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ERIC Number: ED527464
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 489
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1240-8363-6
In Search of a Break in the Clouds: An Ethnographic Study of Academic and Student Affairs Cultures
Arcelus, Victor J.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University
This study investigates the cultures of the academic and student affairs divisions within one selective residential liberal arts institution. Specifically, the study investigates how faculty and student affairs personnel perceive their own and each other's roles as educators on the campus and how these perceptions influence the potential for collaboration between the divisions that will optimally benefit students. During the last decade, a steady flow of research studies has called for educational reform relating to two core conceptual shifts in higher education. The first shifts the focus from teaching and instruction to student learning. The second shift calls for all institutional leaders and educators to imagine the college or university as a place that can create an integrated educational experience; one that breaks down institutional compartmentalization that contributes to a bifurcated conception of students' in- and out-of-class learning. As institutions re-evaluate their goals for the future, many aspire to create a learning-centered environment within an organizationally and programmatically seamless campus community. The goal is for students to develop an appreciation for the interconnectedness among components of their lives, strengthen their intellectual development, and cultivate a disposition toward life-long learning. This ethnographic study explores the tension between academic and student affairs staff members' roles on campus by exploring people's perceptions that influence the potential for a synergistic relationship between the divisions. The research questions focus on how academic and student affairs staff members perceive their own and each other's roles as educators and how these perceptions influence their perspectives on cross-divisional collaboration. These research questions are important to consider because the calls to action in higher education invite faculty and staff to reevaluate their roles and consider ways to develop educational programs that encourage students to become active and involved in their education while integrating their disciplinary and experiential lives. Given this charge, it is critical to consider the influence of institutional, divisional, and professional cultures on defining the role of the educator. At Crossroads University [pseudonym], I immersed myself in the campus culture for a complete academic year employing a three-pronged approach to data collection (interviews, participant observation, and artifact analysis) in order to understand the institutional culture, the divisional cultures, and their interactions. I conducted 154 formal interviews with 96 faculty, administrators, and students, and observed roughly 250 separate meetings and events. Throughout this study, I engaged participants in continued dialogue about my findings, interpretations, and emergent themes. Crossroads provided a wealth of data that revealed that the institution was in the midst of a "perfect storm." The "Crossroads Perfect Storm Model," introduced in this study, includes three "Storm Systems" (institutional leadership, academic affairs, and student affairs) colliding and creating a competitive and self-protective dynamic between the academic and students affairs divisions over the "Core Elements" (institutional mission and philosophy, resources as money, and resources as student time). Cultural drift and the campus ethos that have encouraged the divisions to operate largely independently of each other contribute to this perfect storm. At Crossroads, academic affairs staff members preoccupied themselves with the intellectual climate, a concern driven by a perceived attempt by student affairs to diminish "academic primacy." Student affairs professionals expressed concerns that faculty did not recognize their roles as educators. At the epicenter of the struggle is a debate over philosophies of education. The Crossroads case presents a comprehensive collage of perspectives shared by faculty and staff that reveal underlying perceptions, biases, and stereotypes that influence people's interpretation of the campus culture, climate, and staff members' roles within the organization. The Crossroads case analysis advocates that cross-divisional partnership should begin with meaningful and comprehensive intragroup and intergroup dialogue in order to examine people's roles, values, priorities, perspectives on student learning, and ultimately to discuss the areas where academic and student affairs staff can identify philosophical overlap. The strength of the partnership centers on self-awareness (through intragroup dialogue), understanding of the perspectives shared by members of the other division (through intergroup dialogue), and building meaningful relationships that can then facilitate the development of collaborative initiatives and the creation of a coherent and connected learning-centered campus. This study provides an integrated model for understanding the interconnected relationships between institutional leadership, academic affairs, and student affairs and recommendations for designing a campus ethos where faculty and administrators are engaged with students as learners advancing a learning-centered approach to education. The implications for theory and practice revisit the debate between "the life of the mind," which favors an institutional culture and campus ethos that focuses on students' intellectual development in isolation of other non-disciplinary learning opportunities, and "educating the whole student," which calls for the development of a campus culture and ethos that cultivates a broader conception of learning. The Crossroads case explores a campus debate that informs researchers, practitioners, and graduate students of the various competing issues and perspectives of which they should be aware as they grapple with their own discussions and planning for a future in higher education where learning-centeredness is the goal. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway, P.O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Tel: 800-521-0600; Web site:
Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A