Have you encountered the Dean Wormer syndrome on your campus? Even if you’re not familiar with the American classic Animal House, you’ve surely encountered the Dean Wormer syndrome – you know, the widespread notion that the top priority of college administrators is to ruin the lives of their students. Whether it’s because of parking tickets, drinking citations or grade deflation, college students often believe that the administration spends their days conspiring to make life tough for all of their students.
After I graduated from college in May, I became one of those “evil administrators” at my alma mater. My experience working here has not only destroyed all of those conspiracy theories, but confirmed my suspicions that administrators in higher education actually do care about the growth and well-being of their students. The sooner students realize this fact, the sooner they will be able to take advantage of all their college has to offer. And trust me: no matter where it is you go to school, mentoring relationships with trusted and wise administrators are one of the best resources your college can offer you.
Administrators’ intentions are always good.
During my junior year of college, I had a conversation with an academic dean about the recent decision to raise the GPA requirement for the Dean’s List. I was upset because I wanted to be on the Dean’s List and felt that they were setting the bar too high. It was explained to me that over half of our student body was on the Dean’s List – which took away the prestige of such an honor and demonstrated that faculty and administrators thought our student body was capable of working towards a higher goal. What may seem like an unfair policy change may actually be for the betterment of your institution and a challenge to improve yourself. Always ask about the intention behind such changes because the answers may surprise you.
Administrators are open to new ideas.
Every time a policy is created or changed, administrators ponder all of the ways it could positively and negatively affect students. The reason why a particular policy exists is because a group of decision makers believed it was the best option at the time it was implemented. Perhaps you think the positive aspects of that policy are outdated or not working effectively. What’s the best way to get this point across? Politely demonstrate your concern and pair it with some suggestions about alternative options. Whether you think the ticketing process for athletic games no longer works or the dining hall’s quality has gone down, someone is always willing to listen to your ideas. Complaining will only take you so far – if you really want to gain the respect of an administrator, work with them to find solutions.
Administrators serve many constituencies.
Sure, a university is centered on the education and development of its students. However, it can be easy to forget that college administrators have many constituencies who they serve in their day to day work – like alumni, faculty, parents and donors. Why are the needs of these groups important? All of them contribute to the overall effort of the university – making your experience as a student even better. Have you ever heard students complaining about faculty salary raises affecting their tuition costs? Without competitive pay, your university may not have first rate faculty, and without first rate faculty, the value of your degree may suffer. Administrators are acutely aware of the way in which one decision can affect multiple parties. Their job is often about how to best balance the needs of all these groups, so remember that when approaching them.
Administrators want to connect with students in meaningful ways.
We’ve already established that the work of administrators is well intentioned and sometimes tough because they have to manage the needs and expectations of so many people. They are definitely busy people, but the most important part of their day is interacting with students. Why? They see the fruits of their labor when they meet with you. Higher education’s product is more intelligent and developed individuals who are prepared for life after college. This product is tough to quantify. The Vice President of Marketing at a Fortune 500 company can quantify the increase in sales after his latest advertising strategy was implemented, but the Vice President of Student Affairs at your school will have a tough time measuring the growth of his or her students after a series of programs aimed at helping students better understand themselves. Ask an administrator whose work or attitude you respect to grab a cup of coffee. They will make the time for you. Seeing you advance as a student is better than any performance report or raise – and it’s the entire reason they entered the field of higher education.
In conclusion, administrators might have a different idea of what’s best, but there is probably good reason for it. They’re always willing to discuss an issue and compromise is often an option. Above all of that, they want what’s best for you. So it’s official – I’ve determined that the administration at my alma mater and your college are not the enemy. In fact, they are on your team every step of the way – even when you may not know it.
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