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Eye on Higher Ed
16 March 2008 @ 02:23 pm
Within the past six months-or-so, the word sustainability has taken on an entirely new connotation to me. When I heard the word before--or,more more rarely, used it in conversation myself--it was in the context of maintaining new programs, events, job titles. In establishing a new (and hopefully an annual) event in the context of campus programming, we would ask ourselves what was needed in order to sustain this program from year to year. What would we need to do to make this a traditional event, something that next year's students would learn to look forward to?

In my job-searching process last Spring, I believe I was asked several questions about sustainability of programs I had created or helped to create. I never stopped to ask the meaning of the question, as it was obvious.

At the time.

Now, it seems that a Sustainability Craze has overtaken my insular, residence hall world. I know that this phenomenon exists on other campuses because I read about it, but my personal locus of experience lies here, in the southern United States, North America, Earth. At our institution, the Residence Hall Association has appointed a student Sustainability Chair who is a liaison to the campus' Sustainability Committee (actually, the real name of the committee escapes me, but it's the same idea). We are currently participating in Recyclemania, a nationwide campus-competition to see who can recycle the most, well, recyclables in a given time period (that's the short story. See the link below for more information). My hall's recycling bins overflow nearly every day with plastic bottles, newspapers and cardboard boxes (not to mention beer bottles, a tour guide's worst nightmare).

Now, however, it seems that recycling en masse is no longer enough. Colleges and universities are now (for the first time? Probably.) musing over the concepts of a "carbon footprint" and "carbon neutrality." Instead of reducing the amount of waste they produce, they want to reduce what they use in the first place.

On the surface, I give this idea a raucous standing ovation. I've always gotten stuck on the idea of recycling, wondering why we needed so many bins when so much of their contents were likely unnecessary in the first place. I'm generally uncomfortable with the concept of "wasting" anything (though not to the point of saving wrapping paper. I leave that one to Aunt Glenna).

But in higher education's zeal to reduce, reuse, recycle, I wonder what is sacrificed?

I had a conversation with one of my Resident Assistants (who happens to be the aforementioned Sustainability Chair) about "practical sustainability," for lack of a better term. Basically, we both agreed that there is a limit to how sustainable humans can be, given the comfortable, disease-free lifestyle to which so many of us have become accustomed. Hospitals, for instance, shouldn't be re-using needles and other equipment from patient to patient. It's unsanitary and, well, icky. So in our efforts to be sustainable, we shouldn't adopt this eager, all-or-nothing approach. There are CERTAINLY wasteful, non-sustainable aspects of our daily lives that NEED to be amended. But it's a balancing act, because we must also recognize that (unless we want to throw hygiene and conventional wisdom to the wayside) there is a limit to the cause.

So. This talk of balancing acts leads me to my impetus for this rant: colleges and universities abandoning cafeteria trays in an effort to be more sustainable. Their reasons are compelling, I admit. But when I think about the dining hall in which I eat every day, I can't help but side with the complaining students. Unless the entire structure and established path through the line is altered, or massive plates with built-in cupholders are introduced, this does provide a logistical challenge.

But, if we can get used to a Filet-o-Fish in a paper wrapper (now a cardboard box) instead of its trusty Styrofoam predecessor, I suppose they can get over the missing cafeteria trays and deal.

And find something new on which to sled...

"Today's Special: Balanced meals" / Don Troop, The Chronicle of Higher Education online


Middlebury College (referenced in the Troop article) initiative to be Carbon Neutral by '16:

Southern New Hampshire University goes Carbon Neutral (why's it all the East Coast schools? I would have thought that the West Coast would be all over this):
Eye on Higher Ed
05 January 2008 @ 12:52 pm
As I was applying for jobs post-graduation, I was asked in an interview "Describe the ideal residence hall" (I was applying for hall director-type positions).

