Responding to Issues of Free Speech: A Campus-Wide Collaboration


Please join MA-NASPA, NECPA, ASCA, and BACHA as we invite Deans, Directors, and those responsible for conduct and managing speech on campus to join us for dinner. Faculty and senior student affairs staff will lead a discussion on free speech, hate speech, and finding our roles in between. Case studies based on both private and public institutions will follow.

Higher Ed Trends to Watch in 2019

By Emily Perlow, Assistant Dean of Students, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

As higher education professionals, keeping abreast of happenings in the world and anticipating the ways that these changes will affect our work is an ever-constant need. The world is rapidly changing and our students are evolving in response. Higher education is not always the most nimble enterprise, yet we’re called upon to be leaders in educating students for this rapidly shifting world.

In my 15+ years in higher education I’ve seen a lot of trends, some short-lived and some that have had lasting impacts. Here are the top 6 trends that I’m watching for 2019.

  1. Declining confidence in higher education. A Gallup study found a declining confidence in higher education as an industry. In 2015, 57% of respondents reported confidence in higher education compared to 48% in 2018. Notably, the greatest drops were among conservatives. Additionally, a Pew Research Foundation study found that 6 in 10 Americans say “higher education is going in the wrong direction.”  This report indicates skepticism about the way that professors socialize students to think in liberal ways, a belief that administrators are too concerned with shielding students from uncomfortable ideas, that colleges are failing to give students adequate job skills, and that the costs are too high. Student affairs professionals can play an important role in supporting students in better articulating job skills gained through co-curricular learning and in helping students critically think about their views on controversial ideas.
  2. Increasing tension between administrators and faculty. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted the declining value of the tenured professoriate. Tenure appears to erode a little each year and tensions over shared governance increase. Often student affairs professionals are caught in the middle—neither upper level administrator nor faculty member—yet our jobs are often cited as examples of administrative overgrowth. As a result of what I believe will be a long-term trend, I would suggest we need to capitalize on opportunities to participate in shared governance and rely on our shared experiences to foster collaboration opportunities with non-tenured faculty colleagues.
  3. Determining what counts as learning.  There is increasing discussion on what counts as learning, what tools should be used to support learning, and what learning spaces foster the best kinds of learning. As the Department of Education considers whether to redefine the credit hour, this could allow for more creative delivery of content and acknowledgement of prior and co-curricular learning. It’s possible this could be a game changer for institutions looking to better serve adult learners. It could also mean additional revenue streams for colleges that are faltering in a time of declining enrollments. Student affairs professionals are educators and the work we do contributes to immense amounts of learning for students. We must do a better job of capturing and measuring this learning in quantifiable ways.
  4. Increasing emphasis on educational innovation. The idea of innovation is everywhere. Our students are more entrepreneurial and higher education leaders are working to distinguish their university from the rest using innovative strategies. To do this well, we must question our assumptions. Is it possible to offer free college education? Can we really deliver quality education virtually and still engage in high impact practices? One important need for innovation across higher education as an industry is an increasing need for the development of courses, majors, and programs that adapt to changing markets. As a result, there is also an increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary programs that integrate learning from across the institution. This could be an incredible opportunity for student affairs professionals to emphasize our expertise in integrating reflection and meaning-making by partnering with faculty as these programs are being developed.
  5. Making higher education increasingly accessible to diverse populations. Recent events such as the lawsuit against Harvard and the recent admissions scandal will lead to increasing scrutiny on the admissions process. This is coupled with the fact that we’re seeing declining enrollments of international students. I hope that these events will compel colleges to interrogate our assumptions, policies, and processes and hopefully lead to important perspectives on the programs and services that both support and inhibit the success of students in accessing, succeeding, and completing college. There is a growing interest in first generation student enrollment. One important distinction that will be essential moving forward is to avoid conflating first generation with working-class as too many of our first-generation focused programs do. We must be meeting the needs of working class students, an identity group that has too often been ignored. Tied to this assertion, I believe we must also better adapt to the needs of students with intersectional identities. For example, how do we meet the needs of a first generation, working class, Latinx student? I would invite that each of us should be thinking about the well-intentioned policies, practices, and procedures that may not support equal access and to enact equity by design
  6. Mobilization of the student voice. As we approach 2020 as an election year, we should certainly expect that it will be years of polarization on our campuses. I think we will see less tolerance among students of the bad behavior among their peers, more protests, and more student advocacy. Additionally, today’s student is more willing to limit speech that is not inclusive, even if protected by the First Amendment, which I personally believe is a dangerous position. There will be an increasing need for student affairs professionals to teach students how to have controversy-with-civility and how to manage being confronted with uncomfortable ideas. It will also be important that we think about our own and our institution’s positions on free speech versus exclusive or offensive speech.

