Alert Top Message

The AAUP office reopened on September 7, 2021. Contact information for all staff, including those working remotely or on a hybrid schedule, is available here

 

 

The Shadow Curriculum of Student Affairs

Student affairs is encroaching on areas long held to be faculty responsibilities
By Martha McCaughey and Scott Welsh

Most faculty members have been asked by those working under the umbrella of the student affairs division to attend workshops on (and even give over instructional time to) matters with which the student affairs staff is concerned, including suicide prevention, sexual assault, graduating in under five years, the use of students’ preferred pronouns, and fostering inclusive classrooms—just to name a few. While such training sessions have an important place within higher education, they also suggest a blurring of boundaries between a concern with attending to the broader lives of students on college campuses and the curricular responsibilities of faculty. When the faculty is construed as needing to be responsive to student affairs and student development mandates, such seemingly innocent professional development opportunities can grow uncomfortably close to an encroachment on faculty responsibility for the educational mission of colleges and universities. A broader problem emerges when the style of intellection preferred by student affairs begins to compete with the spirit of questioning and inquiry that guides the educational mission of colleges and universities as carried out by the faculty.

When it comes to social problems, faculty members ask research questions and consider relevant methods. In the classroom, they present contending studies and teach students how to read complicated literatures critically. In contrast, staff in student affairs often see their mission as directly addressing social problems head-on, sometimes beginning with efforts to “clarify collective morals” and almost always concluding with varied attempts to “eliminate systemic injustices and amplify practices that dismantle discrimination against all identities” (in the words of a typical mission statement, from UNC Chapel Hill’s Student Affairs division). While the faculty and student affairs staff each performs important functions on college and university campuses, the intellectual mission of the faculty is often in competition with an unapologetically moral or political mission in student affairs.

The issue with this competition is that student affairs frequently influences students’ education through the creation of what amounts to a “shadow curriculum” that faculty are also expected to support, learn, and sometimes teach. We borrow the term shadow curriculum from academic critiques of K‒12 education, where scholars have used it to refer to supplemental materials—provided by educational business industries—that are reshaping educational agendas. In higher education, supplemental educational materials and trainings, developed or delivered by student affairs staff, are similarly provided to students inside and outside of the classroom. The shadow curriculum of student affairs is not vetted by the faculty but nevertheless is creeping into the traditional curriculum, challenging the faculty’s authority in educational decision-making and undermining the spirit of inquiry. The faculty winds up receiving, rather than steering, a set of curricular imperatives that inadvertently depict us as ignorant of or resistant to the mission of student affairs insofar as we remain fully committed to the practice of intellectual inquiry above all else.

As many others have already noted, an overlay of activism in higher education threatens to supplant reason, scholarship, and evidence. Judge José A. Cabranes, a distinguished former university legal counsel and trustee, has identified two very clear dangers to the mission of higher education today: “Increasingly, policy is dictated by two new groups: one is a burgeoning nonfaculty bureaucracy—including professionals allegedly endowed with the expertise to adjudicate interpersonal conduct. The other group consists of a growing number of full-time students who favor activism over education.” Many staff members in the student affairs division, impressed by the idea of universities as agents of social change or as vehicles for a moral education, see higher education as a means of advancing political or moral goals. This idea is emblazoned on T-shirts student affairs professionals can buy from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), which declare, “I AM BOLDLY TRANSFORMING HIGHER ED.” 

The contrast between how student affairs staff and faculty approach the purpose of higher education is illustrated, for example, by the University of South Florida’s Student Success website, which provides students with a list of what the student affairs division calls “anti-racism courses,” including Literature, Race and Ethnicity and Schools in Society. These are typical academic courses offered by members of the faculty, who surely teach with all the nuance and complexity faculty members are trained to employ. The presumption on the website, however—and one that is conveyed to students—is that courses examining race or schools take a particular position on contemporary controversies. This view reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of a college course and of the faculty’s role. The same conflation of course title or topic with an activist intention on the part of the instructor is made by some conservative groups that try to “expose” the social justice activism on a campus simply by looking for words such as “racism,” “equity,” and “diversity” on course syllabi. Unlike what student affairs professionals and conservative critics sometimes assume, neither faculty members nor curricula are chosen for their manifestation of social conscience or embrace of political positions. Instead, courses are ideally designed in response to evolving disciplinary questions, and faculty are ideally hired for both their command of their disciplines and their ability to conduct rigorous course discussions that teach students how, not what, to think. We recognize, however, that some faculty members have also confused the essential activity of understanding social problems and potential solutions with political activism.

Nevertheless, faculty members remain far less likely than student affairs staff to see the mission of universities as “promoting” certain social and political ends over others, or as actively righting certain social wrongs. Indeed, faculty members in institutes, centers, and programs—no less than in traditional departments—govern themselves as disciplinary or interdisciplinary communities, which is the basis for the faculty’s oversight of curriculum and academic hiring. The faculty’s decision-making authority in these areas (and others) is codified not only in AAUP policy documents but also in many of the faculty handbooks, constitutions, and mission statements under which we work.    

