Sign of the Times: The Search for Blame
BY GWENDOLYN JORDAN DUNGY
Executive Director, NASPA
While there are many areas of interest I could have written about for this piece, I could not ignore the fact
that some of our colleagues are fighting for their professional lives. Invariably, when NASPA staff members
speak with you and other colleagues, we are particularly empathetic when your campuses have been hit by
tragedy of any kind, whether it be devastation, death, or serious injury as a result of nature or criminal intent.
In conversations with you, it is evident that at every college
and university student affairs plays an essential role in helping
to create an environment for experimenting and learning—
testing new strategies to address the issues that affect students’
safety and their intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth.
Your span of responsibility continues to broaden, and your
willingness to take on more exceeds all expectations.
The situations many of our colleagues have faced this year
have been particularly difficult because of the enormity of the
implications, such as the tragedy at Virginia Tech and the
consequences of student actions at a number of colleges and
universities for which senior student affairs administrators
imposed by prosecutors and the court systems. Some may see
this as accountability and assessment out of control.
It is not beyond the realm of reason to imagine that administrators will begin to feel as if they have a bull’s eye target on
their backs. Operating in climates that may evoke feelings of
anxiety, we may well forget our roles as leaders who manage
large enterprises, supervise staff, and are important partners in
accomplishing the missions of our colleges and universities. At
the height of our efforts to support the mission of our schools,
we find ourselves at the center of a trend that could have far-reaching implications for the profession, colleges and
universities, and, most of all, students.
What kind of conversations are you
having with colleagues as a result of
recent events affecting the profession?
Are you and your colleagues reluctantly
becoming risk averse in supporting
students? Are you seeking personal
liability insurance for the first time,
having never felt a need for it before?
Are faculty in preparation programs
talking about how to put more
emphasis on the law in the curriculum?
Are students who are considering the
student affairs profession beginning to
wonder if this is the career for them?
We find ourselves at the center of a
trend that could have far-reaching
implications for the profession,
colleges and universities, and,
most of all, students.
have come under close scrutiny, with legal repercussions in
While I hope that I am mistaken, these examples may be
the first chapter in a trend that focuses on identifying who is
perceived to be at fault in a tragedy or crisis rather than on
solving problems and learning from the situations. This
climate could put professionals in a defensive mode. Instead
of surveying what colleagues are doing to improve our respective situations, we will be looking to fill holes in our policies
and practices to demonstrate campus standards that could be
Share Your Perspective
As you can see, this is a time when we have more questions
than answers. Our colleague, Larry Moneta, vice president
for student affairs at Duke University, has agreed to work
with me on a follow-up article based on your thoughts and
experiences. E-mail Melissa Dahne, a contributing editor
of Leadership Exchange, at email@example.com to share