These are just a few of the trends affecting our day-to-day work. It is essential we stay attuned to the larger industry trends as they affect the ways resources are allocated at our institutions and the projects and programs that are prioritized. These trends also create opportunities for student affairs professionals. I would challenge you to always ask yourself: How does/could this affect my work or my institution?

Most important, I invite you to stay attuned to world events. Subscribe to the higher education publications and news publications of your choosing. Read articles and authors with whom you disagree and think about how those positions will affect your work. Share what you’re learning with your peers. Some of the best, most thought provoking conversations I have had with colleagues came over something I read in the Sunday Globe.

About the Author

Emily Perlow is Assistant Dean of Students in the Division of Student Affairs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Emily also currently teaches in the Central Connecticut State Student Development in Higher Education program.  She holds a Master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Leadership from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She volunteers actively with NASPA, AFA, NGLA, and Alpha Gamma Delta Women’s Fraternity.

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight- Sarah Santiago

Service to NECPA Award Winner- Sarah Santiago

What do you love most about working at Framingham State University?

I’ve only been at FSU for a couple months, but I love working with my team, especially my students. We have a small student team who do most of the campus space reservations, event support, event set-ups, and event tech. We put our full trust in them, and they work so hard to make each and every campus event a success!

Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?

My RD Shannon Jordan was one of the first people in my life to take what other people saw as flaws and show me how they can be my strengths and where those traits come from. She had a major impact on how I show up in this world and this work, and I will be forever grateful.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

Get involved- just like we encourage our students to do! My involvement in ACPA-College Student Educators International, the Massachusetts College Personnel Association, and the New England College Personnel Association has opened doors to opportunities, development, and relationships that I would not have had if I had just focused on my work at my home campus. Some of my favorite experiences and people have come into my life through my involvement, and volunteering is a great way to give back!

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight- Phitsamay Uy

Academic Excellence Award Winner- Phitsamay Uy

What do you love most about working at UMass – Lowell?

The students, staff, and faculty. My first generation, immigrant and refugee students of color are amazing and resilient. The students teach me so much and give me hope in these trying times. They remind me daily why I went into education in the first place. In addition, the staff and faculty are also so caring and dedicated. These people make me feel proud to be part of a community that supports students to reach their potential.

Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?

It was my Southeast Asian community. As a refugee community, our elders struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder from the Secret War in Laos, Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the Vietnam War and their children struggle with a high dropout rate due to their families lack of resources and lack of familiarity with U.S. school systems. As one of the few Southeast Asian educators nationwide, I feel compelled to ensure that there is support and encouragement of Southeast Asian and other minority students in higher education so they can help lift our communities out of poverty and struggle.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

As a higher education educator, I like using acronyms. So my advice is SEAK:

S— seek out a mentor/ally who you can bounce ideas, share advice and become your cheerleader

E—educate yourself on the cultural norms of your new position: what are the shared beliefs and values of your profession?   Learning about these will help you navigate this professional world.

A—always ask questions about people and their life interest; you want to get to know people outside of your work duties to help build rapport and community with your colleagues

K—keep your identity central to your work. You are a unique individual with wonderful experiences to share with others. Make sure you never compromise your identity because no one else can be you like you are!