The Conscience of Higher Education
In the midst of challenging times in society and on our campuses, student affairs professionals have an incredibly important role to play. That role is to serve as the conscience of higher education. Student affairs professionals are the only institutional agents for whom the well-being of students is a core responsibility. If we take this
responsibility seriously, social justice and advocacy must be a central part of our work.
To be effective educators and student advocates, we must decide what values and
beliefs are worth our commitment, and we must have the courage to live with our decisions. This is what it means to live a life of integrity. As we move through our lives, we
will each face situations in which making a particular decision or taking a certain action
may put our careers, our relationships, or other core aspects of our lives in jeopardy.
Advocacy is an act of moral courage. It requires a deep understanding of ourselves,
our philosophy of life, and our values. It also requires a commitment to act on those
values and the courage to deal with the consequences of those actions.
Nancy J. Evans, professor, Higher Education Program,
Iowa State University
Before you speak or make any serious decisions, be quiet. Stop. Go to a quiet place and
sit down. Breath quietly and reflect.
Think about your personal values
and professional ethics, particularly,
“Do no harm.” Think about what
is best for yourself, your students,
and your institution. Think about
the consequences and ripples.
Think about what the wisest person
you ever met would advise you
under these circumstances.
Reflect after you act, particularly
if the action did not produce the
desired results. Keep track of the
significant actions you’ve taken and
the mistakes you’ve made. Take
time to reflect.
When all else fails, remember
that students are always watching
you. What kind of behavior do you
want them to see or emulate? What
do you hope for them when they
are your age? What did you hope
for your career when you were their
age? What matters most?
Practice the “airline philosophy of life.” We have all heard the flight attendant tell us to “put the oxygen
mask on yourself first, then help the person
next to you.” Unless you take care of yourself
and keep your mind, body, and spirit healthy,
challenged, and thriving, you will not adequately
address the needs and challenges of your students, colleagues,
Taking care of yourself means staying up to date, articulating your professional philosophy, and being authentic and congruent in action. It also
means balance in your personal and professional lives, engaging in both
with passion and quality. It means finding time to read new literature, taking
vacation days to get renewed, having dates with significant others, keeping
family first, staying centered, finding like-minded people to support your
dreams, appreciating others, and being appreciated. By keeping the big
picture in mind and knowing your role, you can make a difference in the
lives of college students who, in turn, will change the world.
Jane Fried, professor, Department
of Counseling and Family Therapy,
Susan R. Komives, professor, college student personnel,