A university’s faculty, at its best, embodies a spirit of inquiry in all that it does. We formulate questions, gather data, sift evidence, and draw careful conclusions—noting potential problems with even our most well-founded ideas. Academic freedom is the freedom to engage in such measured, careful inquiry. A university is a place in which questions are primary and answers are first and foremost opportunities for further questions. It is this spirit of inquiry that faculty, in their role as teachers, model for students. Faculty worthy of their privileged positions do not abuse the trust students place in them. We resist the temptation to collect disciples, encourage cults of personality, recruit agents for ideological missions, or teach a political agenda as a settled truth. More than providing answers, we teach students how to form and pursue questions. This is because faculty members, situated as we are within disciplines, are keenly aware of the constantly shifting state of what we colloquially refer to as knowledge.

In contrast, student affairs professionals see themselves as educators for the moral development of students. According to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), “Opportunities for teaching and development exist everywhere on campus, and it is the responsibility of student affairs professionals to seize these moments and promote positive interactions. Encouraging an understanding of and respect for diversity, believing in the worth of individuals, and supporting students in their development are just some of the core concepts of the student affairs profession.” As Lisa Kaler and Michael J. Stebleton wrote in a NASPA publication last year, “student affairs educators must continue supporting students and themselves advocating for social justice.” They go on to state, “Education is not neutral, and neither is student affairs. Educators at all levels should get comfortable sharing their stances” on “political issues that may be controversial or unsettling” both “on and off campus.”

Offices of student affairs do not exist in the academic realm of questions and the slow, painstaking generation of tentative answers. Instead, they exist in a world of emerging trends and rapidly evolving best practices. Student affairs staff must make difficult judgments about priorities and programming in response to constantly changing circumstances as well as perennial problems. They must also respond to changing federal mandates, regardless of how well-founded they may be in relevant academic literatures. But given their self-perception as educators, student affairs staff can easily misconstrue this work as part of the curriculum.

When student affairs professionals attempt to affect the curriculum, they cross the line where faculty govern and inappropriately conflate moral or political training (if not indoctrination) with inquiry. Administrators defend these initiatives by pointing to one or two faculty members who have signed on and voluntarily engage in them. But make no mistake: these are student affairs‒driven initiatives that are not vetted by faculty bodies. Tensions can emerge between student affairs staff and faculty members (in their role as members of academic departments and scholarly disciplines) when student affairs staff attempt to substitute their judgment and well-intentioned sense of emerging trends and best practices for the judgment of faculty practicing within the context of departments and disciplines.

Examples of the Shadow Curriculum

The first, and most obvious, example of the shadow curriculum is what is often called a residential curriculum. Student affairs professionals who oversee students living in on-campus residence halls have their own educational agenda, learning goals, and material that they teach to students, which they develop and implement independent of faculty curriculum committees. Established in the early 2000s and spread through the ACPA across US campuses, the residential curriculum is, in the words of one student affairs specialist, “a particular approach to designing and delivering intentional learning opportunities for college and university students.” Student affairs staff can attend the Institute on the Curricular Approach (formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute) held annually by the ACPA. 

A residential curriculum, according to its advocates, ultimately aims to make students better people. For instance, on our campus, full-time staff aim to teach students “an understanding of their connection to others, ranging from the residential community to a greater global perspective; a greater sense of belonging; and an ongoing understanding of self in the collegiate setting while connecting a sense of purpose to their overall Appalachian experience and beyond their college career.” This is a moral education, akin to personal character development traditionally done at religious colleges. No academic unit or academic policies committee has a say in the development of the residential curriculum, and in our experience the student affairs approach to teaching as moral education or life enrichment is in sharp contrast to the faculty’s emphasis on exposing students to current scholarship, technologies, and methods of investigation.

Trainings and retreats for students constitute another example of the shadow curriculum. One popular model for student retreats is adapted from the Next Step Social Justice Retreat at the University of Vermont, which is intended to teach participants “how to become better change agents and activists against racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, religious discrimination, classism and other socially constructed oppressions.” Now taking place on many campuses under various names, these immersive retreats are designed to educate participants about the concepts of social justice and leadership, “empowering” students, in the words of our own university, to “take positive action on our campus.” Using facilitators selected by student affairs staff, these retreats teach students skills for organizing, activism, and becoming a “change agent” on their own campuses. Again, these retreats have a curriculum, and like the residential curriculum, they are not vetted by faculty bodies or university curriculum committees.

These and similar initiatives encroach on territory that the AAUP—and the general academic community—has long held to be faculty responsibilities. There is nothing properly academic about these shadow curricula. Rather, students receive a set of moral, political, and social lessons from a retinue of “advocates,” “educators,” and “liaisons” informed by extradisciplinary literatures concerning “student success” and “social justice.” 

