Law, policy, and governance unconsciously define everything that we do. As student affairs professionals, our work depends not only on federal and state laws, but also on institutional policies. As such, we collaborate with stakeholders, balance competing priorities, and solve problems with limited resources on a daily basis. In order to lead initiatives for positive change, I recognize that I must be prepared to navigate law, policy, and governance. As a result, I chose to develop confidence in the following outcomes: “identify major internal and external stakeholders, policymakers, and special interest groups who influence policy at the national, state/provincial, local, and institutional levels, explain concepts of risk management, reasonable accommodation, and enact liability reduction strategies, and identify emerging law and policy trends and discuss how they affect current case precedent” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015).
To understand the role of stakeholders and the rationale behind institutional decision-making, I learned to look broadly at institutional interactions with the external political atmosphere. Higher education’s ties with government span a variety of areas, but none are as contentious as budgetary allocation. For example, through reflection on the role of governing boards in “ensuring the financial integrity of the institution and establishing policies,” I began to consider how the governing board can shoulder pressure from external stakeholders to make decisions that benefit groups outside of the institution (Hendrickson, Lane, Harris & Dorman, 2013, pp. 118). Over time, it became clear to me that institutions are successful when they share priorities with state government.
Law, Policy & Governance
When I summarized state governance in Massachusetts, it was an opportunity for me to understand which roles have the most influence and which areas merit the development of new policy based on shared priorities. By comparing Massachusetts to several other states in class, my colleagues and I analyzed the ways that power and influence can affect our work by developing the metaphor of “The Academic Administration Bus.” Individual stakeholders can have powerful impacts on the way that institutions are run, which is one reason that shared governance is so important.
In my dictated presentation about the 2016 budget crisis at Chicago State University, I reflected on the combined impact of state policymakers’ and external stakeholders’ roles. The budget stalemate in the legislature forced the institution to declare financial exigency, which impacted faculty jobs, the integrity of degrees conferred by the university, and the state population that was served by the institution. This highlights the vulnerability of higher education institutions to the political arena as well as the broad scope of decisions made by state government. By recognizing specific stakeholders and considering their points of view, I understood Bolman and Deal’s statement that “Work is fun when you’re delivering good news and constituents applaud. Conversely… conflict mushrooms and administrators often succumb to political forces they struggle to understand and control” (2013, pp. 190). This is a skill area that I will continue to develop, in hopes that my understanding will lead to opportunities to advocate for my colleagues and institution.
Accommodations & Accountability
Risk management and liability reduction are often tied to maintaining a positive reputation with stakeholders and the media. On large campuses especially, anything can go viral within minutes. A single mistake can turn into a public relations nightmare by projecting a negative image and garnering dissatisfaction from stakeholders. On a smaller scale, individual offices can face comparable circumstances. As a new professional, I observe the approach of campus leaders as they manage risks and liability. They accept responsibility when needed, remain transparent about their strategies, and make tough decisions. I practice conflict management and decision-making skills so that I am prepared to handle risks and liability whenever I may need to do so. For example, because my primary role is to meet with students in an advising capacity, I recognize the importance of responding to allegations of sexual assault in accordance with Title IX policy if such instances are disclosed to me. I completed Title IX and sexual harassment trainings in order to develop a stronger understanding of my responsibility in these situations. Title IX awareness is essential to success in the field because of an increased incidence of sexual assault reporting. As such, I want to not only be prepared to perform my required part in these situations, but also to support the student to the best of my abilities.
Professional development is key to my growth as a professional. In order to ensure that
I am familiar with providing adequate accommodations, I recently watched a webinar called Higher Education Law for New Professionals and identified best practices for situations where I might need to work with students requesting accommodations. While I considered these best practices, I also began to ponder institutional policies as another key influence on my work. For example, I recently completed an Institutional Review Board application to ensure that all appropriate protections are taken with participant information in my research. Although I did so to be compliant with policy, the real benefit to this practice is ensuring that equitable and ethical outcomes will result for everyone involved. Laws and policies are important because they exist to promote these outcomes.
Politically, the United States has seen quite a bit of transition and disagreement in the past several months. Some of the contentious topics that impact higher education have included: a proposed reduction to the federal education budget, international student visa status, and transgender student accommodations. International and transgender students could face challenges as a result of laws and court rulings that discriminate against their identity. According to Pryor, “the need to mask [identity] can have significant learning and developmental implications. If transgender students must be vigilant about how others perceive them, what are the consequences for their academic performance and overall college experience?” (2015, pp. 443). The concept of masking identity in the face of stigma also works for international students concerned about the implications of revealing their identity or visa status. While some institutions have taken a supportive stance, many others have remained silent on the topic. These situations will require student affairs professionals to take on additional responsibility in order to support students adequately. For example, as I began to develop LGBT+ and International Student diversity guides for students, I was intentional about including a section called “What are my legal rights?” to provide verified resources and contact information to help them advocate for themselves outside of the institution. This is something I would never have considered necessary a year ago, but is likely to be the reality for the time being.
In addition, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (2012) projects that despite an overall drop in high school graduates in Massachusetts by 2020, there could be up to 15% less Caucasian students and 36% more Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islanders. To meet the specific developmental needs of an ever-diversifying student population, professionals will need to adapt their practice to reflect multiculturally competent advising strategies that take racial identity development theories into account. In the Analyzing Demographics paper, I briefly compare the projections for high school graduate demographics in Massachusetts and Hawaii to reference the ways that different states may experience these trends. As a whole, higher education is experiencing a period of rapid change. Student affairs professionals will need to be attentive to these changes and adaptable to changing situations.