How come there are Dean of Academic Technology positions but not a Dean of Student Affairs Technology? This is a question that crosses my mind from time to time. According to Kevin Guidry’s research on the history of student affairs and technology, technology has been a part of student affairs for decades but I’m not sure as to why such a position has not existed before. Maybe it does exist at some higher education institution but I am just not aware of it. After doing web search for “dean of student affairs technology”, I did not find any.  Given the role technology plays in all areas of today’s student affairs, I think there should be a position at the divisional level to provide strategic direction and leadership on how to best use technology towards the goals of student affairs, and be the bridge between student affairs units and IT department.  In my opinion, this is a position that requires theoretical/practical knowledge of student development issues and student services as well as background in technical management/leadership. [pullquote]I conceptualize it as a position that combines the knowledge and experience of a Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO) and a Chief Information Officer (CIO).[/pullquote]  Folks who have these backgrounds are probably very limited.  However, I think it is a position that should be considered as student affairs’ dependency on technology continues to increase and become more complex. It is critically important that the application of technology be rooted on student affairs theories and practices, and not the other way around.

One might ask if an IT Director could fulfill the responsibilities of this proposed position. I have worked in student affairs IT at the divisional level since 1996 to know that providing leadership/management to an IT department is a demanding  full-time job in itself.  I am also going to assume the expertise and experience of IT Directors, more likely than not, are technical and not as student affairs practitioners. Will Barratt, in his article Managing Information Technology in Student Affairs A Report on Policies, Practices, Staffing and Technology, provides a good summary of the responsibilities and challenges of IT management. A full service IT department has several components that could include: information systems and software development services, enterprise architecture, business analysis, help desk and reporting services.

On the other end, can a functional department director or even someone who is considered tech-savvy in a particular department, but does not have experience implementing/supporting divisional level enterprise solutions, fulfill the Dean of Student Affairs Technology role? I probably would say no. The reason why is because using and supporting technology at the department level is different from the responsibilities of supporting technology at the divisional level in terms of scope and expertise. Consider the fact that student affairs does consist of many units with their own unique information systems (student health information systems, enrollment management systems, case management, residential management systems, etc) and these information systems are most likely integrated in some ways with a campus student information system. Understanding the culture, business practices and technical requirements of these units require an enterprise approach.

I once had a conversation with UCSB’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young about which advanced degree I would like to pursue, a Master in Information Systems or Master/Doctoral in Higher Education? I thought about it and responded with “I’d like to pursue both”. The reason why I said that is because I am personally interested in both technology and student affairs and I also think that the future of leadership in student affairs require an understanding of both areas.  If student personnel graduate programs do not already offer courses in technology (and management) in their curriculum, it would probably a good time right now to do so.

What’s your take on the need to have a Dean of Student Affairs Technology position? How about technology in student affairs, in general?