A Conversation with Dr. Stan Carpenter

“I think that I can distill most of what I have just [reflected on] saying that being professional is being ethical and vice versa.  It is unethical to practice without knowledge, or worse, with it being ignored.”

Stan Carpenter

As I was thinking about writing my column for this issue of Developments, I decided to bring in someone I consider to be a strong ethical leader in the field of student affairs. Dr. Stan Carpenter has been a long standing ACPA – College Student Educators International member and advocate for the field of student affairs. In 2010 he was named Dean of the College of Education at Texas State University San Marcos. Prior to his deanship he served as a faculty member for 19 years at Texas A & M University, a department chair, program coordinator, and in many other student affairs administrative positions during his service to higher education.

Faculty, administrators, former students, and researchers in the field often seek out Dr. Carpenter’s knowledge and expertise as we grapple with the changes we are facing in higher education. Dr. Carpenter is a widely respected teacher and scholar; he has won major awards in teaching, research, and service. He has served as chair of the prestigious Senior Scholars group within ACPA and founded the Faculty Fellows within NASPA.  His consummate professionalism, high standards, and focus on students have made him a guiding voice in the profession.

I asked Dr. Carpenter if he would be willing to talk a bit about leadership and ethics during a time when it feels like we are faced with many ethical dilemmas within higher education. We have issues facing higher education and student affairs on a local, regional, national, and international level. Below is an edited transcript of the questions I posed to Dr. Carpenter and his responses.

The Interview

Tell me a little about your career and the choices you made in working toward a deanship.

I suppose the principal choice was getting a doctorate. However, I then resolved that I would get at least five years of experience as a practitioner before considering the faculty, based on my experience as a student.  So, I served for a while as a Dean of Students before answering the siren call home to Texas, even though the only job I could find was as a major gifts development officer for Texas A&M.

I made the choice to publish while I was a doctoral student so that when an opening came up for a faculty position I was well prepared. Three years later a position in higher education opened up and I was selected for the position. As a faculty member I wanted to attempt to mentor students as I had been mentored, but I knew very little else about the field and the tenure track, or at least it seems that way in retrospect.

I loved the role of professor immediately and before long was hip deep in teaching, research, and service.  Within two years, I was offered a position as Executive Director of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), where I served 10 years, for most of those with only a one-course release!  ASHE opened my eyes to quality scholarship and the broader higher education field, but my first and last love was student affairs.  I remained loyal to ACPA and NASPA and have to this day.

In 2003, dual career issues and a delayed mid-life examination led me to change to Texas State University as a department chair.  I wanted to find a place to make a real difference for the last 15 or so years of my career and it has been a terrific choice.  I loved facilitating productivity.  I was then hired as Interim Dean after our dean left suddenly.  I was officially hired as Dean the following year. Through it all, my ethical and professional values have been those of student affairs, seeking the best and most growth oriented solutions for all concerned in any situation.  It turns out that these values work perfectly well with the problems that I find myself dealing with as a Dean.

How do you think ethics in student affairs has changed over your career?

I am tempted to say they have not, but I suspect that they have become more legally constrained and less instinctual.  By that I mean [faculty and student affairs professionals] were mostly taught a counseling version of ethics in the old days, with an implication that we would try to keep our student interactions confidential.  That all changed with Tarasoff and a variety of statutory reporting requirements, as well as the vagaries of liability.  [The case of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (1976) imposed an affirmative duty on therapists to warn a potential victim of intended harm by the client, stating that the right to confidentiality ends when the public peril begins. This legal decision sets an affirmative duty precedent in cases of harm to others that is generally accepted within the social work profession (McWhinney, Haskins-Herkenham, & Hare, 1992)].

I hope that what has not changed, and what I teach my students, is an aversion to paternalism, to telling students what to do in their own personal development.  We should facilitate good choices, even visit consequences for poor ones when we must, but we must never take away a student’s responsibility for himself/herself.  In fact, we need to clarify that for students and to facilitate the growth necessary so they get better at making positive, productive choices.  Is that ethics or education?  Can we square that attitude with legalistic rules and an investigatory environment?  Those are our new ethical issues.

What do you see as the most pressing ethical issues facing new professionals today?

Building off the response above, consider sexual violence and harassment.  One can conceive of a situation that might call for a sort of waiting period to allow clarity before pursuing a ruinous course of investigation and prosecution.  However, that is no longer an option. We are all “responsible employees” and we have strict rules to follow and roles to play.  I am certainly not suggesting that this new climate is not appropriate—as higher education institutions and officers of it, we (writ large) were so neglectful, for many decades, with so many negative consequences, mostly for women that something had to be done.  The new environment is the result.

