Change is the Only Constant
BY GWENDOLYN JORDAN DUNGY
Executive Director, NASPA
We have all seen the headlines announcing student affairs restructuring: “Tech Makes Sweeping Administrative Changes” or “Undergraduate Academic Programs to Merge with Student Affairs.” Indeed, the seeming trend of reorganization prompted creation of a new Twitter hashtag: #SAreorg. The running list of institutions re-examining the student affairs structure, kept by those tweeting on the topic, includes the University of Southern Indiana, Minnesota State University, and Rice University, among
others. What does this signal for student affairs?
In discussions with colleagues, I am reminded that this is
not the first time student affairs divisions have undergone
restructuring, nor will it be the last. The words of the Joint
Task Force on the Future of Student Affairs remind us:
As in all fields of higher education…student affairs has
been influenced by shifting social, economic, and political
trends in its ever-changing environment. At key points
across our history, the field’s professional associations
have initiated efforts to think critically about the nature
of student affairs work and its relevance to the mission
of higher education (Envisioning the Future of Student
In recent months, I have been reflecting with my colleagues
on the changing nature of student affairs. At our best, we do
not change simply with the tides; rather, we change because the
needs of our students change. The 1970s called for an increased
emphasis on student development theory. The 1980s and
1990s brought student learning to the forefront as we strove to
meet the increasing needs for academic and personal support
for first-generation and previously underserved students.
With the entrance of the new millennium, we continued
to meet the developmental and support needs of students.
The movement that began more than a decade earlier to assess
student learning outcomes took root as the U.S. Department
of Education, led by then-Secretary Margaret
Spellings, called for nationwide accountability in higher education. At many colleges
and universities, student affairs practitioners
were early adopters—out in front creating and
implementing student learning outcomes and
assessing their effectiveness.
the section titled “Rethinking Student Affairs Work,” and the
strong suggestion that we redefine our roles and structures.
The question posed in this section offers an excellent starting point for rethinking student affairs: What would student
affairs work “look like” if we were organized for the success of
today’s students and today’s higher education?
If we continue to analyze our organizational structures with
this question in mind, we can ensure that we remain responsive and true to the missions of our institutions and of higher
education. We have long talked of the role of student affairs in
student learning, but if we are not working with our partners
in academic affairs to understand the goals for students’ classroom learning, how can we support the larger institutional
mission? Similarly, we have talked about assessment for some
time, and most divisions of student affairs assess their work in
some form, but do we use the data? I submit we treat ongoing
assessment as an annual audit, identifying areas of weakness
and holding ourselves accountable for demonstrated progress
in those areas from year to year.
The nature of student affairs and the unique character
of institutions of higher education are important considerations in defining the work and organizational placement of
student affairs. Our goal in diverse and daring discussions is
to identify core consistencies that are essential for having a
positive impact on the academic and personal successes of
What would student affairs work
“look like” if we were organized for
the success of today’s students and
today’s higher education?
The Courage to Rethink
It seems we are, once again, provided with an
excellent opportunity to think critically about the work that
we do, how it can best meet the needs of today’s students, and
its relevance to the mission of higher education. This kind of
introspection takes courage.
As I reread the recommendations in the final report from
the jointly appointed task force, I was particularly struck by
We have the tools, and we have demonstrated courage
decade after decade. Now, we must seriously ask ourselves the
question: What would student affairs work “look like” if we
were organized for the success of today’s students and today’s
higher education? Then, we must fearlessly do what our
understanding leads us to do. LE