Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

A Culture of Crisis or Opportunities to Build a Professional Knowledge Base?

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

A Culture of Crisis or Opportunities to Build a Professional Knowledge Base?

Article excerpt

News of the day sounds the alarm that we are a people in the midst of a never-ending assortment of crises. If one doubts this characterization of the contemporary mood of the nation consider the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the political unrest associated with the "Arab Spring" in Egypt, Libya, and Syria or the global financial turmoil in Greece with rippling effects throughout Europe. International crises shape a context in which impending financial unrest in the United States is causing angst over the national debt ceiling and subsequent global credit rating; thus, the dawning of America's postindustrial age now finds unshakable bedrocks of U.S. industry like General Motors and United Airlines recently teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The fact that education simultaneously shapes and reflects a community's collective mindset suggests educational headlines will also mirror the present hypercrisis sentiment.

Examples of these crises influencing higher education are located in the alarm associated with the rash of violence on university campuses, the growing number of postsecondary institutions sanctioned by national accrediting organizations, and some of the nation's most wealthy institutions experiencing significant losses to their endowments. And, as a result, many private institutions, religiously affiliated schools, women's colleges, and specifically minorityserving institutions have had to justify their continued utility in an increasingly competitive twenty-first century higher education landscape. The collection of these calamities have led postsecondary institutions to pay close attention to retention rates, professional development, enhancements to their curricular offering and modes of delivery, and ultimately ways to make their institutions more appealing to prospective students and more likely to retain and graduate their existing clientele.

Against this crisis-weary backdrop, I interject a clear definition of crisis within higher education informed by a brief historical perspective on the current hot-button issues within U.S. postsecondary education. 1 conclude my editorial remarks by highlighting the ways that the profession of college student affairs in general, and the excellent collection of articles in this edition of the College Student Affairs Journal in particular, highlight the role of student affairs professionals as frontline academicians and ultimately indispensible managers for addressing the crises/challenges associated with the current moment in higher education.


The reflections by an executive-level administrator at my home institution (Louisiana State University) during a dissertation defense place an interesting perspective on crisis and higher education. The dissertation was titled, "Crisis Management Post-Hurricane Katrina: A Qualitative Study of a Higher Education Institutions' Administrators' Response to Crisis Management." During the meeting, the administrator, who was a member of the dissertation committee and responsible for implementing the campuses crisis management plan during Hurricane Gustav commented:

Hurricane Katrina [which hit New Orleans in August of 2005] was a true crisis for the state, region, and our institution. However, Hurricane Gustav on the other hand [which hit the region 3 years later in 2008] was not a crisis. Gustav was a disaster, and although it was a significant disaster, we should not have been surprised. Gustav was an opportunity to access the feasibility of the crisis management plan that we set in place after Katrina.

This distinction between a crisis - a set of unforeseen events, or to such a significant magnitude - Hurricane Katrina - and a disaster, meaning events that may have been tragic, but we have actually seen similar occurrences of in the past - Hurricane Gustav. Hence, in the wake of Gustav the questions become: Have we learned the lessons from Katrina? …

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