It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and you have just finished a meeting with a very upset student. At issue is a question about financial aid/transfer credits/ [insert your own student dilemma here]. It’s not a problem that you can solve directly and you need guidance. And if you don’t get some answers it’s going to weigh on you all weekend. But it’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. How can you get this resolved? This is a moment where you need networks and allies. And not of the sort you might imagine. The people most likely to help you out of these and similar jams are people like the assistant registrar, the financial aid specialist, the associate dean of student life, and [insert the appropriate title from your institution here]. Yes, it is undeniably good to have the ear of the dean or the provost, but these other less illustrious, but perhaps even more essential, people are the ones who can make a difference in a pinch.
For starters, these are people who are probably still in the office at 4:30 on a Friday. They are also people in the business of providing answers and solving problems. Not sure about that policy for transfer credits from out of state? I bet the assistant registrar is. Can’t remember what how many credit hours are covered by the tuition band? I bet the financial aid specialist does. Not sure who to refer a student to when the bad grades are a result of a bad roommate situation? The associate dean of student life will know.
But it is not enough simply to have the campus extensions of these individuals on your speed dial. It is also imperative to get to know these individuals and cultivate good working relationships with them. Then you can be each other’s allies in helping students thrive and have a rich learning experience.
When I did research for my dissertation in overseas archives I quickly learned that while it was good to know the director of the archive or reading room, it was often even better to know the other members of the staff, the ones responsible for processing my many requests for documents and ferrying those items from the depths of the building to my desk in the reading room. Having positive relationships with them made my daily life in the archives pleasant and productive.
And so, too, with universities. As department chairs it is essential that we have connections to the corridors of power, but this is only part of the picture. On a daily basis we will also benefit by knowing the folks who, like us, do most of their work in the trenches.