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Future of Student Affairs: Our Process

"The Future of Student Affairs" was a strategic-action process designed to create a roadmap for how we maximize our talents and resources to support, serve and educate students and promote a culture of lifelong learning throughout the division.

The process, which occurred in Academic Year 2016-17, was initiated just as the university's leadership began planning for transitions to a new president and provost. Over the past year two years, our division has experienced significant transitions of its own. In Fall of 2017, Student Affairs welcomed a new leader, Vice Provost Susie Brubaker-Cole. Building on "The Future of Student Affairs" work, we have identified our priorities for the coming years in "Our Most Important Work."

The goal of “The Future of Student Affairs” was to develop a collective vision for the division’s work.  The mission of Student Affairs was crafted with input from the entire division. An executive leadership group (composed of the Vice Provost and Associate Vice Provosts for Student Affairs and Jenn Calvert, Associate Dean of Residential Education) spearheaded the creation of a Leadership Cabinet.  Four staff Working Groups were charged with focusing on one of the following: Communications, Collective Student Response, Optimization of Resources, and Staff Experience. Future phases of the strategic-action process will be devoted to engaging faculty, exploring development opportunities and transition planning. 
Our process addressed the following:
  • Mission and Vision:  The first priority of the process was to develop a comprehensive and commonly understood mission statement.
  • Leadership Infrastructure:  Student Affairs has approximately 300 employees and only eight leaders with responsibilities that span the division.  The leadership team sought to build a more robust and division-wide leadership infrastructure.
  • Communications Strategy:  A key challenge for Student Affairs has been to evaluate and improve the division’s communication strategies with students, the campus community, and across the division.
  • Collective Student Response Strategy: While Student Affairs is expert in providing support and response structures for individual students in crisis, mechanisms to respond to “groups” of students are needed in today’s world.
  • Optimization of Resources:  Student Affairs undertook an intentional examination of how to optimize the division’s resources by looking across the division as a whole.
  • Staff Experience: Staff retention and ensuring equity across the diversity of staff in Student Affairs were identified as two areas of significant importance. 
  • Faculty Integration: Faculty are integrated with many student affairs areas, and the leadership team articulated the need to envision additional meaningful opportunities to connect faculty with the mission of Student Affairs.
  • Development Opportunities:  Student Affairs worked to develop a strategic plan for partnering with the Office of Development to further student learning outside of the classroom.

Work on the Student Affairs strategic vision was informed by a number of university-wide initiatives, including Stanford’s staff survey and the Administrative Planning Executive Committee (APEx).  Planning work included background briefings completed in advance of the arrival of President Marc Tessier-Lavigne addressing key student issues of diversity and inclusion, activism, trust and communication, and mental health and well-being. These issues not only have an impact on the work of the university in general and Stanford’s Student Affairs professionals in particular, they also permeate the national and international discourse in higher education.
Student Affairs also engaged in a space-utilization study, to inform planning for future student meeting, gathering and social locations. The future phases of strategic work were envisioned to focus on fundraising and development strategies and enhanced collaboration with faculty colleagues.

Starting the Process:  Setting Priorities and Developing a Timeline (Fall 2015-Winter 2016)

Beginning in the fall term of 2015, the executive leadership in Student Affairs (composed of the Vice Provost, Associate Vice Provosts and Associate Dean of Residential Education Jenn Calvert who facilitated the process) identified and sequenced eight major priorities to be addressed in the Future of Student Affairs (FOSA) initiative: 


The planning process began as the university was preparing for transition at the President and Provostial level, and as the Executive Team in Student Affairs was experiencing a 50 percent turnover in leadership. The team stressed that the planning process would require a transparent, inclusive and division-wide approach.  The group developed a timeline and began to communicate with the Student Affairs staff about the strategic-action process.

Phase One - Mission/Vision, New Leadership Infrastructure and Working Groups  (Spring 2016 – Spring 2017)

Year One focused on the foundation of the strategic-action process – developing a new mission/vision statement and communicating broadly throughout the division.  Leadership and Working Groups were formed and began their work together.

Our updated Mission Statement was created as a result of this division-wide work, with the help of the Executive Team and the newly-created Leadership Cabinet.

Leadership Cabinet

In order to build and develop the divisional leadership capacities identified by the executive team, the division created a Student Affairs Leadership Cabinet. This group was designed to become a team capable of overseeing the day to day work of the division, facilitating the development of divisional policy and addressing major project work that is cross-divisional. The group played a significant role in crafting the mission of the division, is underway with crafting a flexible work policy, and helps to lead the divisional working groups below.  The Cabinet met on a regular basis and convened sub-groups to work on particular areas of focus and interest.  To ensure that the Leadership Cabinet had access to relevant resources and opportunities including coaching, courses and site visits to peer institutions, the division created a professional development program for Cabinet members, tailored to their needs as emerging divisional leaders. 

Working Groups

The division also, in this period, developed four working groups drawn from the staff of Student Affairs, to focus on the four strategic priorities of Communications, Staff Experience, Optimizing Resources and Collective Student Response.  The goal of these groups was to bring broad and representative staff participation to the issues of highest priority to Student Affairs.  The groups completed their work in summer 2017.

Phase One Achievements - Communication and Implementation (Summer 2017)

The Future of Student Affairs effort piloted, communicated about and implemented  a number of achievements developed by the Leadership Cabinet and Working Groups throughout the summer of 2017.

These achievements included:

  • Devising a new flexible work policy: This was first piloted in individual units from June 2017 to  December 2017 (Developed by a subcommittee of the Leadership Cabinet). The policy is being  piloted division-wide for six months from March through August 2018. 
  • Creating a vibrant first-year experience for our staff, with a new welcome video and first-year training modules – to be piloted in  2018 ( Developed by the Optimizing Resources Working Group).
  • Piloting communications materials and suggestions for Student Affairs Forums and Staff meetings – completed in summer 2017; (Developed by the Communications Working Group)​.
  • Administered a Self-Assessment Survey to better inform ourselves about our workplace climate – completed in fall  2017 and communicated in 2018  (Developed by the Staff Experience Working Group).
  • Articulating communication strategies for groups of students and care for first responders –  completed in summer 2017 (Developed by the Collective Student Response Working Group).

Additional projects were inspired by the work above and were undertaken by the Student Affairs Central Administration.  

  • Space Utilization study – including updated thoughts about new Student Center needs.
  • Salary equity study –  developed by the Budget Group, University Human Resources and Student Affairs Administration.
  • Participation in the University long-range planning process – from across Student Affairs and from the Associate Vice Provost team.

Phase Two – Engaging Faculty and Exploring Development Opportunities, Transition Planning  — Academic Year 2017-18

As the first phase achievements became clear, the Executive Team began work on the next two priority areas of the Future of Student Affairs  work – engaging faculty and exploring development opportunities. The division engaged these issue areas in the context of another transition – the arrival of Susie Brubaker-Cole as the new Vice Provost for Student Affairs.  The test of any strong plan is its ability to pivot, and the first product of this continued engagement was the articulation of "Our Most Important Work."