Vice President for Student Affairs A How to Guide

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					                                                           Vice President 1


Running head: VICE PRESIDENT FOR STUDENT AFFAIRS




           Vice President for Student Affairs: A How to Guide

                             Steve Kreider

                      The University of Memphis
                                                                            Vice President 2


                                          Abstract

Student Affairs is a field that gets little respect in the higher education community. Often

times they are looked at as second class citizens by the academic side of higher

education. Along with this stigma, the field of student affairs seems to have little research

on the path to success. Specifically, there is little research on a proper path to becoming a

Vice President for Student Affairs. I interviewed Dr. Rosie Bingham, Vice President for

Student Affairs at the University of Memphis and Dr. Vicky Triponey, Vice President for

Student Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University. Through the interviews I drew a

few conclusions about the important skills and experiences needed to become a vice

president. This essay discusses some of their thoughts and then analyzes the similarities

and differences in their perceptions of a successful career path.
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        The field of student affairs is a very abstract field. It is difficult to find a true

definition of what the field even consists of. With each school having its own set of

offices as part of student affairs, it is hard to draw a fine line of what the field of student

affairs really entails. Aside from the vagueness of the field, we are relatively unknown to

the outside world. When the topic of higher education is brought up, the first thing people

think about is professors, and deans, and the president. People think about classrooms,

fundraising, and research. In fact, when I tell people that I want to be a Vice-President for

Student Affairs, they look at dumbfounded. Some of the more knowledgeable people ask,

“Is that like a Dean of Students?” I can’t complain about these people, because at least

they realize that there is more to higher education than the classroom. However, they are

still blind as to how much more there is.

        Maybe the reason people do not know about student affairs is because student

affairs doesn’t even completely know about themselves. By this, I mean that many people

in higher education question whether student affairs is even a profession. Bloland (1992)

says that for well over four decades, the field of college and university student affairs has

been wrestling with the question, "Are we a profession?" With all of the people who

work in student affairs, how can it be considered anything but a profession? Bloland

continues to explain the meaning of the question. Implicit in the question, and a

justification for its continuing examination, is a sense of marginality, of subordination of

student affairs staff in the academic enterprise (Bloland, 1992). With this explanation, it

can be seen why student affairs could be considered not to be a profession. As shown

before, people don’t even know what student affairs is. Therefore, based on the

measuring stick of subordination and marginality, it can be correlated that it would not be
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a profession. Asher (1994) says that student affairs professionals tend to function too

much as specialists and miss opportunities to make greater contributions to the

institutions they serve. By doing this, faculty and academic administrators look at the

field of student affairs as a much less useful part of the college experience.

       Even though I now know that it is not considered a profession, I still would like to

become a Vice-President of Student Affairs. Thus, it is important for me to understand

how to obtain this distinction. Unfortunately, along with the lack of respect for student

affairs professionals, there is also a lack of understanding that student affairs

professionals have of their own field. There is little research done on how to succeed in

the field. It is well known that a standard path to becoming a University president is to

work your way up from a professor holding a dean and/or a chair position along the way.

But little can be found on a proper path for a Vice President for Student Affairs. Part of

the reason for this is because there are so many paths that will lead to it. In order to find

out what kind of things were needed to be a vice president, I decided to ask some current

vice presidents. In order to get a better understanding of the position and a path, I decided

to interview Dr. Rosie Bingham, Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of

Memphis and Dr. Vicky Triponey, Vice President for Student Affairs at the Pennsylvania

State University. By interviewing a vice president from a large public urban institution

and one from a large public rural institution, I hope to be able to compare and contrast the

needs between both types of schools.

                                              Structure

       As discussed before, I selected one vice president from a large urban campus and

one from a large rural campus. I decided not to interview anyone from a small private
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school, because I would prefer to remain in public higher education. For future research,

it would be beneficial to look into all different types of institutions and not just large

public schools. Both of the interviewees were asked the same set of questions and each

interview lasted between thirty minutes to one hour. I conducted Dr. Bingham’s interview

face to face in her office, while I was forced to interview Dr. Triponey over the phone.

                                             Data Results

       The first two questions that I asked of the two vice presidents were “what jobs

have you had to become a vice president?” and “What education do you have?” Dr.