While the faculty may be accused of undermining “education” by not carrying out the mission of student affairs, we cannot be a conduit for their catechism. It may seem innocent enough merely to allow student affairs staff to speak in our classes or for faculty members to attend their trainings or provide academic credit for student affairs‒led trainings. But faculty approach curriculum design differently from the way student affairs staff do. We teach students the content of an academic discipline or a field with the aim of inquiry and exploration. If we continue to allow the line between the faculty and student affairs staff to be blurred, then we will be lending our tacit approval to the shadow curriculum in higher education.

Defending the Spirit of Inquiry

To underscore how and why the shadow curriculum damages the university’s ability to serve the public good, consider the fate that would befall faculty members who fraudulently present themselves as experts in a field in which they have not been trained. Such conduct would violate the public trust—without which our entire institution has no credibility and, ultimately, no ability to supply the data that assist governments and organizations in solving social problems (including the social justice projects championed by student affairs). In order to reclaim the central academic mission of the university as well as the central role of the faculty in achieving that mission, the faculty must keep its eyes on the purpose of the university and defend the important role of the faculty in academic governance.

If we were allowed to present a workshop to the people in student affairs who deliver workshops to faculty and students, we would want to tell them the following: 

First, faculty engage in inquiry; we question, debate, and ask for evidence. To treat us as heretical or hostile for questioning a supposition or assertion is to suggest that we must stop being faculty members and start privileging ideology over inquiry. Scholars may very well conduct research or teach about matters that trouble people—such as school shootings, climate change, or cancer. But changing students’ moral commitments is not part of our responsibility and, in any case, does not help us—or our students—to understand troubling issues better. Faculty members help students develop intellectual abilities, not a particular political ideology or moral disposition. Just as we are not in the business of teaching students what religious views to hold, we are not in the business of teaching them what political positions to take or training them on political intervention strategies. When the curriculum is politicized and moralized, we shut down constructive debate and lose the critical perspective that allows us to evaluate costs and benefits of various solutions to problems. Both the faculty and student affairs should defend a spirit of inquiry in every aspect of the educational process—including in those instances where moral certainty or an activist orientation tempts us all. 

Second, the university is a place for inquiry and deliberation, not a vehicle for implementing social change. Unlike religiously affiliated or sponsored colleges, secular colleges do not state an aim to build “good Christian men,” and they do not require that students affirm religious or moral commitments as a condition of attendance. Public colleges and universities are defined by a different set of values—namely, serving the public good through truth-seeking in teaching and scholarship. Public institutions teach students regardless of their values or beliefs, and do not require them to profess any creed or declare any faith or allegiance. If public institutions start requiring students to espouse a certain set of values—either before or after enrollment—then they become secular versions of religious colleges.

Third, decisions that affect or relate to the curriculum or instruction should not be imposed on the faculty but rather developed by curriculum committees and other appropriate faculty bodies. Although student affairs staff appropriately have primary authority in a number of areas, such as student conduct, residence life, extracurricular activities, and new student orientations, the AAUP’s 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities makes clear that the faculty should have “primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” Campus initiatives affecting the education of students should be faculty-driven and based on faculty expertise. Advancing a free-floating shadow curriculum that is not vetted by faculty review committees threatens, rather than supports, the core academic mission of the university.

If we want to preserve the primacy of the ethos of intellectual inquiry, which depends on faculty primacy in the governance of the curriculum, we must better understand our unique roles within a modern university. Student affairs has the laudable task of supporting the extracurricular social and institutional context while the faculty fulfills the university’s educational mission. The spirit of inquiry is most seriously threatened when the ethos of training overtakes the ethos of inquiry and truth takes on the appearance of the easy or obvious. Although all higher education professionals have long encouraged students to reflect on ethical questions related to community engagement, citizenship, and social problems, any such work that is done in a curricular fashion must be done by the entity charged with curricular responsibility—namely, the faculty. If education is to continue to be a site of inquiry-based, academic exploration, then the shadow curriculum of student affairs—in which education is reduced to moral, political, or social training—must be brought into the light.

Martha McCaughey is a professor of sociology at Appalachian State University who writes about academic freedom, gender, violence, and privacy. She is also an HxA writing fellow at Heterodox Academy. Scott Welsh is associate professor and the chair of communication at Appalachian State University and author of The Rhetorical Surface of Democracy.

Comments

I appreciate and often agree with McCaughey and Welsh’s critique of the administrative takeover of higher education, but I disagree with how they approach this issue. In 2008, I argued that conservatives were wrong to call for banning “social justice” programming by residence hall staff at the University of Delaware:
https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2008/05/12/defending_intellectual_freedom/
I think McCaughey and Welsh are similarly wrong here. What they call “the shadow curriculum” is really “extracurricular” activities–-voluntary educational events organized by students, faculty, and staff. What makes something “extracurricular” is the lack of compulsion, not the lack of education.

