Isn’t imitation the highest form of flattery?

Suedle by SueCaulfield.com

Suedle by SueCaulfield.com

There is no hiding the animosity, awkwardness, sibling rivalry like behavior between members of two of the largest professional associations in higher education. If anything, the latest convention plans only solidified each other’s members into some form of, “We thought of it first!” “Yeah, but we will do it better!” type scenario.

Knock it off.

This type of bickering and comparing is absurd. You know what isn’t absurd? The fact that both organizations are now taking risks and changing their practices (FINALLY) to reflect what today’s higher education professionals need as professional development.

I don’t care who came out with an idea first or what has a better website for their conference/convention. Some siblings are good at things that the others aren’t and vice versa. What matters…what really matters is as we get to watch the two biggest associations battle it out trying to out do each other or keep up with each other, we are going to benefit.

You know what would be even better than trying to make the next conference or convention the coolest, most innovative, most adaptable, most unconference-like? Racing to lower the prices. Too many professionals are shackled in their professional development opportunities because their professional development funding depends on their presenting at the conference. That’s the reality. You know what? The reality sucks. How are professionals, who are trying to become better professionals by networking and meeting people at these national meetings, suppose to get any better without the luxury of these opportunities?

I applaud the two associations for their efforts and this little competitive spirit they have going on or at least the members seem to. Keep in mind however; I’m clapping in my seat. Neither gets a standing ovation.

You want me to stand and clap your efforts?

Show me an association that is going to lower their prices.

Show me an association that is going to find a way to offer online-passes at a discounted rate to live-stream select presentations (or why not any presentation?).

Show me an association that is going to meet the members where they are at developmentally, financially, regionally.

Show me an association that isn’t going to over think everything.

Show me an association that is truly member-driven.

In the meantime, I’ll keep getting involved in each association as much as I can so that my words go ahead to push my actions and hopefully changes can happen.

Just don’t tell me change can’t happen because a small-dedicated group of people is the only thing that ever created change in this world and I know each association has that group of people within it.

If changes don’t happen because everyone gets caught up in the bickering and the competition and the comparisons, there is a small group of people who are going to create an alternative that will lead to standing ovations.

We are committed.

We are curious.

We are creative.

We are…you.

11 thoughts on “Isn’t imitation the highest form of flattery?

  1. Spot on as usual. The association divide reminds me of the “faculty v. student affairs” chasm we create ourselves. Let’s focus on our common goals and community members instead of what makes us different/better than the another. It shouldn’t be a pissing contest.

  2. The challenge with associations, much like with student unions, associations and federations, is the desire to be all things to all people while working with a small group of professionals who, no matter how hard we try, are not all people, ever. I don’t disagree that the ‘competitive spirit’ you speak of can be damaging and frustrating, but when your goal is to serve all members of a particular group, you ultimately only serve a small section at any particular time. Such large associations also fall into the trap of the highlight reel, wanting to share their best and biggest successes to appeal to the same large group they are looking to attract. Great work is being done in small(er) parts of these large organizations, and the resources they can provide can help these small initiatives take off and grow into something bigger. Just like what i tell my students (and myself) when they feel overwhelmed in a large conference or similar setting, it’s not about connecting with everyone and doing everything, it’s about finding your niche and growing there. Large organizations are not without their flaws, but there is responsibility on ‘both sides’, as it were, to push for and, more importantly, embrace change.

    • Lisa,

      You nailed it with this:

      “Great work is being done in small(er) parts of these large
      organizations, and the resources they can provide can help these small
      initiatives take off and grow into something bigger”

      That’s one of my thoughts when it comes to the KCs, we aren’t doing a good enough job highlighting what we are doing. NASPA should have a weekly web show (a la HigherEdLive) that focus on a different KC every week. With all the KCs that means for the entire year, each KC gets highlighted twice. Content shouldn’t be an issue because like you say, great stuff is going on in each KC. Newsletters aren’t enough. They are great and some KCs have ones that are nicer than others but we need to expand that and explore other vehicles and venues to share what we do.

      The challenge can no longer be let’s focus on the large group, the future of these organizations need to be in growing the small niches and special interest groups. There is no longer a mainstream group, we are a bunch of little groups that make up a huge organization (no different than a typical college campus).

      As for embracing change…well the one that survives will either have the most money or be most ready to embrace the changes coming.

      • You’ve hit right on why I am repeatedly frustrated with how our large associations address – or don’t – the needs of community colleges. Half of our college students are in or have been at a community college, yet those holding leadership positions as well as the sessions presented don’t come close to mirroring in representation. What’s more frustrating is that the response from these associations is generally along the lines of how the sessions being presented are “general” and include the needs of community colleges as well – which is often uttered by individuals who have never spent time at a community college and is ignorant to the uniqueness of our campuses. The result is a paltry interest and involvement from community college professionals who find that the functional organizations are better suited to meeting their needs.

        • The more you try to meet everyone’s needs the more you meet no one’s needs at all. Anytime you have ‘national’ in an organization description you will run the risk of trying to do too much and be all things to all people. That being said, initiatives like knowledge communities and commissions can help make association activities more relevant but also run the risk of doing the exact opposite. I often wonder where these smaller groups come from in terms of who decides a particular sub population of student, institution or professional focus is worthy of its own group. In compartmentalizing the professional into these somewhat arbitrary categories, we run into the same yet opposite problem of being too specific in our discussions instead of too general. Much like our work in our home institutions, we will always run up against unique student situations and continue to do our best to meet unique student needs – organizations are no different in their work with professionals. I don’t yet know how to ‘solve’ this problem, but being more member driven is the answer if, and only if, the members are willing to invest of themselves (e.g. time and energy) to make the organization work.

          • Can the three of y’all just start a new association and fix all of this? 🙂

            Seriously, though, you’re all on the right track. And the associations will struggle to be anything for those people who don’t invest the time and energy into them. Lisa, I think the sub-committees/groups come from just those people who are willing to invest the time and energy to make them work, rather than an overall assessment of the needs of our organizations. Same thing with these programs – a few people come up with the ideas and put the energy into them to make them work – if there were more people putting energy into the traditional conference model, we might not even be seeing these changes, but this is where that small group of committed folk are investing their talent and time right now, so this is what’s being addressed.

          • Associations need to become more like mini-malls. Giant structures that smaller, niche markets can cater to their customers in.

            They may think they are like that now, but they aren’t. The niche markets aren’t getting the funding to do what their members are capable of.

      • Cindy Watkins Kane

        We have to figure out what we want from the larger associations… because once we start charging the niches and special interest groups with broader tasks we then start asking to replicate the work of functional area associations. Where does one stop and the other begin? Our field has grown more specialized and, similar to our academic colleagues and the discipline specific barriers we see in the faculty, addressing this the “wrong” way could just watch things splinter further. Figuring this out the “right” way could unify professional identity and a student affairs voice in higher education leadership.

      • “Great work is being done in small(er) parts of these large organizations… it’s about finding your niche and growing there.”

        “The challenge can no longer be let’s focus on the large group, the future of these organizations need to be in growing the small niches and special interest groups.”

        This is why I am active in MCPA (Massachusetts ACPA affiliate) but am not active in ACPA–the large organization has little meaning for me, and I haven’t found any way to “belong”. Yet our state affiliate has little to no participation from Mid and Senior-level professionals, many seem to be actively involved with ACPA directly. It’s an incredibly safe and undaunting place for grads and new professionals, but there are few people to directly look up to or receive mentoring from.

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