Our ethical response is to continue to do the best we can to facilitate the growth of students who are caught up in the new process, to educate through appropriate sanctions for poor choices, and to support in every possible way student victims.  My point here is that perhaps we were not loud enough in our complaints about the discriminatory and deadly environment of the past and we did not insist on better.

This leads us to ask what other issues are we ignoring right now? What comes to mind immediately are social justice issues with regard to race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender expression, handicapping conditions, and students who are underprepared as a consequence of where they were born, among others.  These are all exacerbated by the rising costs of colleges and universities and the attendant self-selection on criteria other than fit and quality of education.  Are we speaking out loudly enough?  Are we advocating?  As the student experts, we must make ourselves heard.  This is our ethical responsibility as much as helping individual students cope.

How have you seen our professional organizations respond to the ethical challenges we face today? Has this changed over time?

It would not surprise anyone who has read my work that one thing that I am happy about is the newish focus on research and data based, organized professional development.  One sees a variety of technical, ethical, and legal topics addressed in a variety of ways that are available through conferences, workshops, on-line and print based venues.  The field is coming to have a fairly broad consensus of most of the body of knowledge, practice, and attitudes needed to do our jobs properly.  It is a very large body of knowledge, to be sure, and difficult to master, but we seem to have made a start.

There are also advocacy attempts nationally and to a lesser extent in states to testify, suggest, educate, cajole, and persuade policy makers to avoid toxic legislation and rules and to promote better ways.  I am satisfied that our associations have grown in their understanding of their roles as educational voices crying in a policy wilderness.  We have grown over time to be more professional, more organized, and more united, even when we pretend we are not similar voices for one field.

What advice and insights would you give to colleges and university student affairs faculty in preparing student affairs professionals to respond appropriately?

Pay attention to ethics and base them on the values of the field, historically and currently (that is what foundations courses should be about). In our field, foundations courses should emphasize current and historical practice. Further, I have become more and more convinced of the power of student stories and of enhanced case studies as educational vehicles.  We should help our students first, to understand that every student has a story and it is sometimes up to us whether that story has a happy ending or not, whether it ends in triumph of tragedy.  We should collect some of those stories and use them as cautionary tales and as celebrations.

We faculty should help students understand that they are professionals, that there are ethical guidelines and boundaries and that they are not negotiable or avoidable.  There is a professional knowledge base, there are best practices, and one is ethically bound to learn and follow them.  We faculty can help with that by being ethical in our own dealing with one another and with our students.

Conclusion

Dr. Carpenter offers history, insights, and advice for those preparing new professionals and others working as administrators in the profession of student affairs and within higher education. As we work toward aspirational ethical practice, it befits us to think about how we mentor and lead with the careful care paid to “doing the right thing.”

We live in a litigious society and the temptation to not act can be tempting. Dr. Carpenter cautions us to think about how we impact our organizations in the choices we make to do right by our students and colleagues. Being an advocate for those who lack voice and agency is our ethical responsibility. I thank Dr. Carpenter for his contributions to the profession and our understanding of the role we play in educating and mentoring the future of this profession we all love so much.

Discussion Questions

  1. Dr. Carpenter talks about the changes in our understanding of limits of confidentially and student data. How has this changed the way you do your daily work? Reflect on the impact.
  2. How do you stay current in the ever-changing field of student affairs? Think about and reflect upon the influence your professional organizations have had on your own ethical development.

Reference

McWhinney, M., Haskins-Herkenham, D., & Hare, I. (1992). The school social worker and confidentiality (Position Statement of the National Association of Social Workers, Commission on Education). Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

About the Author

Anne M. Hornak is an Associate Professor and Chairperson of Educational Leadership at Central Michigan University. She teaches courses in student affairs and higher education administration, ethics, and social justice. Her research interests include ethical decision-making, transformational learning and international education, and community college students. She has been involved with ACPA as a Directorate member of the Professional Preparation Commission, where she coordinated with the ethics committee. Her most recent book is entitled, “A Day in the Life of a Student Affairs Educator: Competencies and Case Studies for Early Career Professionals” [Stylus, 2014] co-authored with Sarah Marshall.

Please e-mail inquiries to Anne M. Hornak.

Disclaimer

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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