By Darrell Stone
Director, Student Advocates Office
The Division of Student Affairs at Indiana University-Bloomington (IUB), respectfully pauses on the news that Dr. Michael Gordon, our former Dean of Students from 1981 to 1991, recently passed away on January 9, 2019. He was 82 years old.
Upon his initial appointment, Dean Gordon became the first African American in a position of leadership at IUB. He originally served our campus as faculty in what is now the IU Jacobs School of Music. Dr. Gordon was known for being a leader who chose to educate, support, guide, and inspire students as well as solve problems or create innovative, new beginnings that addressed challenges. His leadership influenced our campus in myriad ways, but in particular, we pause in gratitude on how he helped to create the original IU Student Advocates Office within the Division of Student Affairs.
In 1981, Dean Gordon collaborated with Indiana University Student Association (IUSA) student leaders to advocate for the proposal and creation of the Student Advocates Office. At that time, the student government leaders in IUSA created a two and a half page proposal and addressed it to the IU Office of the Vice President. This team of three undergraduate student leaders included Mark Kruzan, who in later years, became the City of Bloomington’s mayor. Their student proposal explained that students often felt a “bureaucratic runaround” due to the large size of our campus and hoped that an office such as Student Advocates might provide “individualized guidance and problem solving” in ways that might help minimize these challenges. In addition, the design they proposed could help answer questions, save time, and “keep students from wanting to transfer to smaller schools and help support grievance processes.” Its main goal: to remain an “impartial, centralized entity” as the campus lacked centralization. Its mission, as a result: “the retention of IU students.” Thirty-seven years later, the IU Student Advocates Office is still thriving and has served thousands upon thousands of students in need on the IU Bloomington campus. It is stunning how keen and prescient this proposal remains to this day.
One of the most unique aspects in the request was within the staff design. Dean Gordon helped create an office where the advocates recruited were going to be volunteers, and specifically, retired faculty volunteers. Retired faculty held an innate passion for students but most important they “possess a wealth of knowledge concerning inner campus activities.” In addition, faculty had the foundation of expertise needed to navigate the campus for any student experiencing problems, and a deep understanding of existing resources that may be of help. As former faculty himself, Dean Gordon brought a foundation of administrative and academic skills to the foundation of this moment of change.
Student Advocates initially opened on August 30, 1982 in the Student Building room 110, keeping to the original proposal which stated it should be centrally located for students, open Monday through Friday. Their volunteer staff was comprised of five volunteer advocates and five alternates, who served as substitutes when needed. The original, retired advocate faculty were men and women who represented the departments of I.U. Sociology, Education, Music, Center on Aging, English, and Journalism.
Dean Gordon immediately found ways to improve and further legitimize this crucial Division of Student Affairs office. In March of 1985, the Student Advocates Office had been growing exponentially so he requested funds, created and secured the first paid, part-time position to serve this office. The Assistant to the Dean of Students supervised and coordinated the advocates, and created their resource library, as well as helped to track their cases. An article that winter from his office reflected that the students these advocates support “are angry and confused and often feel helpless…they come into the center almost as a last resort to see if someone can help them. There is a total commitment on the part of the advocates and they stay with each student until the problem is solved.” (IDS, Feb. 1983) That is a mirror reflection that sounds typical of today’s students served in SAO, as well. The difference now is that our campus enrollment has grown, and the numbers of cases as well as challenges for students, seem to have skyrocketed by comparison.
The Student Advocates Office now employs one full-time Director, three full-time professional staff that includes an associate director, assistant director, and client services assistant. The office is still charged to “assist students in resolving academic, financial and conduct obstacles” with a goal of helping maintain progress toward earning their degree. Their current student caseload requires a minimum base of twenty, extensively trained volunteer advocates, all of whom are still retired faculty but for many years also includes retired IU staff. This Division of Student Affairs office works in collaboration with several others in the Division, all academic departments, as well as a multitude of integral campus partners, and additionally is a member of the Vice Provost of Student Affairs/Dean of Students weekly Care Team.
The IU Vice Provost for Student Affairs/Dean of Students, on behalf of the Division of Student Affairs, is grateful that in Dean Michael Gordon’s inaugural first year of leadership he paused and listened to students addressing an urgent campus need, and ultimately provided a creative, longstanding solution. As we now begin the celebration of the Indiana University 2020 bicentennial, we pause to honor the late Dr. Michael Gordon and all those in our history who helped us become the Division of Student Affairs we are today.
- IDS, October 1982 (Heather McCune) Board of Trustees newly appointed Michael Gordon to the position of Dean of Students, IU-Bloomington campus SAO files
- IU Bloomington webpage
- IU Student Advocates Office marketing materials/webpage
- IUSA Student Advocates Office Proposal, February 2, 1981 “To the Office of the Vice President” SAO files
- IDS, January 9, 2019 (Peter Talbot) Former Dean of Student Dies at 82 Years Old
- IDS, January 13, 2019 (Peter Talbot) Former Dean of Students Michael Gordon Remembered as Mentor, Trailblazer