Book Review – AVP: Leading from the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs

Hecht and Pina (2016), editors of “AVP: Leading from the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs,” assembled a diverse cast of administrators to deliver a thoughtful contribution to student affairs literature, on a subject which has not t previously been analyzed to this degree. The editors and authors – seasoned professionals from small, medium, and large institutions, public as well as private – draw from personal and professional experiences to provide readers with a well-rounded perspective on a critically important administrative position in student affairs.

Three strengths of the book are highlighted in this review. First, the authors do a great job unbundling a complex position into digestible components for readers; every chapter contains an important topic that could stand by itself as a book. Second, each chapter offers advice on the crucial partnership between the AVP and vice president for student affairs; While the division of student affairs may take different forms across colleges and universities, these two roles must always work collaboratively to be successful. Third, the book articulates to vice presidents how to support their AVPs; the role is becoming increasingly complex and vice presidents are vital to the professional advancement of their AVPs.

Hecht and Pina’s work shines a light on the complicated role of the AVP and delivers practical advice for aspiring, new, and experienced AVPs. As NASPA president Kevin Kruger acknowledged in his foreword, “the role has expanded, with a laundry list of conflicting and seemingly unmanageable challenges in areas that include the budget, equity and inclusion issues, supervision, program management, strategic planning, assessment, sexual and gender-based violence, crisis response, and more.” At the same time, AVPs are expected to be visionaries for the division, innovators, and leaders. Further complicating matters, the organizational structure of the division leaves AVPs balancing the expectations of the vice president for student affairs with the needs of their direct reports, the program directors. The authors examine the competencies and skills essential to performing these various roles and maintaining this balance, in meaningful ways for AVPs to use in their practice.

A second important concept articulated by the authors is the critical relationship between the AVP and the vice president. In her chapter on human resource management, Payne-Kirchmeier emphasized, “There is no more important relationship to an AVP than the one with the VPSA. This pairing needs to be strong and rooted in trust and openness; both parties should feel equally able to speak freely with each other. Ideally, the AVP has a strong understanding of the VPSA’s vision, and the VPSA has a strong strategic partner to openly share ideas for discussion and debate. In short, a positive pairing here spells success for the division; a negative one spells disaster.”

In keeping with this theme, the third strength of this book is its value for vice presidents. Even seasoned vice presidents should not assume they already know about the complexity of the AVP role, and they will be pleased to discover ideas to aid their own practices and identify opportunities to help their AVPs excel. The topics – the first 90 days, managing up and down, relationship building, human resources, and work life integration – are important discussions for vice presidents to have with their AVPs in order to equip them with the information they need to be competent in their roles, and execute the vice president’s vision.

The utility of this book as a personal development tool for AVPs and a team development tool for division leadership is unlimited, as the content is rich for discussion among academic administrators. “AVP: Leading from the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs” is recommended as a gift from vice presidents to their AVPs; the conversations and understandings that follow will be worth the investment.

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