December 3rd, 2018

Petty Principles for Leaders in Higher Education

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Higher education leaders have an opportunity to make an impact on the education and development of a diverse population of students and help them become contributing citizens in society. However, the job comes with a myriad of challenges that can confound both novice and experienced leaders alike.

In this post, I offer seven tips to help guide academic decision-making. In a play on my last name, I call them “petty principles.”

Excellence: We all have one thing in common, no matter what our role is as it related to higher education. Ultimately, it’s to improve the quality of education for the thousands of students we serve year after year. As a leader in higher education, we should strive to ensure quality outcomes demonstrating character and integrity in all that we do. Although egos get in the way, we should remind ourselves each day that this is truly our calling, and we should do it with a spirit of excellence. We should instruct in excellence, lead in excellence, critique and correct our students in excellence, and we should demonstrate excellence to the point where it is contagious across our colleges and universities. To lead an institution with excellence, you must be prepared to be proactive and not reactive. Excellence as a leader in higher education is also believing each student that walks through our doors can learn and realize their goals.

Expectations: As a leader in higher education, I believe in all students. I recall sitting in a faculty meeting when the discussion got around to “those students.” I asked a faculty member to define “those students”. As the room grew quiet, I explained that I was once one of “those students”. As a first generation, disadvantaged student, I was also familiar with the anxieties and fear that at-risk students bring to postsecondary institutions. I informed my faculty that it was a personal insult to define students as these and those, and we should set expectations and help all students to accomplish their goals. We also must set high expectations for ourselves and our colleagues, and commit to teaching and learning excellence so that our students find fulfilling employment upon graduation. We must support innovation and act boldly to enhance higher education and advocacy for all students.

Cross-Collaboration: Bennis and Biederman (1997) acknowledged that “one is too small a number to produce greatness.” As leaders, we must acknowledge that silos have no place in our institutions. All too often we allow faculty and administrators to develop powerful silos, which are no benefit to our students or institutions as a whole. We must promote opportunities to expand our worldview through exposure to and greater understanding of all peoples, cultures, and lifestyles. As leaders, we must believe in cross-collaboration across the colleges and universities—understanding we all bring something to the table. Break down the silos and understand we are all in this together.

Respect: You want to know why our students distance themselves from intellectual debates. Look in the mirror. Often the behavior we see is the ones that we exhibit. As academic leaders, with many having terminal degrees, everyone has an opinion and a right way. However, there is a method for everyone to share divergent ideas and beliefs in a respectful manner. As leaders, we must learn to do two vital things: treat every person with the same humanity, courtesy, and civility that you would expect. Believe in modeling behavior that is caring and professional.

Professionalism: While you understand that respect is important, the way you behave is equally important. As a leader in higher education, you must believe all individuals must approach their responsibilities ethically, fairly, and with high standards. Develop the belief that each person at the institution must have a strong work ethic and set high standards for self and others as we continuously improve self and surroundings, demonstrate accountability to and for the institution, and ensure the long-term viability of the college and community.

Lifelong Learning: As an educator and someone who tries to learn something new each day, I believe that we should promote learning and development at all stages of life. We must demonstrate to our students that learning occurs both inside and outside of class, and it will continue long after graduation. Therefore, as leaders, our behavior must glean that we must never stop learning and listening.

Resource Management: One word that we will hear often is budget. Along with the budget should be planning. Because my first degree was in resource management, my educational foundation and training are based upon demonstrating equitably and ethically sustaining people, processes, and information to fulfill the mission, vision, and goals of the college. As leaders, we must manage our college resources responsibly to demonstrate good stewardship of stakeholder investments and resources.

Dr. Tanjula Petty is a higher education administrator with 15 years of extensive experience in academic affairs and institutional effectiveness. Her leadership has transformed the function of academic affairs divisions, resulting in expanded academic program offerings, enhanced faculty involvement, and increased student retention and graduation rates. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of Research, Assessment, and Evaluation at Alabama State University, in addition to co-chairing activities surrounding accreditation at ASU. Additionally, Dr. Petty serves as a SACSCOC Review Team member.