Since joining the division of student life at my current institution, I coordinated 7 searches to fill open entry-level positions within my department. Of those 7 searches, all but one took place after March 2020. To further contextualize my experience, it might be helpful to know that I work at a small liberal arts college in the Southeast. At the time of these searches, I was a supervisor to my campus’ student diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) center with a total professional staff size of three. In other words, as I attempted to directly support minoritized college students during the dynamics of COVID-19 and increasing sociopolitical tensions on and off campus, I was deeply understaffed and struggling to fill staff vacancies.
Sadly, my experience the last two years as a student affairs professional is not unique or limited to my campus type or functional area. Employment attrition within higher education is a decades-long concern only exacerbated by the circumstances of COVID-19, heightened systemic inequities, and unsustainable work conditions. While it is certainly not new to observe critiques of job workloads or see advocacy for better salaries, benefits, and flexible work schedules, what is new to the discourse on higher education employment is the volume and speed of staff leaving higher education, particularly among entry-level staff. Campuses simply cannot keep up with the pacing of exits while also trying to meet the needs of students and maintain institutional operations. This is the landscape in which I entered my year serving as ACPA president.
Leaning into our tagline of “boldly transforming higher education,” ACPA was already engaging in conversations on how to support members and provide resources through these challenges prior to the popular discourse on the “Great Resignation.” As I began to identify strategic priorities for my presidential year, I built upon the work of the ACPA Governing Board’s strategic plan by launching a task force to help the Association to “advocate for a sustainable future of our field and members.” Hearing the urgent need for support from our members and campuses, it was critical that this group’s work not only add to existing discourse and research on employee retention but also develop an efficient yet intentional resource to truly shift the work conditions within higher education.
After successfully recruiting Dr. Roshaunda Breeden as chair of this Task Force, I worked collaboratively with her and Executive Director Dr. Chris Moody to recruit members across a diverse range of campus types, geographical locations and positional levels. In June 2022, members of the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Employment in Higher Education convened virtually to discuss their charge. In July 2022, approximately 15 members of this Task Force convened in Raleigh, North Carolina, for 2 days. Dr. Breeden’s leadership allowed members to engage with current literature and participate in a number of dialogic workshops and co-writing sessions that would ultimately inform and shape a member-centered document.
I encourage readers to join me in offering sincere gratitude to the Task Force members (listed below)! This group of faculty, staff and students generously volunteered time and energy to work on this project throughout busy summer and fall months:
Roshaunda Breeden (she, her, hers), East Carolina University
Abi Case (she, her, hers), Clemson University
Jason Cottrell (he, him, his), Unaffiliated
Léna Crain (she, her, hers), Bucknell University
Jemilia Davis (she, her, hers), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Ashley Dobbs (she, her, hers), Georgia Gwinnett College
Andrea D. Domingue (she, her, hers), Davidson College
Nick Fahnders (he, him, his), University of Chicago
Dave Fleming (he, him, his), University of Mary Washington
Martha Glass (she, her, hers), Virginia Tech
Dean Kennedy (he, him, his), University of Nevada – Reno
Heather Kind-Keppel (she, her, hers), Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Sciences
Chris Moody (he, him, his), ACPA International Office
Kent Porterfield (he, him, his), Gonzaga University
Nanette Vega (she, her, hers), University of Miami
Julie Weiner (she, her, hers), Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Brittany Williams (she, her, hers), University of Vermont
Eddie Wright (he, him, his), Neumann University
On behalf of this group, I am thrilled to announce the release of the Task Force Report, available via ACPA’s member portal! This document strives to be a call to action and acts as a guiding framework for a sustainable future for the profession. It was developed to support HESA practitioners at all levels as we aspire to improve the work-life of those who enter this profession as a career. Building upon ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization, this document aims to help us interrupt and reimagine structural work expectations. As readers engage with this document, I want to offer a few initial guiding questions to keep in mind:
- What does it mean to have sustainable work on higher education and student affairs?
- How have you observed supremacy culture within your workplace?
- What are some initial steps you can take to address supremacy culture within your workplace and within your team?
To learn more about this initiative, we also encourage you to review the following resources:
- Student Affairs Now Episode on Employment in Higher Education: Workplace Challenges Supremacist Cultures and Antidotes for Action (featuring ACPA President Andrea D. Domingue and Task Force Chair Dr. Roshaunda Breeden)
- ACPA Day Live Video from October 2022 featuring ACPA President Andrea D. Domingue and Task Force Members Jason Cottrell, Léna Crain and Ashley Dobbs)
- Lastly, we also invite you to join us for a panel discussion with some of the authors at the ACPA23 Convention in New Orleans, 26-29 March.
This is a call for agency, regardless of where you are in your organization. It is not waiting for change to happen but taking responsibility and creating change now.
Andrea D. Domingue, Ed.D.
ACPA President 2022-2023