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A Blog’s Epilogue

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Division AVP or "Number Two" VP for Student Affairs
February 18, 2024 Alan Acosta University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School

JCC Connexions, Vol. 10, No. 1, February 2024

Fostering Moral Development: A Series of Articles in JCC Connexions

A Blog’s Epilogue

This blog post is bittersweet. After over six years of thought pieces, I have decided to end this Connexions blog, which has been a personal and professional joy for me over the last several years. I want to thank NASPA and the editors of the Journal of College and Character, particularly my friend Pam Crosby, for allowing me the time and space to jot down my thinking about the intersections of postsecondary education, ethical decision making, and moral development. Their support has been invaluable and appreciated, and I am honored to have them as not just colleagues but also as friends.

I struggled with what to write about for my final post. There is a lot going on in the world (there always is), so I debated addressing some of those issues. I struggled because I did not want to repeat or regurgitate something I have already said in a previous post. I even struggled with whether to acknowledge this post as my last. I ultimately settled on using this post to talk about my assessment of the state of higher education in the U.S. at this particular point in time and encourage everyone with what still gives me hope and the motivation to do the work we do.

What a critical moment to be alive. As a student and teacher of history, particularly of the history of higher education in the U.S., I always struggle with the idea right now today is the most critical moment in our nation’s history; I overwhelming tend to resist the recency bias which is pervasive in many areas of our culture (if I have to listen to one more sports talk radio/podcast show talk about if “So and So” is the GOAT, I will vomit). However, starting lately, I am no longer sure I am understating the worry I have that our current time is an inflection point of sorts in our overall country’s trajectory or can find another time in which the direction and very existence of our business and the country is more prescient or urgent; the closest I can think of is right before, during, and immediately after the Civil War.

I cannot remember another time in which the entire higher education industry has been under an existential assault. Laws passed to end DEI programs. Institutional presidents being excoriated in congressional hearings. Constantly lowered funding allocations from state legislatures. Lower enrollments across the board. We are in a hugely difficult time to be a higher education professional.

And yet, I cannot imagine a better time for higher education as a whole to remind everyone of just how important and essential we are to American society. Providing necessary job skills preparation. Expanding critical thinking skills. Opportunities for experiential learning. Finding lifelong friends and creating lasting memories. Genuinely changing someone’s life for the better. These experiences are the quintessential essence of what makes higher education so great and so invaluable.

If anyone is like me, you might get highly frustrated at having to still justify the importance of postsecondary education beyond strictly economic benefit in the year 2024. For too long, I operated under the assumption everyone surely knows at this stage why students going to college is vital and needed (and yes, I know what they say about those who assume). I now find myself realizing that in addition to my usual responsibilities, I now must shoulder the burden of helping others understand why the work I do is beneficial; honestly, there are many pieces of life in America today I thought should be tacit, yet here we are. At this stage of the game, helping people understand that working in higher education today is more about creating future ethical leaders than solely constructing an economically functioning citizenry is more productive. And as I have continued to work in this profession, knowing my work helps gives others a sense of who they are and how to conduct themselves in an ethically appropriate manner grounds my sense of purpose for the work I do.

One aspect of working at a health sciences university which has been instructive for me as a professional has been listening to the faculty and other administrative leaders who are also clinicians instill in our students a sense of their professional ethical responsibility. The concept of doing no harm is stressed over and over again during their time as a student. While this idea is highlighted continuously since they will all be impacting public health in some capacity, I wish these ethical tenets were emphasized at every institution. We should want a society which centers on the notion of doing no harm to others.

The whole point of this blog has been to talk about concepts and ideas critical to the notion of helping students morally develop. I think helping students understand their moral compass, figure out which way they want it to point, and then deciding how best to follow it is one of if not the crucial roles higher education professionals play in their time at our institutions. No matter our role or place on the organizational chart, it is up to each of us to help contribute to a student’s moral and ethical development. This great responsibility lies with you and me. It is up to us. If we do not create the principled leaders of tomorrow, who will?

I end by paraphrasing a former colleague of mine, whose sentiment has stuck with me since he shared it. When I have found myself down or feeling less hopeful about my work, I remind myself of his words: the journey may be difficult and long, but victory is certain.