I revisited this question today as I read an article that argued that theme communities and theme houses are NOT as great as some think they are. The author, Robert O'Hara, wrote that they promote segregation, not integration, of college students. After all, once these students leave this cocoon of similarity for the "real world," they will have to interact with people with different interests than their own. I did not have a strong opinion on the subject previously, but now I think that O'Hara has an excellent point. Because when I imagine the "ideal' residential community, I envision a broad array of residents living together and--even more ideally, and importantly--learning from each other.

The largest exception I have to this is the concept of a First Year Residential Experience. And yes, I am biased because this is exactly the type of building of which I've been put in charge. But even though all of my residents are beginning their first year of higher education, the similarities end there. In fact, that's just enough commonality to promote interaction between residents who might not have much interaction otherwise. It's a great built-in icebreaker.

Having a building dedicated just to this group of students does segregate them, yes. But at my institution, it is not the only housing option for first-year students. They may choose to live in a residence hall intermixed with upperclassmen, or even in Greek housing after they've gone through rush. Students must specifically select to live in this hall. So if they don't want to live in a community composed of just traditional-aged freshmen, they usually don't have to.

My point is that some common factors among a group of residents can be a positive thing, and, like O'Hara, I believe that over-specializing the groups does more harm than good.

Sources/Further Browsing:
The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges and the Renewal of Campus Life
Eye on Higher Ed
16 September 2007 @ 01:53 pm
I have always been fascinated by Texas A&M, particularly the process by which one institution can germinate such a distinct, widespread culture (emphasis on first four letters: culture). Now, living in Oklahoma, amid so many native Texans and die-hard Aggies, the intrigue expands. The more I hear about the school's traditions, the more I want to just study this mysterious, complex world of College Station, Texas.

I realize that A&M is not the only school to have such a cult-like following. Dozens and dozens of large state schools and small privates alike have managed to secure such strict allegiances among their students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. I also realize that it doesn't hurt that the school is Texas A&M--a land-grant in a state with a culture and mystique that's another study for another time.

Without delving too much into the history of the institution (appropriate choice of words, eh?), I wonder about the source of this extreme loyalty and their many time-honored traditions.

This Aggie mania is certainly profitable (and thus, desirable) for the university. It's probably not too far a stretch to assume that other universities would also like to cultivate such a following and loyalty, for this same financial and prestige-related reasons. But as near as I can tell, a school can't just decide one day to be super-spirited. It must develop over time. But what conditions must co-exist to foster this development?

I (very, very casually) researched some institutions of higher education in the United States that have a reputation similar to Texas A&M's (rabid athletic fanbase; distinct and notable athletic, academic, and co-curricular traditions; a level of "prestige" that is acknowledged by even the most casual observer, etc;). I had several questions:
* When was the institution chartered? Under what conditions? (as a land-grant institution, a normal school, church-affiliated, etc;?).
* Where is the school located, and what are its "traditional" demographics? (is it a traditionally white institution? a historically black college or university?)
* What kind of role do alumni take in the school's operations? Do alumni serve on the Board of Regents/Trustees/Curators? Are there specific "alumni chapters" in other cities across the country? If so, what are their functions?
* Where does the school stand (in various categories) in the U.S. News and World Report rankings--an admittedly biased and faulty way to judge a school, but a ranking system that is still highly regarded, nonetheless.
My findings will follow. Until then, here are the schools that I'm looking at (your suggestions are also welcome, this is just off of the top of my head):

Texas A&M University

University of Mississippi

University of Michigan

University of Notre Dame

Pennsylvania State University

University of Southern California

University of Texas at Austin

Purdue University

Boston College
Feeling: curiouscurious
Eye on Higher Ed
26 August 2007 @ 10:57 am
I recently read an article with an interesting title: "Start parent center to build positive parent partnerships" (Student Affairs Today, July 2007).

Despite the title's almost-distracting alliteration, I was sucked in by one word: positive. (Negative) experience has taught me that, despite all manner of good intentions, parents who are extremely involved in their students' lives generally do more harm than good.

Now that I've properly inserted my foot into my mouth, please note: the bulk of my experiences with students' parents have slanted toward the negative side because the parent felt a need to be involved due to a problem with the student/ the student's life/ the student's surroundings, etc; I'm not saying that the parents themselves have been negative (though some sure as heck have). Rather, the circumstances under which we interact generally aren't the most positive.

