Philadelphia may play host to a dramatic showdown over the merger of America’s two largest student affairs organizations. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) have such overlapping interests (and a 30-percent shared membership) that every 10 years they hold a joint conference. At the last such meeting, in 2007, the two groups formed the Task Force on the Future of Student Affairs to explore merging their nearly 20,000 members. In 2009, both boards accepted the committee’s suggestion to dissolve the organizations and start a new association.
Dr. Leila Moore, vice president of the ACPA Foundation Board of Trustees, lists the practical advantages, including members not having to pay travel and lodging costs to attend two different conventions and not being forced to choose one organization over the other.
“But,” Moore says, “the most important reason is that the field of student affairs is changing so fast and faces so many outside challenges that it is clear that the entire profession would benefit from speaking with one unified voice.”
NASPA began the process of bringing the merger to a vote in 2009 after accepting the committee’s suggestion. The board approved a plan to send the motion to the membership in July 2010, paving the way for a vote in the fall of that year. A survey of 325 delegates in early 2010 revealed that 72.9 percent supported the merger, with only 13.54 percent opposed and 13.54 percent undecided.
However, in a surprise move in February 2010, a group that included six NASPA past presidents successfully introduced a resolution opposing the merger and asking that the board not allow the membership to vote until after NASPA’s March 2011 conference in Philadelphia, essentially pushing the vote back a year.
The resolution complained that the board did not give members enough time or information to study the proposal and that NASPA should hire its own independent legal counsel to evaluate the organizational and financial details.
“I am leading the movement to stop the merger because it would destroy NASPA, which is a successful, century-old institution that is growing and has more members than ever before,” says Dr. Michael Jackson, NASPA’s president from 2002 to 2003. “I think that there is a strong need and role for both groups.”
“However, the truth is that we are a larger, economically stronger organization. If ACPA wants to join us, everyone is welcome. But NASPA is being asked to destroy and dissolve itself for no clear benefit,” Jackson added.
One of the other leading opponents is Dr. George S. McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. McClellan helped Jackson round up the votes to pass the resolution.
“I belong to both [NASPA and ACPA]; they’re wonderful organizations and they have very different cultures that I don’t want to lose,” he says. “I am also worried about existing subcommittees on Native Americans, African-Americans and other identity groups losing representation.” At this point, the outcome is unclear.
“We only need 34 percent of our members to vote no to stop this thing,” says Jackson. NASPA’s board responded to the resolution by hiring its own attorney, continuing to support the merger and rescheduling a membership vote that essentially coincides with its convention.
The presidents of both organizations have also issued a statement promising to address concerns about the representation of minority and ethnic groups.
“I understand that there’s always a fear of change,” says Moore, “but our new culture will be made up of the same people and values that sustained our old organizations.”