Infrastructure: The adviser’s most important job

When I was a young adviser I felt my obligation was to put out a error-free student newspaper. It was my job to tell students what they should write about. It was my job …well, to be editor. I didn’t understand that an adviser’s job was to build an infrastructure that allowed students to learn by doing.

It took a while before the words of the venerable Warren Mack (DeAnza) to “train ’em and trust ’em” to sink in. I listened to a lot of advice from such outstanding instructors such as Tom Kramer (Pierce) and I was so convinced that my situation was so different that they just didn’t understand. Every school IS different, but the situations are not so unique after all.

The student publication adviser’s most important role is to establish and help maintain an infrastructure that allows students to grow and learn. Fortunately for California community colleges, we have a lot of tools. It is recognized that the best structure for a student newspaper/magazine/online publication, etc. is through a course where students receive academic credit while they learn. Further, state education code allows for courses like the newspaper to be repeated for a maximum of four times so students can hone their skills to greater levels. We still have issues with the units students earn doing this being transferable to the California State University system, but at least students can get practice. And, of course we have JACC and all it brings to the table.

But if the adviser serves as editor, the students don’t learn, or rather they learn the wrong lesson that there will always be an authoritative safety net and they don’t need to learn responsibility.

A successful infrastructure is one that puts experienced students in the role of helping train newer students and one that helps talented students explore and hone their skills. That is not to say that the adviser is not also responsible as a educator, but advanced students learn by having to explain the craft to newer students. The adviser can concentrate on stablity –academically and financially– for the publication and let the students concentrate on content and production. And the adviser can concentrate on leadership training. An infrastructure that does not develop future staff leaders is failing. Identify potential leaders early and move them to editor positions so they can learn. Give lots of opportunities.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing: The chemistry of the newspaper staff changes every semester, even with the same student editor in place. The adviser needs to see that there is some basis for consistency. I recommend starting with the proposed policy manual on the JACC site. Have STUDENTS alter it to your school’s needs. Let it be fluid, one that students can change, but one that is solid enough that you can follow and one that doesn’t change from week to week.

The whole concept of infrastrucutre is something I know mostly from gut, but I sense that JACC advisers need to develop a public discussion on it so we can all get better at it. I invite my colleagues to share an aspect of infrastucture that they think is important. Simply click on the “Comment” link.

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One response to “Infrastructure: The adviser’s most important job

  1. Rich Cameron

    Burt Dragin wanted to post this, but had problems, so I’m posting it for him.

    I always find your thoughts and ideas about the adviser’s role refreshing and worthwhile. I support your idea about fostering an atmosphere where leadership can flourish.

    Today, for example, is Labor Day and I am in the office/newsroom because students wanted to work on the Tower newspaper that comes out Thursday. (On our Oakland campus this only meant contacting the Business Office, getting the proper form, having it signed by my dean and presenting it to our campus police.)

    The “train ‘em and trust ‘em” idea is great but there are times, in my view, when the adviser should step up and be extremely firm in his or her advice. For example, the fiasco at Fresno City College could possibly have been avoided if the adviser had challenged the story headlined “FCC football players charged with rape” before the page was finalized.

    I make it clear to the editor and staff that I am the “adviser” and my advice can be rejected. But I also let it be known that I am eager to give advice when the story may be as explosive as the FCC story. To me, this is not the same as adviser becoming editor, which, I agree, defeats our role in the infrastructure.

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