But this headline alone conjures images of the infamous 'Helicopter Parent' and her 'Millenial Child.' (Talk about a double-whammy). I once had a parent telephone me from three states away to ask that I make sure her daughter was taking the cold medication given to her by the student health center. When I informed the mother that this was beyond my realm of responsibility for her daughter, the lady was pretty ticked off. The subsequent dialog would have received a TV-MA rating for Language.

Because of these experiences and the negative stereotypes associated with students and their hyper-involved, ultra-concerned parents, the idea of working with parents isn't exactly appealing. But (obviously), these moms and dads have a vested interest in their sons' and daughters' lives. The questions are these: How do we properly harness the power of parents? How do we solicit constructive feedback? What tools can we provide parents so that THEY, too, hold their students accountable for their actions?

The article I read discusses the Office for Parent Programs at the University of South Carolina. This particular office provides newsletters, e-mail lists, pertinent contact information, and other resources to parents. It also includes a Parent Council (think university-level PTA).

I think that USC has the right idea: they're giving parents a more appropriate outlet for their involvement. Because as much as I dread phone calls from parents, I understand that the intentions are (generally) good. They do have the best interests of their child(ren) at heart. Providing these well-intentioned (but sometimes seemingly meddling) folks distinct channels into which they might funnel their concerns seems like it would ease the burden of the lowly entry-level professional charged with answering their calls. In short, I think it could work. What do you think?

Sources/Further Browsing:

University of South Carolina
Office of Parent Programs

subscribe to Student Affairs Today:

Related programs of interest:
University of Southern California
Office of Parent Programs
Provides an extremely comprehensive list of links for parents of students.

Northeastern University
Office of Parent and Family Programs
Includes a link to the Parent Portal, which may be accessed by parents with the student's consent.

Wesleyan University
Office of Parent Programs and Development
The mission of Parent Programs at Wesleyan emphasizes the role of the staff of the office rather than the role of the parent of the student.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Parent Programs Office
Programs geared toward parents include a Dads Weekend. An events calendar includes major campus events such as sporting events and tailgates.
Feeling: optimisticoptimistic
Listening to: Elliott Smith / "I better be quiet now"
Eye on Higher Ed
26 August 2007 @ 10:53 am
As you might have guessed, this project was not the bulk of my aforementioned Independent Study. Other papers and research somehow materialized in time for graduation and now I've got "M.S.Ed" suffixing my name on official documents. Okay, no documents. I lack that level of pretension.

But the saga has not ended, as you also might have guessed. I've attained gainful employment in a career field pertinent to my graduate studies, and I've decided to try my hand at this thing again. Much like the first go-round, there are no guarantees as to the regularity, coherency, or applicability of my posts.

With that said, onward...
Eye on Higher Ed
12 March 2007 @ 10:13 pm
Yeah, know how I promised more regular posting? Ha ha ha. Woops. Sorry about that.

I digress.

Today is more chicken-and-the-egg rigamarole. My query today, however, involves student expectations of their college experience; namely, from where did these expectations originate? And whose responsibility is it to cater to/ challenge these expectations?

My stance is this: students (generally of the "traditional-aged" ilk) come to college expecting more "features" than their predecessors of fifteen, ten, even five years ago. These extras are generally peripheral to their "education" in its most literal sense: single rooms in the residence halls, better food in the dining halls, a broad range of cheap, fun activity on campus, assistance of all kinds available 24-7, et cetera, et cetera. If they find a potential college does not, say, have a Starbucks in the Student Union, they'll (very literally) take their business elsewhere.

This last phrase strikes fear in the hearts of many administrators charged with the task of enrollment management, and thus, they work overtime to compensate for the areas in which they are "lacking:" Dear God, we need a McDonald's on campus STAT!.

