This simple strategy can play a role in bringing a campus together around priorities that are shared widely and a leadership team that is broadly regarded as unified and legitimate. Although, honestly, I cannot quantify its success, from years of experience I can attest to its far from negligible benefits and effect upon campus culture. Moreover, it’s an innovation that costs nothing to implement; no resources—either of money or planning time—need to be expended.
Presidents, if you are both able, invite your provost, dean of academic affairs, or whoever serves as chief academic officer to go for a walk. That’s it. I don’t mean to or from a meeting, although that may have its virtues, too; rather, for regular walks around campus, with a recommended duration of 30-60 minutes.
Staff and faculty often wonder among themselves whether the CEO and CAO are on the same wavelength. In this highly visible activity, they are—literally—together. If the two of you have difficulty eking out time to meet, this is your chance. All kinds of issues can be discussed, and in relative privacy. Paradoxically the public setting of a campus walk turns out to be more private than any office or conference room where “the walls have ears.” And if you are demonstrably engaged in discussion on the walkways, you are less likely to be interrupted than in the office.
Regular CEO/CAO walks can also shore up a president’s academic cache as well as help a CAO convey the sense that academic priorities have the president’s ear. And finally, as the grill lines at campus facilities are generally longer than those for healthier dining options, modeling an accessible wellness activity for faculty, staff and students seems an appealing idea.
Although CEO/CAO walks may enjoy maximal effect on smaller campuses, they can also work elsewhere; and as seems desirable, another campus leader, besides the chief academic officer, may participate with the president.
Daniel Regan is a sociologist and a long-time academic administrator, most recently as dean of academic affairs (2002-2016) at Johnson State College in Vermont.