Student Affairs Professionals at Catholic Colleges and Universities: Honoring Two Philosophies

Article excerpt

Student affairs professionals are encouraged by their professional organizations to recognize the responsibility they have to their institutions by "supporting its mission, goals and policies" (American College Personnel Association [ACPA], 2006, p. 6) and by avoiding conflicts of interest between the self and the college or university (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators [NASPA], 1990). While some would say that the philosophy that guides student affairs professionals fits quite well with the mission of Catholic institutions (Gallin, 1990), others point out that most student affairs professionals are educated at secular universities and experience little preparation regarding the Catholic intellectual tradition (Estanek, 2001). The purpose of this study was to explore the following questions: Are there student affairs professionals at Catholic colleges and universities who are able to bring together a student affairs philosophy with that of Catholic colleges and universities? If these professionals do exist, what can we learn from their knowledge and approaches that might help other student affairs professionals at Catholic colleges and universities to honor both philosophies? The results suggest that a great deal can be learned from seasoned professionals in Catholic student affairs, which may well assist new professionals in negotiating these two different philosophies.

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Currently over 220 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States enroll more than 700,000 students (Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities [ACCU], n.d.). Student affairs work in these 220 institutions cannot be characterized easily because of the diversity of institution type represented in Catholic higher education. While institutional missions are unique to the history and tradition of each college, university, and founding order, each institution shares a certain identity in its relationship to the Catholic Church. Student affairs professionals are encouraged by professional organizations to recognize responsibility to their institutions by "supporting its mission, goals and policies" (ACPA, 2006, p. 6) and by avoiding conflicts of interest between the self and the college or university (NASPA, 1990). However, only a handful of student affairs graduate preparation programs exist in Catholic higher education. Therefore, most student affairs professionals are educated in public universities (Estanek, 2001). Estanek (2002) suggested that this is problematic because of fundamental differences between assumptions of the Catholic Church and the student affairs profession. The purpose of this study was to learn from student affairs professionals in Catholic higher education who have found ways to incorporate a strong Catholic, institutional identity and a solid student affairs approach in their work. Using a grounded theory methodology, we interviewed 7 professionals who others reported met these requirements.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

The role of the student affairs professional in American higher education is to promote student development and learning through programs, policies, and relationships with students. While this role has remained relatively consistent as the profession itself has developed over the past half century, the view of this role has changed as the academy has changed. As the academy has become less content-centered and more student-centered (Blimling & Whitt, 1999), an increase in collaboration between student affairs and academic affairs on college campuses has been noted. This approach to educating students is centered on developing good citizens, those who will contribute positively to our world society. In this respect, student affairs practitioners are well-suited to work in Catholic higher education where developing world citizens is also a value. Gallin (1990) suggested Catholic higher education has a climate that supports the development of friendship and community and therefore reinforces the idea that the Catholic setting is one where students can grow as human beings. …