The Eye Inside

I’m a Teaching Assistant for one of the master’s courses in the higher education administration program at my institution, and I had the opportunity (or misfortune?) to lead the class discussion last week. The topic? Foundations of student affairs philosophy. That’s right.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I can philosophize with the best of them. Keep me up till 2 a.m. and I’ll start spouting off my theories about why student affairs is treated like the red-headed stepchild of the academy. Heck, just get me started about why I think tenure should be abolished, or at the very least re-considered, and I’ll talk your ear off about the failings of the higher education establishment and how it’s lost its soul.

But I’ve learned early on that I don’t particularly enjoy talking about—much less teaching—student affairs philosophy. To me, the thought seems needlessly redundant. Honestly. Shouldn’t we know this stuff already? The developmental outcomes we strive for are self-intuitive and really common sensical.

What’s more, the field itself is so self-selective that it seems safe to assume that everyone chose the profession because they believe in what we do as student affairs professionals. I mean, seriously. Who would want to do this for a living? Long hours. Low pay. No recognition. Intense pissing contests with academic affairs. More important, who would want to get a doctorate in this? Are we all, at the core, just glorified masochists, differentiated from our fetishistic brethren by our compassion for the students we work with?

But that’s beside the point.

I’ve found that the philosophy of the profession and the values emanating from that philosophy are things we don’t really talk about often in higher education. And maybe we should. I think it’s helpful to do some reflection about why we do what we do, because the whys inform the whats and the hows.

Much like faculty, we enter the field full of earnest optimism and ideals based out of our own developmental experiences as college students. Most of us would probably not be in this profession had we not been mentored or involved in various student activities.

But our orientation to the profession—understanding the philosophical basis for what we do and why we get up everyday—often falls short to other, more pressing (and understandably tangible) facets of our job.

So we often rationalize our inattention to this important part of our profession: Who cares about student affairs philosophy? Or student development theory? I need to secure parking passes for the Orientation program this weekend, or 500 guests on campus won’t have anywhere to go!

But the often and too obvious animosity between various divisions in higher education often arise out of differences in values. I think if we do a better job at articulating them and letting them inform the decisions that we make in our departments, we can better work with each other to keep student development—and not egos or budget size or prestige—as top priority.

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