Aphorisms for Academic Affairs July 17

Aphorisms for Academic Affairs


Over the years, I have realized that most of the preparation for academic leadership is focused on how to effect institutional change and make a positive difference. These certainly are the “big ticket” items. The truth is, however, that such broad topics don’t really hit on the blocking and tackling of daily management. With that in mind, here is a little collective wisdom that may prove especially useful for those who are beginning their journey in academic affairs.

Faculty to department chair July 13

The 5 Most Helpful Experiences for Moving from Faculty to Department Chair


Inadequate preparation, unrealistic expectations, and increased workload can be overwhelming for faculty members making the transition to department chair. Brenda Coppard, chair of occupational therapy at Creighton University, found this transition “just a little mind boggling” and decided to focus her research on it.

dealing with disruptive students July 9

Dealing with Disruptive Students


Most professors will have to deal with classroom disruptions at some point, from the relatively minor—students who show up for class late or who talk excessively—to the more serious—disrespectful, uncivil, or threatening student behavior. It’s the role of the department chair to create a culture that helps prevent and deal with disruptive behavior effectively.

Perception problem July 6

The Perception Problem


Whose problem is it when there is a perception that the performance of a faculty or staff member has not been satisfactory? Consider, for instance, the following scenario. A chairperson is conducting an annual performance appraisal of a faculty member and says, “Your teaching seems to have been quite good this year, based on both student and peer evaluations. Your research productivity exceeded our institutional expectations. And you served on more than your share of departmental committees, worked with the recommended number of advisees, and even chaired an important search for us. But there’s still this lingering perception out there that you’re just not a team player, that you put your own agenda ahead of the department’s. I’m worried that that’s going to hurt you when you come up for promotion in a few years. I’m not saying that this is my opinion or that it’s even justified; I’m just saying that it’s a common perception.”

Medieval university leadership July 2

Financial Leadership from a Medieval Point of View


Universities can be subtle keepers of tradition. For instance, one of the first university endowments was created from feelings of being “unjustly vexed” and “enormously damnified.” It was in 1260 that John Balliol apparently caused these ill feelings by somehow offending the lord of an English castle. To make amends, John presented himself at the Durham Abbey, was publicly scourged by the bishop, and pledged perpetual maintenance for poor scholars. The upshot of John’s penance was Balliol College, Oxford. My colleague in institutional advancement liked the idea of public whipping for some donors. He suspected that it might be a useful way to boost the annual fund but doubts whether exacting money in such a way can be called charitable giving. In any case, endowments have been supporting higher education since the beginning. And enormously vexing regulations for resource management followed shortly thereafter. In keeping with tradition, modern institutions of higher education are still required to observe execrable rules that must be navigated by the highest-ranking officers of the college.

department chairs June 29

Rethinking Councils of Chairs


Over the last two decades there have been occasional conference presentations and articles in the higher education literature about collectives of academic department chairs that meet to discuss a variety of topics. These groups are not the same as a chairs’ council that is convened on a regular basis by the dean to disseminate policy and other information. Instead, it is a chairs-only organization that sets its own agenda and works on assigned or self-generated tasks independently of other administrators.

appreciative inquiry June 27

Using Appreciative Inquiry to Facilitate Positive Change


As leaders we are expected to lead and manage change. A core success in that endeavor is to foster, create, and lead highly collaborative teams. A powerful way to achieve this is through appreciative inquiry. It’s a process I use with groups of all kinds. In this article, I will illustrate how you could use appreciative inquiry in two practical examples, a time-limited project team and an ongoing department team. I hope these two examples will offer a structure that you can use in your own leadership as you build and foster the teams you lead and are part of.