It is very dangerous to suggest that any program “affecting the education of students” must be “vetted by faculty review committees.” All extracurricular events, whether organized by students, staff, or faculty, should not be “vetted” by anyone; they should be freely allowed, and never prohibited by a university. The fact that McCaughey and Welsh want to prohibit “social justice” activities by staffers makes this a particularly disturbing proposal at a time when efforts to censor “social justice” faculty in higher education are so common.

But McCaughey and Welsh are right to challenge the growth of administrative control over extracurricular activities, and despair about the lack of intellectual content. Tenure-track faculty who used to advise student groups and help organize events have been replaced by adjunct faculty to teach, and administrators to control the extracurricular activities. We need to change this: Faculty need to add to the extracurricular world, and call for departments to run educational programs and hire the staffers. Faculty need to get involved in extracurricular activities, and demand the resources and incentives to support them. But we cannot go down the disastrous path of seeking to ban people with the “wrong” ideas from being allowed to organize extracurricular activities.

Clarification: John Wilson argues that Welsh and I want to prohibit or ban certain activities, but this is a misreading of our article. Nowhere do we suggest prohibiting or banning any activities, whether they are voluntary or not. We criticize the shadow curriculum, but there are many solutions to the tensions we've identified other than prohibitions or bans. We hope that readers will start a discussion of the potential solutions to the problem we have identified.

A few additional thoughts. Much of what is presented in this article is the furthest thing from "voluntary," as Wilson seems (strangely) to think. In addition, there are a related set of encroachments from HR, which treats faculty as just another group of employees, to be dictated to as others are. Never mind if one is in fact a law professor with expertise in antidiscrimination law; one will be forced to sit through a "training" which includes numerous misstatements of the law, simply to keep one's job. No school I know of - including the nearly 200 that have their own law schools - brings this training in house, and allows ACTUAL experts to teach the area. Why? I could venture a few reasons, including that the people who contract with these external vendors would rather have that sort of relationship, than allow faculty to - horrors! - TEACH the areas they know. A specific example: there were dramatic changes to Title IX during the Trump Administration, not reflected in the information given to students as "the law" by student affairs professionals. (Heaven forbid they have to update the laminated posters.) Thus, non-lawyers were "teaching" (incorrect) law to unwitting students, in an institution with an actual law school containing law professors (including me) more than capable of actually teaching this law accurately. Why would this ever happen in an institution of higher learning? (The answers are both obvious and profoundly disheartening.)

I find it interesting you use Title IX response as your example and want lawyers or law professors to lead the charge in a system where case go unreported due to people not feeling seen, heard, or valued by the very legal system you speak of. I worked in a system at a university where the director of the Title IX office was also a lawyer. The training she did weren’t on the practice of law or the understand if Title IX from a legal perspective, but about the process, the people in the office and their goals, and services provide by the university. It was about helping students understand their resources, their choices, and the university’s obligation to create an environment where they were safe to learn, where we’re valued and allowed to just be. I have worked with serval students and just sat in silence or listened to their stories.

When we criticize the approach to a personal experience and some of the hardest experiences for people down and say only those with degrees on the topic should speak on it, we don’t see the people impacted most directly by that choice. If we want to be critical of Title IX trainings maybe we should look to have better systems. If we look at the number of students that need to transfer, stop out, take off time because of how the process didn’t support them that speaks to me more than who did the training. I also ask where are all the law professors and lawyers when students need advice on that process. Wouldn’t it be something if they had office hours in the Title ix center, were offering counsel on office resources for students sharing to look at their options, were on-call to speak to students when needed or to staff working with students. When they showed up to show the people that defend them also see and hear them. I’m just throwing out ideas here. Maybe I see the people in they system MPR rthsn the system itself.

I also did one of those training last once where it was more about the legal process and like a mock trail. While it was great information to know and a good experience, it didn’t really help unless more people got the support try need to eventual want and be ready to take a legal approach.

A truly excellent article about the destruction of academia by "woke" bureaucrats. The AAUP has done a great service in publishing this call to our conscience as true educators. The transformation of education into indoctrination began in the late 1980s at "advanced" liberal arts colleges like Antioch College and The Evergreen State College. And it was characterized by unethical and downright immoral campaigns to destroy the spirit of inquiry and truth. They were immoral because they caused great harm to their innocent targets. I actually portrayed the situation in my novel Alex in Femiland:A Politcally Incorrect Novel of Morals, which was subjected to the ire of "cancel culture."

Education is an inherently political activity. The authors seem to suggest that faculty are going about conducting pure intellectual inquiry that doesn’t direct students to certain moral or political ends. Even if you believe yourself to be objective and all you do is ensure the continuing of the status quo by not challenging injustice you have still committed a political act.

Sam, thank you for sharing this. Scott Welsh and I wrote about this idea that if a faculty member is not an activist in their classroom in an attempt to be part of the solution to social problems then they are part of the problem. We actually suggest that sometimes being part of the solution IS part of the problem in higher ed. See https://heterodoxacademy.org/blog/university-professors-after-the-us-cap...

