In his role as vice president of learning and student success at John Tyler Community College, Bill Fiege faces a wide variety of issues—dealing with student concerns, allocating resources, and managing change.

All issues have the potential for more significant conflict, and one of his goals is to address issues efficiently and effectively to minimize the amount of energy he (and others) must devote to them.

The following are some specific things he does to manage the issues he faces:

  • Be transparent—When allocating limited resources, it’s essential to explain decisions transparently. “I think it’s a lot about the planning process,” Fiege says. “What is in your strategic plan? Those would be the things that would be supported first. It doesn’t mean everything in the plan can be supported. Planning should be in the forefront so that you have an idea of what you are committed to as an institution and put your resources toward those particular initiatives. At the beginning of the year when I’m meeting with faculty, I’ll review the academic plan. I also have a good professional relationship with the faculty senate chair who also serves on administrative council.”

Fiege works directly with faculty and with the deans and other administrators to get faculty buy-in on what the institution is trying to accomplish, and seeks feedback from the faculty and other constituents on the plan.

  • Listen and admit mistakes—“Really listen and pay attention to what’s happening around you to be able to make good decisions,” says Fiege, whose background is in speech communication. “When you make a decision that wasn’t very good, admit to it, correct it if possible, and move forward.”
  • Take others’ concerns seriously—“[Retired John Tyler Community College] President Marshall Smith said, ‘Don’t assume any issue is too small.’ When a student comes to me with an issue, it is obviously important to him or her. It might seem small to me, but I don’t make light of it and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. Don’t take it personally.’ Obviously, the student may be worrying about it or taking it personally. To tell someone not to worry or not take it personally may add even more insult, and then it takes even longer to address that issue. Now you’ve got to deal with how you’ve just communicated with that person.… If you say it’s not an issue, you’re going to end up spending two or three times longer dealing with it instead of working with the issue as it is,” Fiege says.
  • Explain changes—The college recently underwent a restructuring, and some issues are still unresolved. When the vice president of student affairs retired, the president decided to change the college’s administrative structure. Fiege, who went from vice president of academics to vice president of learning and student success, has seen an expansion of his scope of responsibilities.

The college has several new positions in recruitment, and the way in which the responsibilities are best distributed is still being worked out. For example, Fiege currently has to address every request from students to exceed 18 credits per semester and any request to repeat a course for a third time. “We may move that to the division offices because the deans and associate deans know more about their students and faculty,” he says. “Primarily though, we want students to be assisted without having to go to several different offices. Overall, the primary changes are with titles and direct reports. There was not a systematic overhaul of how the college operates, and it’s a matter of keeping the communication open. If [faculty or staff] have concerns or issues, they can come in and we can talk about them.  But I’m trying to get folks to understand that even though a restructuring has taken place, day-to-day work is not drastically different. The person managing admissions and records is still going to manage admissions and records. The person who does student activities is still going to do student activities. The folks managing the library are still going to manage the library. It’s a matter of making them feel comfortable. I tell them, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. We’ll work together to figure this out and move forward in a positive direction for our students.’ So far, it appears to be working out.”

Rob Kelly is the former editor of Academic Leader.

Reprinted from “4 Principles That Apply to a Wide Range of Administrative Issues” Academic Leader 31.3 (2015) 5