Bingham said that she started her career as a Resident Assistant at Elmhurst College as an

undergraduate student. She said that she always wanted to be a therapist, so it comes as

no surprise that all of her degrees are counseling related. As she continued to get degrees,

she decided that her eventual goal was to become the director of a counseling center. She

started off as a counselor at the University of Florida. While there she took as many extra

responsibilities that she could and soon became the coordinator of the division. From

there she was promoted to the Associate Director of the Counseling Center at the

University of Florida. Finally she reached her goal in 1985 and became the Director of

the Center for Student Development at the University of Memphis. There she was able to

get involved in numerous types of counseling and succeeded in creating an APA

accredited internship in the department. All of her hard work eventually earned her the

position of Assistant Vice President for Student Development after some organizational

restructuring at the university. Finally in 2003, she was named the Vice President for

Student Affairs. (R. P. Bingham, personal communication, November 12, 2004)
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       Dr. Triponey, when asked the same questions, said that she started her career as a

highly active undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown. Here she

was a Resident Assistant and an Orientation Leader. She also worked in the Dean’s

Office. Upon graduation she entered Indiana University of Pennsylvania to obtain her

Masters of Arts in Student Personnel Services. After she got her masters, she returned to

her undergraduate school as an Assistant Dean where she said she did a lot of different

things. Specifically, she was the director of new student orientation. Her next job was at

the University of Georgia as the Coordinator of Student Organizations and Media.

Eventually she left the University of Georgia to get a Ph.D. in Higher Education

Administration at the University of Virginia. After she had her Ph.D. she became the

Associate Vice President for Campus Life at Wichita State University. Three years later

she was named the Interim Vice President for Student Affairs at Wichita State. After a

year as the Interim Director she left to become to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

at the University of Connecticut. Finally in 2003, she was hired as the Vice President for

Student Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University. (V. L. Triponey personal

communication, November 17, 2004)

       The next question that was asked of them was “What positions are needed to be

hired as a vice president, and what positions, if different, are needed to be a successful

vice president?” Dr. Bingham said that it is helpful to have been a Dean of Students. She

also said that it is imperative to have some upper level management experience in the

field of student affairs. However, the most important thing she said is that a candidate

must have a broad range of experiences. She said that they cannot have a narrow

definition of what their positions have been (R. P. Bingham, personal communication,
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November 12, 2004). When I asked Dr. Triponey, she said that a classic student affairs

track with some kind of student activities experience is helpful. She mentioned that it is

important to have a progression of responsibility in the list of jobs. In order to be a

successful vice president, Dr. Triponey mentioned some different things. She said that

academic preparation with some basis in psychology and counseling is important as well

as a doctorate in higher education. Also, an important thing that is needed is to be

involved in professional organizations to help “grasp the bigger picture.” (V. L. Triponey

personal communication, November 17, 2004)

       I asked the same question next, only this time asked about the skills necessary to

get hired and, if different, be successful. Dr. Bingham said that a vice president needed to

be a leader and a manager. They must have a broad vision and be able to build

relationships. A vice president must also have good interpersonal skills and work hard.

To be successful as a vice president, Dr. Bingham added some more skills. She said that a

vice president needs to be able to listen and assess will. He or she must also understand

other people and understand that “the president’s agenda is your agenda.” A vice

president must understand the role of being a staff member to the president, and a leader

to everyone else (R.P. Bingham, personal communication, November 12, 2004). Dr.

Triponey felt that the skills needed to be successful were the same ones needed to be

hired as a vice president. Some of those skills she said were to be a change agent. By this,

she explained that you can’t settle for the “that’s the way we’ve always done it”

mentality. She also said that a vice president needs good human relations skills and must

be able to be a manager who can think critically and move at a rapid pace (V. L. Triponey

personal communication, November 17, 2004).
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       When asked about what new things are becoming important in the field of student

affairs that were not important in the recent past, Dr. Bingham said that higher education

has become more corporate. A vice president must be an entrepreneur who can work with

fundraising (R. P. Bingham, personal communication, November 12, 2004). Dr. Triponey

explained that while student affairs used to be experts on fun and games and just needed

to keep the students in control, now they are the experts on the students. She said that

other administrators look to student affairs for answers about students. Dr. Triponey also

said that budget management and setting a culture for change is rapidly becoming

important (V.L. Triponey, personal communication, November 17, 2004).

