Monday, May 11, 2009

Opportunity vs. Perception: Give me your thoughts
by Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr., ACPA President 2009-10

In the 25 years I have been a part of higher education I have observed many times a campus that acted cautiously instead of boldly in addressing an issue. Certainly there has been an occasion where I have observed a campus proudly stating a position even when it wasn't popular to do so. That has happened much less, but I have seen it.

ACPA struggles with this same dilemma at times. There are many, many opportunities that rightfully get balanced against perception (or sometimes self-interest). Some of these wonderful opportunities get squelched because of funding, but I am learning as your President, that we can often find the resources for things when opportunity and "positive" perception come together.

There is a perception that we are in an economic downturn. This is inevitable in the free market place and one of those necessary corrections. The downturn doesn't mean "nobody" has money, it just means we may not be "making" money in the speed or fashion we had been a year before. It doesn't mean our doors must close, or even that we must stop being innovative. It may simply mean that we have to more deliberately balance "perception" to opportunity.

Allow me to raise a couple of scenarios for you, as the blog reader, to consider. I invite you to email me at (or with your reactions and insights.

International Agenda

It is well known that ACPA is an international association. Actually, more accurately, we are a strong national association with strong international interests. Student development research drives the global profession. Our many international practitioners are finding value in the professional development offered not only internationally, but locally within the United States. ACPA is represented in 27 other countries. The Caribbean has been actively involved in over a decade and has patiently waited for their association, ACPA, to show as much interest in the international agenda as they have in this association. So what am I saying?

Imagine. What message would it send if me, as your President, brought the Governing Board to the Mona campus (University of the West Indies) in Jamaica for our February Governing Board meeting? Allow me to give you just a little more context as you think about this complex question. The ACPA President does budget Governing Board meetings and I have already modified the budget to easily accommodate a Governing Board meeting at the Mona campus. This isn't about money. The cost is just slightly more than meeting in Washington D.C. and we have reduced costs in other areas. This is about opportunity vs. perception.

The perception might be that the Governing Board is off to some exotic place, playing, sitting on a beach, and having fun instead of doing the work of the association. The perception might be that we are cutting the budget, tightening the belt, and shifting resources -- how is it possible that we can even afford to bring the Governing Board abroad?

The perception could be, "Wow. ACPA is showing commitment to it's international members so much that it was willing to bring its leadership team to an international location, and meet at the campus of its first and longest standing international member." The international members would be ecstatic! We have an opportunity to do just this right now. I have already said I am willing to do this for all the right reasons, but I am also aware that with great opportunities sometimes come less than positive perceptions of the effort.

What are YOUR reactions and YOUR thoughts?

AIDS Memorial

ACPA has long held a very meaningful activity during the international convention. The AIDS Memorial was first introduced to bring recognition to our brothers and sisters that have died from AIDS. It also brought to the attention of the membership the importance of education, tolerance, collegiality, insight, awareness, and sensitivity to a difficult topic, AIDS. More than the symbolism of the event, the AIDS Memorial has spoken to the humanity in each of us. Was this an easy decision for ACPA to make at the time? Probably not. However, it was an example of opportunity and positive perception coming together.

For a few years now there has been some discussion about whether to modify this activity. The viewpoints cover a wide range. There are not many that would say they come to the convention solely for the AIDS Memorial, and there are likely no employers that would say they send staff to ACPA to attend the AIDS Memorial. But, we still do it and are proud of it. There have been emerging suggestions that the activity should be broadened to become a memorial ceremony for all practitioners that have passed. Where does opportunity and perception come together on a topic such as the AIDS Memorial?

What are YOUR reactions and YOUR thoughts?

There are many other examples of "opportunity vs. perception." Nearly anything new that is done, or anything that is changed goes through this same test. Give me your thoughts.

It amazes me the amount of work that goes into making ACPA an incredible volunteer association. Every person gives something of themselves to this association. Please know that your time, your interest, and your passion are not taken for granted. They are valued. Thanks for all you do. Take care. Weeeee!

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