Institutional leadership and the senior Student Affairs officer

E. Royster Harper, University of Pennsylvania


Whether one claims for the area of college student affairs a long and honorable history or a brief and troubled one, it is clear that the field is subject to deep institutional ambivalence about the role of the senior student affairs officer. While student affairs is recognized as an important complement to the academic life of the institution, there is an intellectual discounting of the role of student affairs work. Senior student affairs officers are caught in this ambivalence, and as a result have not reached their full potential for institutional leadership on campus. The literature on the leadership role of college student affairs administrators is minimal. Yet, as the need for effective and integrated institutional leadership grows, so does the need to understand and empower the role of the senior student affairs officer. This study focuses on two cases of senior student affairs officers managing campus crises, in order to illuminate ways in which senior student affairs officers can become effective institutional leaders. The hazing incident of the Marching 100 at Florida A & M University and the campus climate controversy over Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign are representative of challenges facing many colleges and universities. In each case, I sought to identify the leadership strategies of the senior student affairs officer in response to the crisis. In the management of the campus climate issue, I found that the senior student affairs officer was unable to provide leadership beyond her functional area. The senior student affairs officer handling the hazing crisis, by contrast, drew on multiple perspectives and provided effective institutional leadership. In order to be true institutional leaders—and for student affairs to become truly central to important institutional decision-making and strategy—I argue that senior student affairs administrators need to look beyond their functional roles and consider the institution as a whole. Systematic analysis using the structural, human resources, political, and symbolic “frames” articulated by Bolman and Deal (1997) can help senior student affairs officers develop effective operational strategies and make meaningful leadership contributions to the institution as a whole.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Harper, E. Royster, "Institutional leadership and the senior Student Affairs officer" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3124687.