       The next question that I asked the two was whether or not someone can be hired

and be successful as a vice president staying either in the same specific field or getting all

three degrees at the same school. Both Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey said that it was

more important what one does outside of the specific positions that really mattered. As

long as a candidate has gotten a broad range of experience outside of his or her regular

job, then having all their jobs in the same direct field would not be a factor. In regards to

getting all degrees at the same school, both of them also agreed that it was not smart to

get all of the degrees at the same place. They both felt that a person needs to go to

multiple places to learn, but again they stressed that as long as the candidate’s outside

experiences were diverse, it is very possible to be a successful vice presidents (R. P.

Bingham, personal communication, November 12, 2004; (V. L. Triponey personal

communication, November 17, 2004)).

       Next, I asked the two vice presidents the question, “What are some experiences

that you’ve had that have been helpful, but not necessarily required, for your job or
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another vice president’s job?” Dr. Bingham said that having a diverse set of life

experiences can be helpful. She also said that practice in dealing with confrontational

situations will be beneficial. Some other things she mentioned were leading an interesting

life, and being widely read in areas outside of student affairs (R. P. Bingham, personal

communication, November 12, 2004). Dr. Triponey mentioned that a vice president

would find it helpful to have two types of people in his or her life. The first type that is

helpful is caring mentors. She said these should be people who are seasoned in the field

and will help you grow and help you notice your skills. The other type of person is a

caring spouse who is willing to move around with you, because the career path requires a

lot of moving. Dr. Triponey also touched on such things as connecting with students and

being a visionary. She said that it is important to be open to communication with students

and to always think and help others think creatively. Also, she mentioned that a vice

president has to juggle lots of tasks, so being a successful multi-tasker can also be

beneficial (V. L. Triponey personal communication, November 17, 2004).

       The next question that I asked each of them was what kind of person they would

hire to replace them. Dr. Bingham said that a person with good people skills and is an

innovative and pragmatic thinker can be very successful. She said having a willing spirit

and being willing to meet the people can also be helpful. However, the most important

thing that she said would be helpful is to have a good sense of humor. She said that

because student affairs positions are not power positions and sometimes you are

considered second class citizens, it is easy for one to forget why he or she is doing the

job. Having contagious laughter and the outlook that there are no bad days is important to

staying happy as a vice president (R. P. Bingham, personal communication, November
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12, 2004). To answer the same question, Dr. Triponey said that she would hire someone

who has worked in a complex system. She also said that her replacement should have an

enthusiastic and passionate attitude with lots of energy so that he or she can give his or

her all. Some other things that Dr. Triponey would look for is the proper academic

credentials as well as management leadership skills (V. L. Triponey personal

communication, November 17, 2004).

       Finally, I asked both vice presidents if they could remember any strange paths to

the vice president position that they have come across. Dr. Bingham immediately brought

up the former vice president at the University of Memphis who was a Political Science

professor before becoming vice president. However, the strangest path that she

remembers was a lawyer of a university president being hired as the Vice President for

Student Affairs (R. P. Bingham, personal communication, November 12, 2004). Dr.

Triponey said that some common but strange paths are ex-politicians who represented

that area and former athletes from their respective university. She also said that she

knows of one past vice president who was a successful astronaut (V. L. Triponey

personal communication, November 17, 2004).

                                           Data Analysis

       The first question that was asked of the two resulted in two different career paths.

Both Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey seemed to have a fairly clear cut path that they

followed, but they were in different parts of Student Affairs. Dr. Bingham was able to

become successful through a path in counseling while Dr. Triponey focused her career

path towards a student activities focus. From this, it can be deduced that one path through

student affairs is not necessarily the correct path. Similar to the job history question, both
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of the vice presidents showed that they had an educational background in their respective

field. Dr. Bingham again showed her preference for counseling with three degrees in that

field while Dr. Triponey chose to go a student affairs administration route with her

degrees.

