I’m well aware that many of my fellow educators will cringe at this admission. Like most higher ed folks, I unexpectedly found myself working in higher ed. I was young and broke. I needed a job fast to pay back the student loans that were barreling down on me. After a few years of free tickets to Broadway plays and great adventure, I decided this was the way to go. Higher Ed was fun. I was making an impact on the next generation and getting paid to do it. My students adored me. I absolutely loved my job. Over a decade later, a few more degrees under my belt and massive student loan debt, I’ve climbed my way to middle management. As an Assistant Dean, I am faced with the responsibility of student discipline. I am no longer the beloved cool educator. My interactions with students are not always pleasant due to my role. I am feared by some, hated by many and avoided by most. Only a small handful of students know me well enough to understand that this is my job and not who I really am. I reminisce about the days when my office was full of happy, eager smiling students. Instead I stare across the desk at pissed off, frowning students. They are most often cursing or crying. I am Negan.
Negan, the psychotic and ruthless leader of the Saviors was never the person I would have looked at from a disciplinary prospective. He seems to enjoy bashing in heads and burning people’s faces off. While most higher ed professionals enjoy the love and devotion of students who want to be them, I literally have students running in the opposite direction when they see me. Not for something I did but most likely for something they were not supposed to be doing. Keeping my inner Negan at bay is a struggle sometimes. Student discipline, title IX investigations and holding students accountable just sucks. Anyone that has ever had a student that violated the code of conduct knows the difficulty in finding the balance between laying down the law and a teachable moment. It is almost never cut and dry. Add the potential chaos that is a title IX violation to the mix and you find yourself in a no win situation. Some students accept their punishment with grace but the majority do not. I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve had books and papers thrown at me and once I had a student throw a punch. This is where my inner Negan becomes particularly hard to silence. As the judge and jury, my role is clear. I am to dole out this particular sanction for this particular crime. As a human being, my heart truly goes out to some of my students while others times I want to sanction them back to grammar school waiving the code of conduct in their face like my own Lucille. Unlike Negan, I worry if the sanction was too severe or not severe enough. And I agonize for days, even weeks, that I made a decision that will adversely effect them in the future. I am careful when Negan creeps into my disciplinary letters. The students that behave the worst without remorse are the hardest. I rewrite sanction letters for hours often asking a trusted friend or coworker to read it. Most importantly just like Negan I fear that even the slightest sign of weakness will result in my own zombie Sasha trying to eat my brains. The walking dead is full of conflicted leaders struggling daily to manage the good and bad of being an authority figure. They all make both good and bad decisions. Some decisions have lasting effects on the people they are trying to keep safe. (As an aside, I’m firmly in the “Darryl should have keep it together so Glen could live” camp). My job like many of our favorite walking dead leaders is to keep the students safe and if suspending one is the answer then I have to act fairly and swiftly. Someone has to be the bad guy. Someone has to be Negan.
Erin McCann is a higher education student affairs professional with over 15 years of experience working in Student Activities, Registration and Advisement, Disability Services and Title IX. She currently works at New Jersey City University where she is the Assistant Dean of Students and a Title IX investigator. A dissertation away from her Doctoral degree, Erin is passionate about teaching students soft skills to assist them in their job search and future profession. The only thing she is more passionate about than her students are her two dogs, Payton and Winnie, who probably could both use a little discipline as well.