The five candidates to replace Jerry Rinehart as vice provost for student affairs and dean of students presented their visions for student affairs at the University of Minnesota during public forums this month.
Candidates discussed the importance of measuring the success of student affairs goals, working with limited resources and creating an open and inclusive campus.
Two of the five candidates currently hold positions at Big Ten universities.
The vice provost for student affairs and dean of students is primarily responsible for student services, overseeing Student Unions and Activities and the Department of Recreational Sports. Rinehart will continue to work through May, although he went on a recess appointment April 1.
Each candidate was required to give a public presentation on student affairs at a public land-grant research university.
The presentations were open to the public, streamed live on the Web and were posted on the search website, where students can also submit evaluation forms through the end of the week.
Danita Brown, dean of students at Purdue University
Brown focused on assessment, leadership and technology during her presentation.
“Assessment, for me, is a pretty big piece,” she said. “We are in a data-driven society.”
She said it’s important to track whether students are meeting the goals student affairs administrators have set for them and to justify the value of a university education.
Brown also said she believes every student should have at least one leadership experience during college. She cited a “4-3-2-1” program that student affairs is pushing at Purdue, which encourages students to graduate in four years, shoot for at least a 3.0 GPA, complete two hours of work for every credit hour they’re enrolled in and to have at least one leadership opportunity.
Taking a closer look at how technology can streamline processes, she said, is also important.
“We have to become friends with our partners in technology,” Brown said.
John Saddlemire, vice president for student affairs at the University of Connecticut
Saddlemire currently works at a land-grant institution like the University, but as he pointed out, it’s much less urban.
He said every search he has been involved in before has asked candidates to be visionary.
“That bothers me,” he said, adding that any sort of vision must be grounded in the institution’s context. “Context is everything.”
The essence of student affairs, Saddlemire said, involves identifying needs, looking for opportunities to address those needs and finding the resources to do it. And that must occur within the proper context.
For example, with the financial challenges universities are experiencing, it’s important to be pragmatic, he said, and have the courage to end certain unnecessary practices and redirect resources.
It’s also important to be able to measure the success of student affairs work, Saddlemire said, and promote coordinated action.
“I’m big on making sure that we’re building relationships,” he said.
Michael Gilbert, vice president for student life at the University of Delaware
Gilbert said his vision for student affairs includes creating a vibrant and engaging campus that meets parents’ expectations in terms of education and safety.
Administrators also have a responsibility to create a welcoming and inclusive campus environment, he said.
Referring to the University’s status as a land-grant institution, Gilbert said the Morrill Act was intended to democratize higher education in order to create better people and better communities faster.
This means administrators must hold students to the highest possible expectations, he said, and encourage them to learn about leadership and become responsible citizens.
“We’re building better communities; we’re supporting students achieving their goals; we’re preparing people for leadership,” he said, “… and we’re creating the kind of campus that promotes learning on both sides of the campus door and is vibrant and exciting.”
Denise Maybank, interim vice president for student affairs and services at Michigan State University
Maybank highlighted the importance of access, affordability and attainability in higher education during her presentation.
Rather than money or resources, Maybank said the main thing a student affairs administrator needs to pay attention to is relevance.
“Student affairs must be relevant within the college environment, within … society and definitely within the context of students,” she said.
It’s important to learn about those students just entering high school rather than focusing on freshmen, she said. To remain accessible to all, she said it’s necessary to first know who the “all” is. In terms of affordability, Maybank described how she and a colleague raised $1.2 million for student affairs through donations to lessen the burden on the general fund.
Finally, she discussed how student affairs must “wrap enough around [students] that they can bounce back” from difficult situations.
Gary Ratcliff, assistant vice chancellor of student life at the University of California-San Diego
A student affairs vision for a large land-grant institution should capitalize on the diversity of students and programs available, Ratcliff said, but also address possible shortcomings, like being impersonal or bureaucratic.
The most basic need to address, he said, is making sure it’s convenient to access campus. It’s
important to encourage living on campus, but the University should also be commuter-friendly, he said.
Ratcliff said students also need a sense of well-being and the ability to manage stress. It’s important for students to be able to speak with a counselor in a timely manner if they feel it’s necessary, he said.
“My vision would be that we offer an integrative set of services related to counseling, recreation and well-being,” he said.
Students from all backgrounds should feel supported on campus, Ratcliff said.
At his current university, he said, he’s been involved with forming six identity-resource centers, including a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center and a women’s center.