning and democratic engagement. Others said that this was letting faculty off the hook in that they would make no changes in the curriculum and could claim that they were fulfilling the expectation of embedding civic learning and democratic engagement in their courses because student affairs would take care of this in the cocurriculum lab.
I’m not sure I care if faculty are off the hook as long as students get what they need and student affairs can have access to students in a context where they can plan, implement, and assess the impact of their work on learning and skill outcomes. While the important question of scale arose, in the short-run, I want to see the cocurriculum laboratories model tested; I want to see faculty and student affairs partnering on objectives and outcomes for academic course content and essential characteristics and skills such as personal and social responsibility, intercultural competence, and civic learning and democratic engagement.