This reminds me of the climate deniers that say "the climate is always changing". There are magnitudes, and they make all the difference. To say "everything is political, so being political is ok" is either a weak defense or an unthoughtful response. Faculty are expected to NOT push a political agenda in the classroom, rather they are to educate by presenting the most current knowledge of their field of expertise. Their expertise makes them qualified to design courses and curriculum, and this is after rigorous vetting. Student affairs have a clear and important role on campus, and it is NOT to advocate political agendas. It's not their job and they are not qualified. They have a job and they are qualified for it. The article points out the clear trend towards student affairs encroaching on the educational mission of the university. A mission that is solely the purview of the faculty. They are not qualified and it's not their job. I've seen it first hand. Student affairs view students as a captive audience to 'educate' them on their political ideology in the name of social change. That is not their job, and it's not the job of the university.

A few comments for the authors to improve their understanding of the co-curriculum and its place on campuses. As a note, I am a tenured faculty member that studies colleges and universities.
1) Higher Education, as a field of study, has been around for decades and has grown considerably the past 40-50 years. It is a very active field of research with a number of professional organizations and peer-reviewed journals. The near universal consensus among the research is that the co-curriculum is very beneficial to student success (development, persistence, graduation). The authors might want to review the latest edition of How Colleges Affect Students, which provides an excellent overview/synthesis of the research.
2) The vast bulk of full-time student affairs staff possess graduate degrees. A masters degree is almost mandated now for anything above an entry level position and many at the director level or above also have doctorates. Their education introduces them to the latest research and theoretical models on students. Questioning their ability to create programs to foster student success is akin to a biology professor questioning how a history professor teaches his/her subject.
3) You are correct that many in student affairs are strong advocates for social justice. That is embedded in the field, as it is with many faculty that examine issues of social justice (racism, sexism, etc.). I've researched and published on campus activism for nearly 13 years and I can say faculty are not exempt from pushing for change.

The article does NOT criticize extra curricular, just inappropriate extra curricular activities. The article does NOT suggest that student affairs and extracurricular programs do not have an important role on campuses. The point, which is painfully obvious on many campuses, is that student affairs often goes too far (and increasingly is going too far) in engaging in avert political agendas with 'educational' programs. That is simply inappropriate whether it is pushing a left or right ideology. It is inappropriate if it is from an outside political group, and it is inappropriate if it is from student affairs.

And you are mistaken if you equate faculty having an agenda with student affairs having an agenda. Student affairs are not experts in the field of any particular social justice program. Having a MA is student services does not qualify someone to teach ethic studies or physics. And unlike student affairs, there is a multi-level review and vetting process for course content and curricula. Student affairs can create an 'extra curricular' class on any subject without serious review and even if it is not their expertise. And that is happening more and more. And that is a serious problem. And if you are so informed, you would know that faculty (generally) do not engage in avert political agendas nearly as much as what we see among student affairs. False equivalency.

Interesting read but I’m also curious about how some of the comments made about the competition between faculty and student affairs actually address deeper problems with higher education at its core. When university were originally build for white men of class and have obviously expanded its demographics, can we use the same measurement tool of how it should be? When we look at first generation college students, transfer students, veteran students, students that are less than 10% of the university’s demographic, international students etc, I don’t think we can put the services provided by student affairs, space proved by living learn communities, and the opportunity for co curricular experience aside. Maybe my experience as a first gen student skews my perspective some. What I remember from my college experience are the people that made me feel like I belonged so I could be successful in the classes I was taking. The people that told me to stick with it and enjoy the process of learning even when I was afraid to fail. In the current landscape you can’t have one without the out because as a working adult now, it’s the skills I learned outside of class that I use as a supervisor. Those skill amplify my voice as a women in mostly male spaces. I will also say that my knowledge and ability to research and other skills I learned in class an then be more successful but not until people are actually willing to learn and hear me out. Those skills I learn by being in a reslife program.

When I first glanced at this "essay," I took it as a typically superficial and falsely dichotomized "critique" of a fiction the authors entitle "the shadow curriculum of student affairs." They do not understand the origins of the notion of "shadow curriculum" and ignorantly misapply it. Why? It is appropriate to their ideological and rhetoric purposes, not to understanding the urgent need for cooperation of different groups on all campuses. This is not scholarly.

At the request of my friend who is an Associate Vice President of Student Affairs at a very large public university, I read it carefully. I am appalled by what I found. Contradicting the very pretense of a defense of an equally fictionalized and profoundly ahistorical defense of the professoriate's authority over a very contradictorily presented "spirit of inquiry," without hesitation or admission, the authors stake out a right-wing position that is contrary to the AAUP recommendations that they cite as if they were ever binding laws that "activists" in Student Affairs are suddenly violating.

The lack of evidence is disturbing in itself. A tiny number of isolated examples will not sustain the authors' imaginary creation and thencriticism of a wide variety of Student Affairs programs that differ from campus to campus. They invent a stereotype with which they contrast an another stereotype of the faculty. There is no room for reality, variation, or internal dissent on either side in this unbalanced and undocumented false-flag operation.

