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October 2011, Issue 20

Message from the Vice President

Dr. Gage E. Paine

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor and pleasure of serving as the keynote speaker for the UTSA Academic Advising Association’s annual conference. I chose to talk about an issue that has been in the news and is one of the questions facing us in education today. I thought it might be worth sharing a very small part of it here. (To help explain some of the references, it will help to know that the title of the speech was “All the Right Moves--Sounds Like Dancing to Me.” In it, I share part of a book called The Saber-Tooth Curriculum, a parody about education that teaches readers about education in the Stone Age.)

I … admit I have a liberal arts degree – clearly based in the medieval trivium and quadrivium – my degree required the study of history, literature, philosophy and languages and I loved it – …I’m predisposed to say things like – ‘online classes can never be the same as an in-class experience, e-advising isn’t as effective as face-to-face.’ So, I struggle with the conversations we’re having about student success. I’m the one who says student success is more than the degree, students who take eight years to graduate because life happens should still count as a success, we’re educating people for lifelong careers, not the first job they find. I believe all that and then I [read a book like The Saber-Tooth Curriculum] and I wonder if I’m not running afoul of Einstein’s theory--not the one about relativity, the one that defines insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Maybe my bias is leading me to miss opportunities to serve students, blinding me to new technologies and new ways of thinking about student success, about how learning happens, about the best way to advise students. Maybe I’m not asking the best questions to get answers that will make a difference in students’ lives. After all, I know more about campus life than I used to because of Facebook and Twitter.

So what is student success? I have to remind myself yet again that this is not an either/or question. It’s much more complex than that. Student success is graduation. It is also life skills. It is personal development and ethics and purpose. It is also landing the first job and succeeding at it. On the dance floor, leaders soon learn that if they want to dance with more than one partner, they have to develop different ways to lead. Educators know that students all progress at different rates and learn in different ways. Advisors know that different students need different styles of communication.

In the coming months, we can expect more focus on student success, and advising [and Student Affairs] should be an important component in these discussions. I encourage each of you to think about the ways you can be leaders in this discussion. You probably talk with more individual students about their… plans than anyone else on campus. You have information and insight into this topic. Participate by asking good questions, different questions. Participate, also, by being open to new ways of doing the work that we do. Show all of us that it is possible to reach our goals through new ways of doing what we do. Help people who think technology is the only answer ask deep questions about purpose. Work to understand the different ideas about success; and, I would argue, look for ways to reach all of them.

Student success is not one thing but many and we all need to be able to do more than one dance, use more than one methodology to help students be successful. Our goal needs to be creating an educational experience for this century, not finding ways to keep using stone and chisel to keep The Saber-Tooth Curriculum intact.

Having all the right moves means being able to adapt, to change, to learn new steps in this dance we do. Knowing many of you as I do, and many advisors [and Student Affairs staff members] over the years, I have no doubt you will be leaders in this effort and I thank you for that.

Peddiwell, J. Abner. (2004, 1972, 1939). The Saber-Tooth Curriculum. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Best wishes,