The book, as the representation of a significant body of thought, of research or of practice, still holds a place of honour in our society and in the field of student services. And so it was with great glee that many of us heralded the arrival of what is arguably the first ever book on the practice of student services in Canada. Achieving Student Success: Effective student services in Canadian higher education, edited by Donna Hardy-Cox and Carney Strange, was years in the making and an easy choice for my selection for the 2010 Open Book session at CACUSS 2010.
A full review – in conversation form – by Tricia Seifert, Dray Perenic and myself appears in the June 2010 edition of the CACUSS publication Communique. At the conference, I elaborated on some of my key criticisms of the book. But before I summarize them here, let me say first that every one of the 16 different chapter authors (including the two editors) deserve our full gratitude for persevering with this labour of love and telling our story. But just as this book represents the development of our field of practice, we must also be prepared for the growing pains that come along with the maturation process.
The core of the book is a set of explanatory chapters, written by active practitioners, providing an overview of a specific area of student services — from registrarial services (actually, quite a fascinating read) to housing and residence life, first year and orientation and more, through to a very well thought-out chapter on management of student services by Brian Sullivan. But services for international students and students with disabilities are given only mentions in more overarching chapters on health and wellness and/or services for diverse students. I now understand that there is a volume II of Achieving Student Success planned that will address these gaps. This I eagerly await as I think one of the hallmarks of our field in Canada is its focus on vigilant protection of human rights and equity.
My primary criticism of the book is leveled not at its cast of authors, but at the culminating argument made by its authors. Hardy-Cox and Strange make a strong case for the professionalization of student services in Canada: “It is our belief that the kinds of understandings, insights, and strategies associated with the programs and practices reflected in the above chapters require that practitioners in this field be prepared more systematically and at a level that reflects the professional standards of their work.” They argue that there is too much emphasis on “on-the-job” training in our field and that what is needed are professional preparation programs at the post-graduate level in our country.
It’s pretty difficult, not to mention ironic, to argue against education. But in this drive toward advanced degrees, I think we need to be very careful not to dismiss what I consider to be the strengths of the field in Canada: a service-oriented mentality which gives us humility, lived experience which fuels us to make a difference, and a community-based approach that emphasizes the collective over the individual. I’m not saying that we should abandon the professionalization imperative, but that we do so with a good sense of our own values and assets rather than adopt an approach from another jurisdiction.
All that said, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion were it not for the efforts of Hardy-Cox, Strange and my colleagues from coast to coast who put their collective experience to print in this groundbreaking volume. Achieving Student Success is available to order online via McGill-Queen’s University Press.
— Deanne Fisher