What the Sage Learned

It’s the morning after a few days as “Sage in Residence” at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI). I went to the University to follow the advice of Yoda, the wise one in Star Wars, and “pass on what I have learned.” What I want to pass on now are a few things I learned from the visit. I met a kaleidoscope of talented people during my visit and the University surrounded by mountains and verdant fields, despite the drought, is a gold mine for students of student affairs.

I learned that if you are the founding president, Dr. Richard Rush, and the founding vice president, Dr. Wm. Gregory Sawyer, you have an opportunity to create a culture of learning and love by the careful selection of faculty, staff, and administrators for positions throughout the University. You also have the obligation to create an ethos of intellectual curiosity and motivation to acquire more learning. I think these leaders took advantage of their opportunity and satisfied their obligation.

We’ve heard the advice of “managing while walking around.” At CSUCI, I learned that Dr. Sawyer, also the vice president for student affairs, manages by telling stories. He is the consummate story-teller and his staff affectionately number his stories as they represent particular lessons learned, expectations, and aspirations.

During my time in this academic community, I felt the respect and love throughout the University. Everyone knows one another and everyone has a story that brings a smile or laugh. Dr. Sawyer has a difficult time traversing the campus because he has connections on a personal level with everyone he meets and students and staff refer to him as a “rock star.” What he wants is for his student affairs staff to be and to realize that they are rock stars. He encourages their aspirations, supports their professional development and further education, and celebrates all of their successes.

Students chose the University for the same feeling that I experienced while on campus. They said that their faculty and staff were responsive from their first contact with the University and faculty and staff were not only supportive, they were invested in students’ success. Surely, CSUCI is building an alumni base that will give back to the University that gave so much to them.

Three take-aways that I recommend to other student affairs communities are these:

  1. As vice president, be visible and forge strong connections with students especially during this time of student activism. This will position you to work with students to meet needs and demands continuously rather than reacting to ultimatums in a manner that won’t satisfy regardless of what you do.
  2. Take assessment of the impact of the contributions student affairs makes to the mission of the University seriously and make it a priority.
  3. Reveal what is in the secret box of student affairs by creating external committees composed of representatives from every area of the college or university to review the results of your plans and learning outcomes and solicit their feedback.

If one is on the campus or in communications with students, faculty, or staff from CSUCI, you will understand why the division of student affairs has received recognition as one of the Most Promising Places to Work.

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