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The Administrator and the Educator in Student Conduct



by Kiara F. Allison, M.Ed.


As found in ASCA's Ethical Principles and Practices in Student Conduct Administration, student conduct administrators are professional educators who enforce the standards of conduct within colleges and universities.  In my years of practicing student conduct, I have found that it is far easier to take on the role of administrator than it is to take on the role of educator.  
 
by Kiara F. Allison, M.Ed.

As found in ASCA's Ethical Principles and Practices in Student Conduct Administration, student conduct administrators are professional educators who enforce the standards of conduct within colleges and universities.  In my years of practicing student conduct, I have found that it is far easier to take on the role of administrator than it is to take on the role of educator.  

If student conduct administrators are professional educators, then first it is necessary to ask ourselves the question of what are we educating for? Personally, I define myself as a critical educator, which means that I reject and challenge certain notions that are insidious in dominant education. Particularly, in student conduct, I recognize that laws and rules are more reflective of power than of morality, fairness, or justice. I also recognize that the work that we do does not happen in a vacuum, rather it is happening during a specific political, cultural, and social climate that should make us think more deeply about our work. Case in point, students are being held responsible for marijuana on campuses while there are wealthy investors making millions off of the same “illicit” drug.  Lastly, and most relevant to this post, I reject the notion that education is nothing more than the sum of inputs- or that if we do/teach/expose students to X+Y then the outcome will always be Z, which is a pervasive assumption in all of education. Taking this all into consideration, the answer to what are we educating for becomes important.

For me, my work as an educator in student conduct is less about discipline or moral training and far more about working with students in such a way that speaks to their humanity. Educating for humanity means to educate students to be able to make choices, to be reflective, to understand their responsibility to others, to be able to critically analyze the world that they live in, and most importantly, allowing students the ability to start anew. This orientation towards my work influences how I interact with students, how our conversations unfold during conduct meetings, how I sanction them, and what I advocate for on their behalf.

After the educator has considered what exactly they are educating for, then the educator must also become comfortable with the tensions inherent in education. The earlier mentioned assumption of “inputs and outputs” in education stems from the desire to have control and is one of the reasons why it is easier to be an administrator than an educator. In conduct, sometimes we can falsely believe that if we sanction in a certain way, then we will have the desired outcome. In reality, education is messy and cannot clearly be mapped whether it is in a classroom or in a hearing officer's office. If we see ourselves as administrators, then we slip into using stock conversations when dealing with students, and we rely on sanctioning guidelines stringently.

However, if we see ourselves as educators, we have to relinquish some of that perceived control over the situation and ask ourselves what is educationally appropriate in this situation? What educational assumptions are underlying my decisions? Why is this best for this individual student? These types of questions take us into an uncomfortable space as conduct officers because we have to balance fairness and consistency in sanctioning along with the needs of the individual student, but this tension is necessary. This is why it is harder to be an educator than to be an administrator. Being an educator requires us to feel the tension in balancing multiple, and sometimes competing, responsibilities to the student, the community, and the institutions in which we work.

In essence, there needs to be a distinction between best practices and the educational nature of student conduct. Best practices are good, and we need them. This is not a point that I dispute. However, they need to always be balanced with, and tested against, the educational mission of our work, which is where things can get uncomfortable and messy. This requires conduct officers to be reflective and to have constant vigilance in making sure that they are not slipping too far into the role of the administrator.
 
 

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