Why do they take such pains (painful to this reader) to dichotomize components of the contemporary university when we should be urging them to work together to instill in collegial cooperation a civic vision (a term I much refer to the authors' willfully negatively distorting roster of nouns and adjectives) and an intellectual foundation? Can they tell us that? Do they fear a loss of control that historically they have never had?

This comment is painful to read, and it is really void of any substance. No response to the specific arguments in the essay, just incoherent rambling. I'm sorry this commenter is unaware of the issue and prevalence of the issue raised in the essay. It's pretty simple. As AAUP states, faculty have control over the curriculum because they are experts in their fields. Student affairs are experts in student affairs, not politics or political agendas. They should be supporting the educational mission that is performed by the faculty. The problem is that increasingly, they are encroaching on the educational mission. Sure, they can help students develop skills that will improve their experiences and they can have programs that help develop leadership and collaborative skills. But they SHOULD NOT engage in educating students on topics and issues that should be left to the faculty. They don't have the expertise and the classes/programs aren't governed by a real review process (as faculty and the actual curriculum).

Your point is unclear, but you seem to miss that student affairs do important work that is a complement to the work of faculty and the mission of the university. But it should not be in the business of educating students on scholarly issues or advocating political agendas. Despite this commenter being unaware, student affairs on many campuses is increasingly moving beyond their role and beyond their expertise.

Your non-reply only underscores the several points of my criticism. It is a failing rhetorical strategy for an academic; it is unscholarly. It parallels your misrepresentation of "shadow curriculum" itself (and lack of citations to the relevant literature), and misrepresentation of both student affairs and the HISTORY of faculty control over the curriculum. The latter is a central issue across the US right now because of the right-wing attack on the free speech of school teachers and professors alike. You help no one is misrepresenting the history of educators and the actual power of AAUP recommendation. I'm done....

The original authors appear to be completely uninformed of the history and development of higher education in (the territory that would become) the United States. From the very founding, inculcating morality was THE central premise of higher education, and institutions were quite literally expected to shape and hone the mind, body, and spirit. The very first college graduation ceremony, at Harvard in 1642, witnessed the flogging of multiple students for swearing.

Morality remained THE central focus of American higher education (both public and private) up through the emergence of "modern" scientific/research universities in the later 1800s. It was at this time, as Harvard historian Julie Reuben has carefully documented (see "The Making of the Modern University" and "The University and it's Discontents"), that faculty eschewed morality as the central intellect pursuit of higher ed largely because they were unable to reconcile it with their scientific methods. (But even then, higher education leaders expected science and reason to serve and advance the public good, a la the "Wisconsin ideal.")

Universities, however, were unable to completely jettison their role as moral institutions, and so (again as Reuben traces) morality became the domain and responsibility of the folx who became known as deans of men/women/students. Student affairs has not usurped faculty responsibilities, they have been tasked with picking up the slack from professors who forswore character-building in favor of (as these authors put it) "the primacy of the ethos of intellectual inquiry." In all seriousness, (vast numbers of) faculty dread and abhor the "service" component of their jobs - do the authors really believe that their colleagues have either any interest or desire in designing, reviewing, and implementing the many extra- and/or co-curricular efforts of their institutions? Yeah right!

By the way, ask any alum who graduated 10+ years ago what the most salient, long-lasting, and most meaningful moments of their college career were. The overwhelming majority will name an extra-curricular activity or something under the auspices of student affairs.

It's called progress. Universities evolved away from being moral educators to focus on ideas, science and progress. Morals are learned along the way, but they should not be dictated by student affairs staff with a specific political agenda. The university has evolved to pursue truth. It advances social justice through education and knowledge by faculty, not by a politically motivated staff. If you want to lose public trust and public funding, just continue to use the university as a political tool. Not a smart move.

And many students most fondly recall tailgating at football games, but that is not a reason to divert huge amounts of funds away from the mission of the university to support athletic entertainment for these students.

This article obviously touched a nerve with student affairs staff, but they should pause and learn from the excellent points that the authors clearly articulate. The authors do NOT advocate against extra curricular activities, they advocate against the encroachment of student affairs into the instruction part of the university mission. There is a robust vetting process for course content, program curricula, and instructional hires. Student affairs largely by-passes this vetting process but claim to be educators. This is not to say their work is not important, but they have a different role to play on a campus. And education is not it. They generally do not understand the principles of higher education, such as faculty governance, academic freedom and evidence-driven knowledge creation (as opposed to advocating perspectives--i.e., indoctrination). The authors do not disvalue the work of student affairs. They simply remind student affairs what their work is. Of course, there are complementaries and collaborations that can advance the university mission, but make no mistake, it is the faculty that oversees the curriculum. Outside interests do not, and inside units with an agenda do not. On my campus, student affairs overreaches and actively tries to interfere with course content and instruction. Who is teaching them this is acceptable? I hope college of educations clean up their curriculum to educate future student affairs staff about their role on a university campus.

