CURRENT ARTICLE • June 18th truth to power

Speaking Truth to Power


It’s difficult enough to tell your supervisor something that he or she doesn’t want to hear when the two of you have a good relationship. But what do you do when there are personality conflicts or a history of mistrust between you? How would you like unpleasant news to be conveyed to you when the faculty member giving you that information is someone you have misgivings about, little confidence in, or a troubled past with? These situations are not uncommon in higher education. We all have times when we need to tell our boss something that he or she doesn’t want to hear. Perhaps a program particularly important to your supervisor is about to be eliminated by the faculty. Maybe an unforeseeable problem is causing you to go far over budget. Or maybe you simply don’t agree with a stance that he or she has taken. When you’re in a situation like this, you don’t want to be dismissed as a failure, a mere complainer, or someone who’s bent on stirring up trouble. On the other hand, the administrator who receives these unpleasant tidings may have trouble distinguishing between discomfort with the message and distaste for the messenger.


academic leader June 13

Academic Leader as Communicator-in-Chief


Those of us who have served our institutions as deans or provosts know that leadership requires many skills—some of which we bring to the job and some of which we develop in office. I think that the ability to communicate effectively is one that is always a work in progress—partly because it is so challenging and partly because it demands abilities that are not inherent in the leader’s personality. Yes, we have budgets to manage, decisions to make, and innovations to pursue, but if we do not take seriously our roles as “communicators-in-chief,” we will likely not fare well in the many tasks that accompany our administrative responsibilities.

clock time June 11

Clock Time Versus Piece Work in Higher Education


Albert Einstein is credited with the observation that “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Perhaps nowhere is this principle truer than when trying to evaluate the work of faculty members and administrators in higher education. Yet the difficulty of the task rarely stops anyone from trying to count the uncountable and assess the unassessable.

transition to deanship June 6

Maintaining a State of Readiness for Sudden Transition to Deanship


Many deans enjoy long, productive careers that terminate with retirement. In some cases, deans may make a voluntary strategic career move to a larger institution as a step in a grand plan to move to the highest levels of administration. In cases of impending retirement or an announced move, time may be available to groom a temporary or permanent replacement or conduct an external search. However, in other cases deans may have shorter tenures and their departure may be sudden and unexpected.

managing through June 4

“Spider-Man Principle” and the “Categorical Imperative”: How to Address the Problem of “Managing Through”


“Managing through” is the administrative practice of passing difficult decisions on to a higher level of the organization in order to avoid the consequences of having made an unpopular choice. For instance, a department chair may receive a request from a faculty member that the institutional cap on travel funding be waived in his or her case. If the chair believes that this exemption is unnecessary or inappropriate but that refusing it would cause negative repercussions, the chair might practice managing through by approving the request and hoping that it will be turned down by the dean or provost. The chair may be afraid of receiving a poor evaluation from the faculty member that year or may simply wish to avoid the unpleasantness of multiple appeals and claims that “you’re just not our advocate.” The dean is then placed in the difficult position of either overturning the chair’s decision or managing through again by passing the request on to the provost or president. In a truly egregious instance of this practice, the chair may even call the dean to say something like, “I just wanted you to know that I’ve sent on that travel request we spoke about the other day. I’m not going to be offended at all if you deny it. In fact, that’s what I’m hoping you’ll do.” The result is that the administration ends up playing a form of “good cop/bad cop” rather than deciding each issue on its own merits.

diversity May 25

What Encourages Faculty to Include Diversity Materials in Their Courses?


Incorporating material that addresses diversity issues in classes has positive effects on a number of learning outcomes. The success of efforts to make curricula more diverse depends to a large degree on faculty willingness to incorporate these materials because control of the curriculum remains in faculty hands—both collectively, in terms of course and program approval processes, and individually, in terms of daily decisions about what to teach.