Us versus Them

For most of us in student affairs, we have either overheard or contributed to a conversation that expressed frustration with Them. They don’t get students. They only care about what goes on in their classroom. They don’t appreciate what we do. They never want to collaborate. You know Them. They are faculty.

While in residence life, I felt like faculty members were living on a different campus. I rarely crossed paths with them. Approaching them for programs in my building felt like climbing Mt. Everest. However, when I moved over into academic advising, housed within an academic college at my campus, I realized how misguided my assumptions were. Now, as I listen to peers discuss the need for collaboration between academic and student affairs, I am reminded about how integrated those functions are within my role now. I sit on curriculum committees to help faculty develop the most effective and logistically viable delivery of their content. I often have faculty pop their heads into my office more than the students who need me to help plans their lives. And although we may each interact at differing levels with faculty on campus, here are a few things I have learned:

1. Faculty care about students. And not just in terms of students completing homework or not complaining about grades. Most faculty are genuinely concerned that students have a valuable experience both inside and outside the classroom. They are training their future peers in their industry, but they also truly enjoy students “getting it.” You don’t have to look further than the growing body of literature on the scholarship of teaching.

2. We are not the only experts on students on campus. Although we may think we understand students better than most, faculty understand what’s important for students academic and professional development, as well as their personal development. Many have been working with students for a while, and they are pretty smart people. They may not know all the identity development theories, but then again, I don’t understand the difference between glycolysis and gluconeogenesis.

3. We can learn a lot from faculty. Yes, we can learn quite a bit from what they know about students, but we can also learn from faculty. Ask them about their research. Sit in on a class of theirs. If you have an interest in nutrition (possibly for a program in the halls?), sit in on a Food Science course. Next thing you know, you are inviting that faculty member to have dinner with your students in the caf.

4. That being said, Faculty don’t need to be put on a pedestal. I would be hard pressed to find faculty members who would be willing to return to the 1880s manner of faculty serving all roles to all students: teacher, house mother, career counselor, etc. Most faculty are content to stick with the teaching, and let us handle the resume reviews and late night duty calls.

5. Earn their respect as being experts in our own right. Rather than see the faculty/student affairs relationship as a competition for “who knows students better?” take the opportunity to demonstrate what you bring to the table. Faculty may often get consumed with their individual class or research, so know the campus incredibly well. Be there to offer resources that they may find helpful. Help them find solutions to what they would like to do in their class.

On a regular basis, I can be heard saying, “I am not an expert on [content area X], but I do know how we can make this work.” The more we do to develop an integrated approach to helping students through their experience, the more we will be seen as partners and collaborators. Faculty lead lives where their recognition and reward (read: promotion and tenure) is often dependent on their individual efforts. We live in a world where teambuilders are as regular as late night phone calls. The silos aren’t getting us anywhere, so look for the solutions that we can be a part of. Also, having a faculty member explain what gluconeogenesis is may prove helpful in a trivia game.