The Ins and Outs of Working in a One-Person Student Conduct Office
By Julie Draper Davis, Ph.D. and Matthew Sullivan
It is not uncommon for student conduct administrators at a variety of institutional types to have sole responsibility over their institution's student conduct process (and oftentimes much more). Working in a one-person office comes with many challenges but can bring about many rewards. Having recently transitioned from a five-person office, we recently learned a great deal about working in one-person student conduct offices. While one of us works at a large community college and the other works at a small, private university, several themes have emerged from our lived experiences for successful management of this unique working situation.
You wear lots of hats.
- Many of us in one-person student conduct offices wear many hats. Often our position requires us to take on additional duties not related to student conduct that provide us with different ways to work with students on our campuses. For many, this helps keep the job challenging and interesting. It provides learning opportunities and new experiences to help us grow as student conduct administrators and prepare us for that next position. It can be overwhelming at times, but it also can fuel us when the student conduct bogs us down, and help us find new things that we love to do.
You likely experience a high level of autonomy.
- Being the sole experts on student conduct on our campuses provides a lot of autonomy in our work. We are able to develop policies, draft student conduct codes, and develop educational sanctions in the ways that we know will fit best with our conduct program. Our supervisors are often stretched thin too and so there is a high level of trust that we will work autonomously to advance the student conduct program.
A network of student conduct colleagues is so important.
- Now having spent some time in one-person offices, we've found the importance of ASCA and the network of colleagues it provides us. We often use this network to troubleshoot new ideas, strategize next steps, empathize with us about the most recent St. Patrick's Day shenanigans, and provide support when times are tough. As the only person primarily focused on student conduct on our campuses, we don't have the luxury of an automatic professional network down the hall or in the building next door. Very rarely do we find somebody who gets the work that we do and the decisions we have to make. Talking through an incident involves so many explanations that it makes the efforts feel never-ending. That's why we have found that having a network of student conduct administrators available to us has been a life-saver. There are many of us in one-person offices across this country and it's important to identify colleagues who can support and challenge you when you need it.
- Some of us have the benefit of help from housing professionals across campus, and they can be an amazing resource to talk through conduct issues and help support your student conduct program. Conduct may only be a part of their important work but they can still be a very helpful network since they understand your student population and the campus politics.
A developed peer network on campus will be invaluable.
- While many of us have excellent supervisors, it's very likely we don't see them frequently. Having a network of peers we can talk to and consult with help us get things done and feel like we are a part of our campus communities. Our campuses are political organizations and we know that relationships are key to getting things done. It's vitally important to have a network of people who can help you navigate the systems that have been created on each of our campuses. Maybe you don't know how exactly to classify that p-card purchase, or maybe you're struggling with how to get IT to update the data feed for your database – it's very likely you have peers who can help you best figure out how to handle these situations.
- More importantly, let's be real – it gets lonely being an office of one. For many of us, we are literally the only person in our office space. Having people we can communicate and collaborate with can help build a supportive working environment. While some of these colleagues may not know exactly how your job works, they will know you and will be your ally.
Creative solutions to completing the work can be helpful.
- For many of us, we lack administrative support. If possible, a highly functioning student conduct database can be an amazingly helpful non-human colleague if you can afford it. Not only do these systems help you better track your students and your cases, but they also ensure that you'll have data available to you in a matter of minutes. The best databases will also help you quickly draft and send letters to students, saving you tons of time that we know you need.
- Also, consider whether you have to (or are even able to) meet with every student. After assessing your campus culture, there may be ways to respond to reports without having to meet with everyone involved. Some student conduct administrators will send a letter of warning or an acknowledgement as a follow-up that many students will take seriously. While the goal of many of us is to meet and work with as many students as we can, it might not be possible to do so. There may be some solutions that can also have positive impacts on students that may not require you to have a meeting.
You will have to handle a lot but you can't be everything to everyone.
- Being the only person in the office will mean that you will have to handle most everything that comes your way. Your days often get derailed with crisis and emergencies and it's hard to attend to your ever growing to do list. This can put a lot of pressure on you so look for ways to prioritize your work while also giving yourself space to recharge and refocus when needed. Say no when it's appropriate and reserve your energy for your strategic priorities.
- One thing to prepare for is having to set strong boundaries to enable a work-life balance or integration. With just one person in your office, it's really difficult to completely shut off during vacations and other time off. It's important to set boundaries and establish protocols ahead of your time off so there is somebody to help triage incidents when you take this much-deserved and needed break.
We think working in a one-person office can be very rewarding if you are intentional about how you approach the work. There are challenges that are very real, but the experience creates numerous opportunities to set and meet goals and move your student conduct program forward and help you grow as a professional.
Julie Draper Davis, Ph.D. is the District Conduct Officer at Pierce College, a multi-campus community college in Pierce County, Washington.
Matthew Sullivan is the Interim Dean of Students and the Director of Student Conduct & Off-Campus Community at Regis University, a Catholic, Jesuit university in Denver, Colorado.