Tell me what's wrong with this picture.
Eye on Higher Ed
04 February 2007 @ 05:14 pm
First, I apologize. It's taken me a few weeks, but I'm just now getting a hang of this semester's schedule. Hopefully I'll be more diligent with posting now.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Legendary Dodgers radio sportscaster Vin Scully once said “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.” That quote has been running itself ragged through my head for the past few days, and here's why:

Our Organization and Administration in Higher Education class was asked about the role of theory last week: what does it do for us and how do we use it? The overwhelming response was that it is used to give our ideas relevance, significance, justification. But what about the other way around? It is much more difficult to ground our ideas IN theory--using them as a source of light, not a surface on which to lean.

This prompts the question: is there a wrong way to use theory? And from where would we find our "justification" if no such theories existed?

For those of you who are completely in the dark, here's an example: Arthur Chickering came up with seven "vectors" (think interconnected "stages") of identity development. Chickering's theory is often used as the epitome of student development theory, because it poses a series of transitions that students in college traditionally work their way through in the course of those four, five, or six years of undergraduate education. Practitioners of student affairs often cite one or more of these vectors in planning programs, initiatives, et cetera. "This program will serve students who are working on moving through autonomy toward interdependence," they might say/quote.

I'm not posing these questions as a way of suggesting that theory is being misused. Rather, I question the reasons why it is utilized, and if all utilizers of theories (such as Chickering's) use them for their intended purposes. Short of calling up Chickering and asking him myself, we won't get an answer. But it's something to consider, nonetheless, in the meantime.
Eye on Higher Ed
22 January 2007 @ 09:27 pm
Rebekah Azen, the library director of Southwestern College (Santa Fe, NM) has resigned.

Don't yawn yet, this is good.

Ms. Azen resigned over concerns about the wireless internet access throughout campus and in the library in particular. Claiming that constant exposure to whatever invisible beams create a wireless internet network (this being my highly technical definition, not Ms. Azen's) caused insomnia and a " 'buzzing feeling in [her] body,'" her requests to have a formal meeting to discuss disabling the network were denied.

So she resigned.

Honestly, I laughed to myself when I first read the article. What a nut job, I thought. No wonder she worked for an institution that trains mental health professionals. According to my logic, wireless networks are everywhere--my roommate steals internet access from some unsuspecting neighbor in our apartment complex--and the network to which Ms. Azen was "exposed" is just the tip of the iceberg. As far as that goes, remember when people were attacking the use of cellular phones? Or, heck, even microwave ovens? Radio towers? Power lines? Where does it stop?

It soon occured to me, though, that wireless networks have really only been in wide use for a relatively short time. If we wake up tomorrow to find out that science has proven these networks to be harmful to our health, we not only owe Ms. Azen (and others like her) an apology, but we've got to have a back-up plan.

It's hard for me to comprehend how colleges functioned prior to the widespread use of the Information Superhighway. Were records really kept on paper? Did students register for classes in person? Did they telephone their professors or even--gasp--stop by office hours when they had questions?

Say the internet spontaneously disappears tomorrow. Would colleges and universities as we know them now cease to function in the manner to which we've all become accustomed? And what does that say about our reliance on such technology? As liberating as we claim a "wired campus" is, are we really just slaves to such technology?

Further browsing
College Librarian Resigns After Seeking to Have Wireless Network Turned Off
Chronicle of Higher Education online:

Southwestern College

Wireless LAN (Local Area Networks):
A brief history and explanation

Author's note:
I tried to find resources about other's attempts to dismiss current technological advances...until I realized that I was searching the internet for such documents. In the words of Homer Simpson, d'oh!
Eye on Higher Ed
14 January 2007 @ 02:48 pm
Tomorrow is the observed holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a student/employee of a state institution, I have neither class nor work on this day. As a result, I type this entry with the slightly giddy feeling that, even though today is Sunday, I can sleep in tomorrow and stay up late tonight. And even though I will probably not partake in the latter, just the prospect of the former is enough to get me through the day.

