Case for Technology Leadership at the SSAO Table

How many IT professionals attend student affairs conferences such as those offered by NASPA and ACPA? I would guess not too many. When I attended the first NASPA Technology Conference in Rhode Island a few years ago, there were only few IT professionals in attendance and those who attended expressed their frustration of the limited topics at the conference as most of the sessions revolved around social media. Why is it that while information and communication technologies  do span across student affairs organizations yet there seems to be such a big disconnect between IT staff and student affairs practitioners? Let me add another question, how many Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAOs) have technology backgrounds to make strategic and tactical decisions for effective and cohesive technology investments for their organizations? How many student affairs organizations have IT directors on their senior directors board?

As mentioned in this article about CSAO as Information Technology Managers,  SSAOs don’t necessarily have to have deep technical knowledge to be able to act as IT managers, as long as they have the technical staff to be able to provide them with the strategic and tactical guidance when it comes to technology investments and usage. However, if IT directors (or some form of technology leadership position) are not involved at strategic discussions held at the highest student affairs management level, opportunities for valuable input from those who have deep knowledge of the opportunities and pitfalls related to enterprise technology implementations and use are missed. As mentioned above, technology spans across all units of any student affairs organization and as such, the investment and use of technology must be approached from a holistic perspective and aligned with the purpose of student affairs.

I had previously advocated for a Dean of Student Affairs Technology position and I firmly believe that this position will need to exist in the future of student affairs. At the core of this position is the understanding of the philosophies, theories, and organizational framework that guide the work of the student affairs profession and the role technologies play within student affairs and the campus.

I have read the goals of the  ACPA Digital Task Force and NASPA’s Technical Knowledge Community as well as the work they’ve done and I am so grateful these two groups (as well as other similar groups) do exist and for the work they do. I think these groups are framing the right questions and they are leading the profession towards the better use of technologies for student development and learning. I do wish however that more IT leaders are involved with these very important strategic discussions. This lack of involvement of IT leadership at conversations being held at the national level mirrors what I think goes on at the campus levels.

The gap between technology professionals and student affairs practitioners need to be eliminated and this starts at the top of student affairs organizations. There needs to be a better understanding on how student affairs as an organization can best effectively serve students through technology and better partnership so technology implementations result in effective use. Technology leaders need to understand what student affairs is about so they can in turn influence their organization to think in the right framework. This understanding must go beyond business processes. Unfortunately, I think this gap will persists as long as technology leaders are not included as a member at the highest level of student affairs management and leadership.