Friday, November 6, 2009

An Alternative to “Housing” for the Higher Ed Lexicon

Recently, I wrote that I thought the “Housing” ought to come out of the higher ed lexicon. So what about a replacement?

I have not tinkered for years, mentally, with what an alternative name could be—particularly one that wouldn’t be a true mouthful. One idea- “ACU” for Academic Residential Environments (ACUARE). And maybe we should throw the key word “learning” in there somewhere. I argued in my introduction to the ACUHO/FYE monograph years ago that residence halls have always been a place for “learning.” But I think the question has increasingly become: what should students be learning in such contexts and is what they definitely are learning what we would ideally want them to be learning? So, how about “Academic Residential Learning Environments” (ACUARLE)? or “Collegiate Residential Academic Learning Environments” (CRALE). That last acronym is slightly more pronounceable! “Collegiate” is generic for “college and university” and “collegiate” is also meant to differentiate from “corporate” as in outsourced housing. I think that somewhere the three words “residential” and “academic” and “learning” are central. I am sure there could be other semantic reorderings for consideration. The practical question would immediately be thrown out: “Well, what would the “Housing office on campus become known as?” Good question. How about simply the “Residential Learning” office? Students would have to sign a “residential learning” contract. Campuses would adopt “residential learning” policies. There, that’s solved. Quite simple. And it is a great improvement over “housing” which, again, says nothing about learning—or being “on campus.”

I think the time for a name change has come. What a boost a name change would give to the whole movement to push student affairs in more academic directions. It seems not changing the name flies in the face of everything the student affairs profession has been trying to do since 1994 with the first publication of the profession’s core mantra: The Student Learning Imperative. Or more recently restated as: Learning Reconsidered.  Finally, I think I am put off by the language of ACUHO because it is fundamentally a business paradigm and not an educational one. In that sense it is in keeping with other more “corporate” directions of the academy which profoundly disturb me. Ah, I feel the subject of another blog coming on.

John N. Gardner

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Let’s take the “H” out of Housing: It’s all in a name!

In the late 80’s when I was directing the National Resource Center for The First Year Experience at USC, we entered into a collaborative project with ACUHO, the Association of College and University Housing Officers--International, namely, to produce a monograph on the importance of the “residential first-year experience.” This seemed like a no brainer for me in that the largest percentage of students in college-owned residence halls are first-year. Well, we had a great partnership and such a monograph was produced.

At the same time the outsourced “housing” movement was developing and more and more companies were getting into the act and I began to see them as a threat potentially, and certainly a competitor to college owned housing operations. It seemed apparent to me that “housing” is not the core business of the academy whereas “housing” was the core business of these companies. I came to conclude that “housing” was really not the business we should be in and that the very term itself was inviting outsourced “housing” to organizations that could do it better. My argument was/is that we are in the “education” business, but conducted in a residential context on college campuses. Now this is more than a semantic distinction. Names reflect culture and values.

At the same time for a half century or so the US higher ed accounting model had classified “housing” as “auxiliary” revenues. I came to regard this as a terrible idea because it reinforced the perception that the primary role of such units was to “make money.” Hence the reporting model, I understand at many places “housing” reports through business channels.

And further, at the same time, in the 1990’s I became very involved in promoting the basic theme that we needed to ramp up the extent of “academic” initiatives in the residence halls, particularly the concept of “residential colleges.” So, again, in partnership with housing professionals, we at the USCNRC published a monograph on the residential college concept.

Then I went over the edge. I wrote, I seem to recall either the President or a number of the members of the ACUHO Board of Directors, this was somewhere in the mid-late 90’s and I spelled out my concerns about the “H” in their name. I got no response. I assume they felt, quite correctly, that my feedback was both unsolicited and meddling.

And, so, that brings us to where we are today: the “H” is still there. I see the “H” as a vestige of the old era of student affairs work, largely unconnected to the academic enterprise and mission and more concerned with “affairs” than with learning. I have also seen the role of the “H” played out on many campuses where the “housing director” is either still attached to the vestigial view of such facilities and/or in conflict with more contemporary thinkers and trying to integrate the academic curriculum into the residential life environs. So, in conclusion, I see the presence or absence of the “H” as being fundamental to what this profession is all about. I also believe that the higher ed residential setting has changed much more than the ethos of the organization, apparently, by the continuing presence of the “H”.
Ok, now what to do about this? More in my next post.

John N. Gardner

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The New Normal for “Night School”

I am in Boston which is of no consequence to any reader, but this reminds me of an attention grabbing story in The New York Times last week, page 1, above the fold, about a new meaning to “night school.” The focus of the story was on the huge influx of enrollment of students into community colleges and the resultant space capacity crunch and how some colleges were dealing with this by expanding hours of operation. As an illustration, Bunker Hill Community College in Boston is offering classes starting as late as 11:30 PM running until 2:30 AM. Other colleges are moving earliest class to 6:00 AM. So readers, how many of us were so committed to our own college experience that we would go at 11:30 at night or 6:00 AM in the morning to an academic event?!

So here I am in Boston where American higher education began in 1636 with the founding of Harvard, and where the ongoing refinement of higher education is taking still another new form. Given the low probability of increased government funding for higher education, this massive shift of students into the two-year sector will be the “new normal.”

This leads me to think of the resilience, the adaptability, the creativity, the necessity, of both our higher ed enterprise and our students. They need us more than ever. Our country needs them more than ever. Personally, I admire the kind of thinking that went into the decisions to make higher ed available, literally at all costs, in any legitimate way, and the remarkable determination and courage of those seeking what we have to offer.

We have a great responsibility to such students, all our students. What a privilege to work with such brave new beginners. And we all have students like these.

John N. Gardner