Who’s to say faculty are qualified to design curriculum? What ecourses do they have to complete during their several years of college/research, that cover any curriculum design/development and teaching methods? As a former k-12 teacher and now SA professional, the number one thing I hear from students basically amounts to complaints about faculty that read clearly as rookie mistakes any veteran k-12 teacher (who was actually trained in course development and teaching/assessment methods) would never make, but tenured profs OFTEN make. Because they focus all their attention on research, publishing and earning sabbaticals in the name of this ‘spirit of inquiry’ instead of on actual learning/instruction methods that work for ALL students.

I definitely don’t want them anywhere near overseeing curriculum development of any retreats, seminars, etc on student development topics. They’d probably lecture for 90 minutes and give a multiple choice test with content they never got around to covering, but it was in the ‘supplementals’ no one had time to read while they were droning on.

Who qualifies as "faculty" in this article? Tenure-track faculty? Tenured? NTT? Adjunct? "The faculty" are not a singular entity but a group of people who bring a range of (in)experience to the table. Job titles alone do not tell us what someone is or is not qualified to do. As more people with academic PhDs seek employment beyond the professoriate, that means that student affairs divisions increasingly include people with the same training as their faculty colleagues (e.g. a cultural psychologist leading conflict resolution, a sociologist working in program assessment). So, should they not have any say in curricular matters because of their job titles? Or should we perhaps pay attention to training and skills of student affairs workers when convening committees?

Instead of pitting "the faculty" and student affairs professionals against one another, let's brainstorm solutions for building bridges to promote collaboration instead of competition and centralize student learning rather than territory. The limited pedagogical training I received as a PhD student was much more than some of my colleagues have had; so what makes us more qualified to teach or develop curriculum when--in many cases--we have less pedagogical training than our colleagues with graduate degrees in higher education? When the goal is student learning, we academics have a lot to learn from student affairs professionals.

Kara, I don't think you can be serious. As a former K-12 and now SA, your comments reveal a real lack of knowledge about higher education. Knowing how to teach is different than knowing the content being taught. Faculty are the experts in the fields, and therefore (of course) have purview over the curriculum. Who says faculty should oversee curriculum? Everyone. The question is who would suggest otherwise? Do you think someone with no expertise in physics design the curriculum of a physics degree? (not sure you know what curriculum is?).

Your rant may describe some faculty, but that is certainly not the norm. Research shows that faculty work more hours than most professions, which makes sense considering their passion and commitment. And yes, conducting research is part of their job, so hopefully they are doing their job. There are really bad K-12 teachers, SA professionals and student affairs. I know many SA professional that are not committed to the university, do no service, and are only on campus when they teach. It would be immature and mean to accuse all SA professionals of such behavior.

And I'm not sure referring to K-12 makes the point you wish to make. For decades, the US has had one of the worst K-12 systems in the developed world. During this time, the US has had one of the best (if not the best) systems of higher education. One of the problems facing higher education is that some people (some in student affairs) are trying to make universities more like K-12. And that would be (is?) disastrous. Higher education is not K-12, and it should not be.

That was my exact point. As someone with a degree in middle-secondary education, I was taught HOW to teach, not just what. I am not aware that many PhD programs include extensive courses on classroom instruction, instructional design, assessment methods, classroom management, etc. From what I have gathered from friends of mine who went the professor route, it seems most of that stuff they learn as they go in their TA appointments. Which is fine, unless they are the sole instructor because the actual seasoned prof is off focusing on research and the only instruction students are getting is by an untrained TA. You said it perfectly, they are focused on their content areas, and in those areas, they are the experts, that is undeniable. In instructional design, we have a word for that - Content Area Specialists. Sometimes they are also the head designer, but not always, or even often. That is left to someone with an educational background in...Instructional Design!

I'll use myself as an example. I had a great mind for history/political science. Could have gone the PhD route, but I didn't want to research/publish all the time, I wanted to teach. So I went K-12. First week into my first student teaching experience, it became abdundantly clear to me that being really smart in my content area was not going to help me teach that subject to students who were far below my knowledge level in that subject. I had to LEARN how to do that, through a rigorous B.S degree program.

Now, I have been taught by and worked with some amazing faculty. I still contend that unless they sought out supplemental instructional design programs/courses on their own, the reason they were so good right out the gate is because they had natural, inherent teaching ability. Some people just have a knack for it. I don't believe everyone who is an expert in their field does. This is evidenced by the hundreds of advising appointments I have had with students over the 15+ years I've worked in higher ed admin. The majority of their complaints about faculty and course design read (to me with my k-12 teaching background) as mistakes that a first or second year teacher would make. Ranging from course design i.e overly long lectures - 80/20 rule people! I learned it in my intro course design class! to poorly written/arranged assessment tools, to poor classroom management to not using enough diversified instruction, not applying accomodations correctly or efficiently (how many Special Ed classes do you suppose are required in a PhD program?)..the list is endless.

