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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dean Like Me

Drugs, alcohol, costs, staffing, Greeks, student deaths, alcohol, FERPA, renovations, going tray-less, alcohol... these aren't just Trinity issues.

As a member of the Associated Colleges of the South, Trinity University participates in an annual meeting of Senior Student Affairs Officers. The Association includes small, private, southern, liberal arts institutions such as Southwestern, Rhodes, Millsaps, Richmond, Davidson, and others (click for full list). The Student Affairs participants at the annual meeting are Vice Presidents, Deans, and Associate Deans, all in Student Affairs at their institutions. I have written about this cooperative group before. This year's meeting was at Sewanee: The University of the South (chapel pictured above at left).

Unlike professors and students who have many colleagues and peers, administrators often have very few professionals on campus who can relate to the experience of their roles. Gathering with colleagues who possess similar passions and experiences is an excellent way to learn best practices at other institutions, share ideas, celebrate the joy of working with students, and even kvetch a little about mutual frustrations. Some of the characters at this year's meeting are shown below, at right. They seem nice, don't they?

So here is a brief rundown on some of the issues that were discussed:
Alcohol: Most everyone has issue fatigue about this topic. Though students often perceive that administrators are against alcohol and love policy, this isn't really true. By-and-large, people like me don't want students to get hurt or die, hurt other people, break things, vomit where they shouldn't or flunk out. Several support a discussion of the drinking age. Some just don't care anymore and have more important issues to tackle than controlling student drinking.

Student death: See alcohol. In many instances students have been seriously hurt or killed as a result of alcohol use and associated activities. While uncommon, suicide is always a fear and has profound effect on the community. Administrators want to do everything in their power to keep other people's kids alive. Liability and lawsuits are secondary to the moral responsibility of managing student life on a college campus.

Drugs: Cocaine use is reportedly on the rise at many campuses. This does not seem to be prevalent at Trinity OR cases and rumors have just not risen to the professional staff level. Alcohol and -- then marijuana -- seem to be the Trinity drugs of choice (in addition to the endorphin high from running with the Dean on Wednesday mornings at 7:30 a.m. - meet in front of the Witt Center).

Health insurance: Virtually every school requires that students show proof of health insurance. Most places automatically bill students for insurance until they produce proof of insurance. Trinity seeks out the proof before billing, which is not nearly as efficient.

Conduct: Virtually all the Deans have more power to independently suspend a student. At Trinity only Conduct Boards may do so. Is this a lamentation or a boast? (See survey at right.)

Involuntary withdrawals: All schools present have an involuntary withdraw policy except Trinity. This is generally used in the case of a students who poses an imminent risk to self or others. The policy is seldom used but is an important tool to have on hand. trinity will investigate this by studying the policies of these institutions.

Renovations: Many schools have renovated or are planning on renovating/adding residential facilities. The economy may have an impact on this and other spending on campuses.

Greek Life: Most of the schools have national fraternities and sororities. They are not a panacea. Nevertheless, there were a lot of sympathetic looks and gestures in Trinity's direction regarding the local system here. One institution has no Greeks. Where Greek life is crucial is at campuses in more remote or rural locations where there is not a thriving social life outside the campus.

Other issues discussed are not all that interesting, but nevertheless important, namely FERPA and the Higher Education Act.

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