       Both Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey expressed the need for some kind of

progression through management ranks in order to become a Vice President for Student

Affairs. However, only Dr. Triponey mentioned that academic preparation was important

for a vice president. Dr. Triponey mentioned that a foundation in some kind of counseling

can be beneficial which compares to Dr. Bingham’s own experience in the counseling

field. I also found out from both of them, that it isn’t necessarily important where you get

your degrees, but what you do while you’re there. This mirrors the same kinds of

comments that I have heard throughout the field of Student Affairs.

       In regards to the field of student affairs, both Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey

mentioned the need for budget management. While this was an experience that they both

suggested was important, they also both claimed that this was quickly becoming more

important in the field. This shows that urban schools and rural schools are both forced to

work extensively with budgets. Of course, this is a fair assumption to make of any school

due to the recent focus on state appropriations and fiscal responsibility.

       One of the most important common responses from both Dr. Bingham and Dr.

Triponey was their repeated stressing of the need to get outside experiences. With various

questions that were asked, they both found ways to include the need for a breadth of

experience into each answer. Clearly, the more broad experience one can get, the more

successful that person can be in the field of student affairs. Another common response
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was that it was important for a vice president to be in support of change. It is important in

the field of student affairs to be an innovative thinker who can come up with new ideas

for the entire job.

        While there were a few things that both Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey agreed

upon, there were not many things that they disagreed with. Instead, they seemed to

mention slightly different things that were not necessary contrasting. Dr. Triponey made

it a point to mention that in order to be a vice president at Penn State, one should have

experience with a large university system. Clearly this would not be something that Dr.

Bingham would mention due to the one campus structure of the University of Memphis.

Dr. Bingham, however, was the one who mentioned a sense of humor as being an

important feature of a vice president. While Dr. Triponey chose to mention less about

personality and more about experiences.

                                        Conclusions

        It is clear from my interviews that my original assumption that there was no one

clear path to becoming a Vice President for Student Affairs was correct. In fact, out of all

the vice president’s in the country, I chose to interview two, and they both had

remarkably different paths. These are great odds that there are many more paths possible.

As different as the paths were, both Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey seemed to have a very

similar outlook on the position that they held. I found that there was little difference

between the values of a vice president between a large public rural campus and a large

public urban campus.

        The most important thing that was expressed by Dr. Bingham and Dr. Triponey is

the need for expansion. It is absolutely necessary that whatever job title a person has, if
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that person wants to succeed, he or she must get involved in outside functions. To do this,

one could do numerous different things. By getting involved in a professional

organization, a student affairs officer can get a very broad experience in the field as well

as network with people from all over the field. Locally, student affairs employees can

also get involved in various committees throughout the institution that are outside of the

immediate field that he or she normally works in. Finally, getting involved in various

campus activities, programs, and events can help a person gain a broader experience in

the field of student affairs as well. Along with this need for expansion of experiences, it is

also extremely important to recognize that as long as a person is getting these outside

experiences, it is ok for him or her to get all of three degrees from the same school, stay

in the same career path, or hold multiple positions at the same school. However, this is

not highly advisable.

       As far as the type of person that will make a successful vice president, it is

important to be open to change. By not only being open to change, but by seeking

change, a person can have a great deal of success in the field of student affairs. It is

important for interested candidates to get experience in budget management as the field

of higher education rapidly moves towards becoming a business. Another important thing

to recognize is that anyone who is interested in becoming a Vice President of Student

Affairs must be willing to work hard and be very enthusiastic about the very busy life of

a student affairs employee.

       It is clear that there must be a lot more research done on this subject. By

interviewing two people, I was able to come up with a few ideas that will help someone

who is interested in a student affairs career. However, with those two people, I was able
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to come up with numerous differences in their paths. For now though, there is a clearer

understanding of what it takes to be a Vice President for Student Affairs. However, if you

cannot fulfill the standard skills and career path, you can always become as a vice

president if you are an ex-athlete or an astronaut.
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                                           References

Asher, B.T. (1994). A president’s perspective of student services delights and debits

       (Report No. EDO-CG-94-01). Greensboro, NC: ERIC Clearinghouse on

       Counseling and Student Services. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.

       ED366855)

Bloland, P.A. (1992). The professionalization of student affairs staff (Report No. EDO-

       CG-92-29). Ann Arbor, MI: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel

       Services. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 347495)