A proposed solution that makes sense to me is, treat faculty who have no educational background in actual course design/instruction and who have consistently poor student assessments, as what they are - content area specialists. Bring in educated and trained Instructional Designers (some of whom may even be SA professionals - the horror!) to approve overall course design and teaching/instruction methods. This is good news! It would free up a lot of time for faculty to focus on what they want to do - research/publish/take paid sabbaticals :)

K-12 is messed up, don't get me wrong, I completely agree with you there. However, I think a deeper look at why colleges and universities may need to adopt some k-12 pedagogy is the shifting populations in college attendees. Higher education models have not changed much over the past 60 years. There have been subtle, gradual changes - less tenure-track, more and more adjunct, admin bloat - even though I am in SA, I completely see this happening, and don't agree with it (but it's at the upper level; guess which staff positions never seem to get "cut" when there needs to be cuts? They just cut the direct student services and save a whopping $30k + cost of benefits, sure that makes a real dent in the deficit) but overall - the hiring and practice of the university faculty has not changed much. And the students HAVE. They are coming to college with less foundational knowledge (thanks to k-12!), more instances of documented learning and cognative disabilities, higher rates of anxiety/depression/mental health issues, many more first-gen, minority backgrounds, non-traditional age, you get my point.

Course design and implementation has never needed to be more diversified and not "one size fits all" and I'm sorry, but faculty have just not been trained in how to do that. It's not their fault! How can you know how to do something you were never taught how to do? This is all open to discussion, but it needs to be discussed, because students are falling behind/dropping out/giving up on higher ed. It's going to need to change in the coming decade to stay viable as an institution.

A note on the US having the leading higher education system - yes, we are still very competitive, and for a long time the number one destination, but many other countries are closing that gap (UK, Aus, Can for example) One of the many reasons a US higher education is so valued is the focus on a liberal arts education. However, another BIG reason we are still a premiere destination is because of all the extra-curriculur support and supplemental education (residential, wellness/recreation, social) that our institutions offer. And that curriculum is housed in SA and should remain housed in SA.

Part of that is social justice education. This next generation (Z and the upcoming Alpa) are actively looking for colleges/universities that advocate for Social Justice/Activism/Community engagement. They are more socially concious than previous generations, and want to add value to their communities - and want a school that is a. doing that as an institution and b. will help them/teach them how to do that as well. Schools need to offer programming and initiatives on their campuses on social-policitical issues to stay competitive in the recruitment of these incoming students.

Ok - one last comment. The k-12 issues in the U.S, ironically, are mostly centered around inequity and limited resources among underrepresented communities..which is a social justice issue..that the original article claimed shouldn't be taught. Or that it should be taught by professors, not SA. That's honestly not an issue I have. I don't care who is teaching it, as long as it is being taight. And as long as those teaching and designing the curriculum are qualified/experts on the topic and can do so responsibly. Could be faculty, could be staff (many on both sides of academia have PhDs - in Race & Gender Studies, Political Science, etc on faculty side and on SA side, we have PhDs in student development with specializations/focus areas in Inclusion/Diversity/Social Justice work)

Faculty do need to recognize that student affairs and higher ed admin is a legitimate field of study, the majority of us have at least a masters, and many have terminal degrees in the field of student development theory and practice, which includes making sure that students are well-rounded citizens of their local, national and global communities and are aware of how to approach social justice topics. Now more than ever with the rate of divisiveness and eroding of civil discourse around such topics. To say we should throw that out and just focus on purely academic curriculum is socially irresponsible in my opinion.

What is Kara writing about? How did this "discussion" so totally lose track of the original article and the issues it ideologically confused?

What article did you read? This comment bears no relationship to the article that was publishing in Academe. Why is that?

Martha and Scott, you are employees, we are all employees of universities. Throw out the faculty and staff hierarchies, check your egos and focus on the students and how we can better work together as employees of universities to reach our common goals.

My reference point is a BA in Sociology of Organization in the early 90s. I greatly appreciate the boundary-setting that the authors provide and discussion of the ethical problems that result when those boundaries are crossed.

My university had a student affairs department that seemed less politically motivated than our faculty. There was, however, a part of student affairs called “Residential Education” which sponsored all sorts of activities and cultural experiences such as museums, symphonies, and ice cream socials. It did have one focus that stood out to me, and that was an effort to strengthen dorm life with an end toward weakening the appeal of fraternities and sororities and centering some activism (in my olden, golden days called “awareness”) of race, culture, and feminism into specific dorms. By comparison other specialty dorms simply centered on academics, often language.

While I definitely see the need for faculty to avoid a conflict of interest, I also must ask, “Where is the Board of Trustees?” They are the one body charged with the mission of the university and oversight of the sum and all its parts.

Thank you for the thoughtful discussion.

Add new comment

We welcome your comments. See our commenting policy.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.