Book by James H. Cook and Christopher A. Lewis
Review by: Marlene Clapp
Office of Institutional Research & Assessment
Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, MA
“No part of a university or college can be an island if it hopes to accomplish its role in the educational enterprise effectively” (p. xii).
Cook and Lewis’ The Divine Comity takes its inspiration from the text, Learning Reconsidered, which speaks to the theory behind student and academic affairs collaboration, and also complements practical advice on such collaborations found in Learning Reconsidered 2. Specifically, The Divine Comity highlights the characteristics of effective student and academic affairs collaborations (i.e., in that the end result is improved student learning). The text stresses that true collaboration is not simply about communicating and getting along; it also comprises in-depth discussion, problem solving, and joint decision making that are all driven by shared goals and priorities. Assessment of collaborative efforts is additionally stressed. Promising practices in student and academic affairs collaboration are discussed but so are barriers or impediments to collaborative work—including the disconnect between the outcomes desired from collaborative work and the types of collaborations that are most common between academic and student affairs.
Nine circles of collaboration, which represent the nine common characteristics of effective student and academic affairs collaborations, were uncovered during research for the book and form its basis. Most of the circles, such as “active outreach between academic and student affairs” and “well-coordinated assessment”, are obviously vital and necessary. However, circle six, “service learning,” and circle seven, “learning communities” are specific practices that institutions may or may not find feasible to form successful collaborations given their particular cultures (Pressman & Wildavsky, 1984). Discussion of the circles of collaboration in chapters can also seem redundant at times—this is likely a reflection of the text being a compilation of work by 16 different authors. In general, the text seems to emphasize theory over practice as not a great deal of process and strategy are discussed.
An important strength of the text is its timeliness given the increasing focus on accountability for student learning. In chapter three, O’Halloran notes, “The increasing pressure on higher education to better prepare students for a complex, globalized world and to enhance educational outcomes forces leaders to consider new solutions to old concerns” (pp. 33-34). Advisors can identify with another important message of the text that students must join in taking responsibility for their learning (chapter 12). They should be equal partners in the new engaged student learning movement that emphasizes a transformative learning experience rather than the transfer of information. Faculty and professional advisors would also be partners in this movement and work collaboratively as well. If advising truly is a form of teaching (Crookston, 1972), advisors need to partner with their academic and student affairs colleagues to assess and evaluate its impact on student learning (particularly for institutional/programmatic student learning outcomes (SLOs)) and make changes as needed.
Overall, the text broadcasts an important message and contains some interesting examples. However, advisors with limited time may be best served by reading chapter 13 on developing effective collaborations because it summarizes the main points of the entire text nicely and serves as a bridge to tie the various messages of the book together.
American College Personnel Association, and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (2004). Learning Reconsidered. Retrieved 13, 2008, from http://www.naspa.org/membership/leader_ex_pdf/lr_long.pdf.
American College Personnel Association, Association of College and University Housing Officers International, Association of College Unions International, National Academic Advising Association, National Association for Campus Activities, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association. (2006). Learning Reconsidered 2: A Practical Guide to Implementing a Campus-Wide Focus on the Student Experience. Available from [http://www.learningreconsidered.org.
Crookston, B. B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13(1), 12-17.
Pressman, J. L., & Wildavsky, A. (1984). Implementation (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Student and academic affairs collaboration: The divine comity. (2007). Book by James H. Cook and Christopher A. Lewis (Eds.). Review by: Marlene Clapp. Washington, D.C.: NASPA, 326 pp., $40 (paperback). ISBN # 0-931654-49-1