This treasured three-day weekend is somewhat of a novelty. As an undergraduate, I attended a small, private institution that chose to remain "in business" on MLK Day. As you might expect, this drew mixed reactions from the campus community. Students, faculty and staff demanded the day off, for reasons that ranged from genuine to purely selfish (not unlike my own anticipation for a "sleep in day").

The day was not completely routine, however. Instead of abiding by a normal class schedule, we had what was akin to what my high school referred to as an "Assembly Schedule." All morning classes were uniformly shortened; if I remember correctly, everything--classes, meetings, you name it--ceased around noon. At this time, everyone was invited to a presentation in the auditorium (I told you it was a small school). This presentation was generally focused on some theme relating to social justice and/or the works and philosophy of Dr. King. Immediately following the presentation was another "dead period" that was set aside for private meditation and reflection. Though my memory is fading quickly, I'm sure that some sort of chapel service was also held during the day or evening.

I was curious as to how other institutions (particularly private schools) chose to observe this day. A brief scan of The Chronicle of Higher Education this afternoon made no mention of particular ceremonies, traditions, or presentations of note, so I turned to my trusty back-up: A Google search.

The search of "Martin Luther King Jr Day" + university yielded mixed results, mostly general information on Dr. King and his writings. However, I was interested to discover that Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) will cancel all afternoon classes tomorrow so that the campus might participate in a "series of afternoon activities to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Knowing that my undergrad institution is not the only one that chooses to observe the day in this manner, my question is this: How best does a college or university honor the memory of Dr. King, particularly on this third monday in January?

Given the day completely off, will students, faculty or staff intentionally seek out opportunities to remember Dr. King's legacy? Given a shortened class schedule, will they participate in the activities planned for them? Or given no alterations to the day, will business truly go on "as usual"?

At my current school, "MLK Recognition Week 2007" officially began today. Activities and events are planned all week, yet a quick glance at the schedule reveals that the true "big events" will not begin until classes resume on Tuesday--the day after the holiday. I understand that, as a state school, we are under the constraints of state holidays. But if we weren't, how might things be different? Or would they be?

Carnegie Mellon University Events:

Southern Illinois University Carbondale MLK Recognition Week 2007:

Google search: mlk day college schedule 2007

Further browsing
White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (list):

Morehouse College King Celebration:
The "College of choice for Black men," Morehouse graduates include Dr. King himself (1948).

Capital University 2007 MLK Day of Learning:
"Capital organizes the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Learning, a day of workshops and special events aimed at promoting diversity and lifelong learning. All events are open to students and the wider community."

Wikipedia: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Quick biography
Feeling: thoughtfulthoughtful
Listening to: Elliott Smith / "Alameda"
Eye on Higher Ed
13 January 2007 @ 02:19 pm
Hey, what's up?

You've either copy-and-pasted the link I've plastered all over the Internet or somehow stumbled on this journal on your own. Regardless of how you ended up here, I do hope you stay.

First, a little bit about just who the heck is writing this: I'm a graduate student in college student personnel. If you just made that scrunched-up "huh?" face, it means that I'm getting a Master's degree in learning how colleges and universities work. And maybe, just maybe, when I graduate I'll get a job at a college or university. This field of study focuses on a particular aspect of college life: take away the academics and the professors and you're left with the "everything else." People in "my" field work in housing, residence life, admissions, student activities, advising, orientation, enrollment management, alumni relations, and any number of offices spread around a college campus.

And that's where this journal comes in. As part of an independent study project I'm pursuing, I created this masterpiece: Eye on Higher Ed. My goal now is to comment/rant against/complain about/give rave reviews about any number of issues currently affecting higher education...and believe me, there's a bunch.

That said, I really encourage readers to leave comments. Oppose me, agree with me, shower me with compliments, or just tell me something YOU want ME to write about. I'm not easily offended and I like to argue (especially in writing when I can think about what I say instead of coming back with something like "Yeah? So?"). And besides, the more people comment, the funner it all shall be. For me--who's getting a grade for this, and for y'all--who have the pleasure of reading it.

Feeling: hopefulhopeful
Listening to: Stone Sour / "Zzyzx Rd."