Very Loud: Paying Attention in the Student Affairs Profession
Authored by Randy L. Mitchell
"I'm tired of waiting for reason to arrive;
It's too long we've been living these unexamined lives."
Many times in my childhood I heard my father say,
"That don't make CTS period!" Children don't always understand
what they hear, and it was some time before I realized that he was
making a play on words. The abbreviation for "cents" is cts. -
or "CTS period." It finally made sense.
As I became an adult I discovered that many things don't
make CTS period. Here are just a few examples:
Neckties. If it were up to me, neck nooses would be
banished as cruel and unusual punishment. I believe we'd all think a
little more clearly if the circulation to our brains were restored.
High heels. A man who hated women must have created this
foot fashion fetish. The untold damage to feet, legs, and backs ought to
require a Surgeon General's warning.
Things that fasten behind you. Unless you're
double-jointed, it's just plain unnatural to try to fasten something
behind your back. Zippers, hooks, bows - Harry Houdini might have made a
career out of escaping such contraptions, but the rest of us ought to be
given a break.
Professional wrestling. An oxymoron if ever there was
one. (Perhaps professional wrestling is a "sport" for oxen and
morons...). We've taken virtual violence to a new level. P.T. Barnum was
right; there's a sucker born every minute, and he or she is a fan of the
World Wrestling Federation.
Extra gold light beer. Once upon a time there was just
beer. Someone came up with the idea of lower-calorie beer, ergo the
introduction of light beer. Others wanted the full, rich body of
European beers without the bitterness, ergo the introduction of extra
gold beers. The marketing brew gurus then introduced extra gold light
beer, which, if you're paying attention, is just plain beer. As H.L.
Mencken reported, "No one ever went broke by underestimating the
taste of the American public."
Enormous Sports Utility Vehicles. I'll admit it: I own
an SUV - one of the smaller models. It's great in the snow and it seats
five people comfortably, although most of the time it's just a commuting
vehicle. In the spirit of "bigger is better," the auto
manufacturers came up with larger SUVs - and even larger SUVs - and
incredibly huge SUVs. They're lousy on gas mileage, they don't fit in
most garages, and they cost as much as a small house, but they'll
probably come out on top - literally - in a head-on collision with just
about any other vehicle short of a Mack truck. Ford has the Explorer,
the Expedition, and the Excursion. I have some names to suggest for
their future models: the Excessive, the Extravagant, and the Exorbitant.
Panty hose. OK, I don't wear them myself, but I live in
a house with my wife and three daughters. I can't imagine a less
practical undergarment, and they seem to have a lifespan slightly
shorter than the average housefly. Women's liberation ought to include
freedom from uncomfortable, impractical unmentionables.
I could go on, but all of this is to introduce the
notion that we're not immune to things that don't make CTS period in
It doesn't make CTS period when an institution encloses
a Braille map of the campus in a Plexiglass case to protect it, but that
happened at an institution where I used to work. On 4-feet by 8-feet
sheet of quality plywood, the artist used a variety of woods to create a
relief scale model of the entire campus. Each building included Braille
designations for entrances, handicap ramps, and building names. For the
sighted the map was a work of art and beauty. For the visually impaired
the map was a useful tool for navigating the campus. But the director of
disability services, concerned that the map might be damaged, had it
It doesn't make CTS period when an institution installs
a touch-tone registration system for the campus, only to discover that
the campus is still using a rotary phone system. Strange, but true.
It doesn't make CTS period when institutions locate
integral student services in remote parts of the campus. Prior to our
student success efforts at my current institution (James Madison
University), Registration Services, Student Accounting, and Financial
Aid couldn't have been farther apart, literally and figuratively. Our
students referred to this setup as the Bermuda Triangle; somewhere
between these distant offices, things got confused or lost. Other
students remarked that the arrangement was like traveling through
Europe; each office was like a separate country, with different borders,
languages, customs, and currencies. Breaking down these artificial
boundaries became a primary objective in our effort to make a little CTS
period out of the mess we'd created.
It doesn't make CTS period when we help students develop
their leadership capacity, then express our dismay when they use that
capacity to challenge our policies and procedures.
It doesn't make CTS period when we let parents assume
full responsibility for their students' problems and concerns - at the
expense of the student's development of personal responsibility.
It doesn't make CTS period when we forget that the
primary reason students are on our campuses is to learn. If we're
spending time, money, or other assets on programs or services that don't
have measurable learning and development outcomes tied to the
institutional mission, we're misusing our resources.
It doesn't make CTS period when we think and act
departmentally rather than universally. We are a part of the whole, not
apart from the whole. Our goals and objectives should be derived from
the institution's mission, not vice versa. It's not enough to perform
our functions well; we also need to interact and intersect effectively
with the rest of the campus community.
To make CTS period, we need to be sensible and
sensitive. We need to be perceptive and reasonable, show good judgment,
and make good use of our critical thinking skills. We need to be open to
and aware of the needs and expectations of others. In effect, we need to
come to our senses if we hope to make sense of our world for ourselves
and for our students. Anything less would be senseless.
I have trouble with the term "common sense."
Common sense is all too frequently the mantra of people who are afraid
of education or educated people. What we need is uncommon sense; new
ways of looking at things. We need to break free of
"conventional" wisdom. Unconventional wisdom may provide us
with solutions to the age-old problems like prejudice, injustice, and
aggression - conditions that haven't been rectified by conventional
Socrates wondered if the unexamined life was worth
living. We have a unique opportunity in our profession to model and
teach life-examination skills by giving our students the gifts of
reflection and critical thinking. Perhaps they'll be able to create
changes and challenge our institutions to make CTS period out of the
illogical things we sometimes do.
1) What are some of the things in your professional
experience that just don't make CTS period?
2) How do you model sensibility and sensitivity in your
work? Who are your models in these regards?
3) Does your campus have any "Bermuda
Triangles"? What can you do to eliminate them?
Listen very loud to the things that make CTS period to
you, your colleagues, and the students you work with.
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