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Michelle Forbes

Personal Philosophy in Higher Education

Some of the most influential courses that I have taken in this program are based on

understanding theories and systems of influence in higher education. I took a Student

Development Theory course and learned that theories are meant to help us think more critically

about individuals and situations that we may come across with a foundation of knowledge to rely

on. Theories help to guide purpose and answer the “why” behind a proposal for change. While

theories are not all inclusive nor completely exhaustive, they highlight that there are endless

lenses through which we can analyze and interpret situations. This allows for a level of humility

among professionals in the field of higher education. This humility is necessary to diversify the

college student population. Diversity can be accomplished by seeking out resources for groups

that are deterred from earning a college degree as a result of a system that was established to

serve a narrow and elite demographic. Higher education was primarily a tool in distinguishing

the wealthy from the poor and had little to do with educating the masses because no one else

“needed” to be educated besides the elite. The goal of higher education should be to educate in

order to create active members of society and therefore, everyone willing to earn a degree should

have means to do so.

Access to higher education for those who seek it should be a national investment, not a

means of making distinctions between different social identities. The same way we advocate for

grade school students to have access to an education and resources regardless of income,

immigration status, ability, race, or gender, is the same way we should advocate for college

students. The argument around not having the funds to create these opportunities is based on the

fact that it is not a national priority to educate the masses. The United States is one of the world’s
superpowers, so access is dependent on who we elect to set the goals of our country. For those

who have traditionally held a seat of power in our country, it is not always in their best interest to

extend opportunities for a higher education to those who would not support them. Policy makers

and institutional leaders are tasked with adopting a critical lens to see injustice that is hidden

behind “tradition” and be able to turn it around without upsetting the status quo.

In my classes and through research, I have alluded to a slice of swiss cheese as a symbol

of higher education. We have the buildings and the goal to educate, but there is always going to

be holes to fill. We cannot pretend that the holes are not there and we have to fill these holes

with strong policies that advocate for access and student success; temporary patches will only

hold for so long and end up being just a blip on the radar as opposed to a movement for positive

change. In my Leadership in Higher Education course, we learned about how critical social

theory helps us to find theses holes. This theory forces you to first know yourself and your goals

and then challenges you to ask why, how, and who is missing. This is not an easy task, but this is

how leaders are made. If people do not have the opportunity to question their reality and how

they play a role in society, they will struggle to become active participants in the world they live

in. Student development theories presented by Perry and Chickering combined with theories that

address identity development in regards to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and

socioeconomic status are there to guide the questions that critical social theory asks of us. These

theories provide templates that challenge our preconceived notions and insight about how to

serve a student as they progress through stages of development. These theories coupled with

Alexander Astin’s theory of Student Involvement and how it contributes to academic success and
social growth further supports goals make sure there are opportunities outside of the classroom

for students to develop.

In this program, I have had the opportunity to learn about myself and through this kind of

reflection, I have learned about my biases, my privilege, and have been able to humble myself to

learn that I did not get here on my own. Many before me had to stop and ask “who/what is

missing” and “what about me” for me to have the opportunities I have today. As a result, these

are the questions I will utilize as a professional; I will listen and look the quieted voices. If ever I

question a policy, I know better than to ask the people in front of me for the answers because I

understand that everything has a deeper purpose than what is presented on the surface. A quote

from the Godfather pt. three states that “Fiance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the

trigger,” and in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, more people need to understand the

politics in order to have a say in the way finances are allocated (Coppola et al., 2001). In the end

higher education is a business and businesses do not grow based on talent or luck. Business

require constant assessment to provide change that suits the needs of the time; we cannot

advocate for those needs if we do not hold the gun or understand the politics.

The course, Supervision in Higher Education was a great opportunity for me to gain

insight on different forms of leadership, how to handle a variety of conflicts in the workplace,

and how to work with individuals with varying degrees of skill sets. That along with the

leadership theories I have come to know throughout this program have guided me as a future

professional in the field. I would consider myself a transformational and situational leader. What

that means for me is that I am an innovator; I am able to bring people together to accomplish a

common goal. I like to think of myself as a cheer captain. I am a motivator and I know the
strengths and weaknesses of my squad. When I come up with ideas or plans, they are created

with the goal of optimizing on team strengths and challenging ourselves in areas we may need

more growth. I am full of energy, but I know how to meet people where they are and work with

them to achieve the next level of creativity and success.

I do not have to be at the top of the pyramid or at the front of the meeting room to be able

to lead by example. I know that teamwork is the only way to build something efficient and

creative; with this in mind, I make it my duty to create opportunities for collaborations and group

bonding. Transformational leaders challenge the norm and take a step further to achieve

greatness. As a situational leader as well, I know how important it is to value the uniqueness of

my team and nurture it so that they are able to lead effectively. While I do not have to be in the

front I am not a behind the scenes kind of leader as well. I learned from a former supervisor of

mine that no one should be working harder than the boss and that is how you find your leader. I

plan to rely on the theories I have learned and seek the understanding of the ones I do not to

enhance my competence as a professional in higher education.


Reference

Coppola, F. F., Puzo, M., Pacino, A., Keaton, D., Shire, T., Garcia, A., Wallach, E., ...

Paramount Pictures Corporation. (2001). The Godfather part III. Hollywood, CA: Paramount

Pictures.