September 29th, 2017

A Conversation with Barbara Lawton, Continued

By:

Barbara Lawton was the 43rd Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, a position in which she served two terms. She served 10 years on the National Leadership Council of the Association of American Colleges & Universities Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative and co-chaired WI’s campaign for LEAP.  Lawton currently sits on the Advisory Boards of  the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service and of the Millennial Action Project, a national organization building bipartisan political cooperation through Millennial leadership.

Lawton recently sat down with Academic Leader Editor Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti to discuss the increasing influence of fundraising in higher education. Read the first part of this interview in the October issue of the newsletter.

 How can an academic leader use fundraising skills as they pilot their career to department chair, to dean or president/chancellor?

First, acknowledge that fundraising stars shoot to the top of the list for advancement.  And then realize that the greatest success goes to those who can grasp the big picture for both the institution and higher education in general.

In the public realm, one could argue that universities have invested heavily in turning some alumni into donors, but these universities have not been successfully equipped to be strong advocates for public funding support.  The long and strong push toward privatization of public education over the last two decades, eroding trust in public institutions, has had its impact on higher ed.  A true leader finds ways to engage and empower citizens as advocates and develop them as donors, even small donors.

Department chairs and deans must also demonstrate leadership in building faculty understanding and support for strategies to advance the institution and to strengthen their own contribution to mission.  For department chairs, that translates to team-building: using the fundraising challenge to lift individual faculty members’ work into view for recognition, engaging them all in strategic planning for the department, and providing them as much context as possible.  For deans, that means demonstrating the capacity to provide a clear vision for those chairs with adequate face time to provide leadership and support, even as you’re on the road a good 40 percent of the time.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for the individual and for the institution with this shift?

 Within this shift lie new possibilities: for individual impact on singular issues, programs and on campus direction; and for new community and alumni relationships that enrich teaching with greater relevance. There is also the potential for confusion within the chain of command and mission creep — or for more cohesive collaboration at all levels. And, within this shift, we find the chance to strengthen higher education’s role in moving the U.S. toward a more equitable society by connecting that goal to gifts to the institution.

 What are some of the ethical issues involved in adding fundraising to the job description of a dean or department chair?

 Development brings language like “return on investment” and “measurable outcomes” into the more esoteric world of academia and, with it, threats to the integrity of both the individual and the institution.  Outcomes should be student-centered, with plan details and costs hewed toward that end.  An academic on the fundraising team is ethically liable to achieve that goal and to fulfill donor intent, and will be audited to ensure the latter was accomplished.

Development processes emanate from the institution’s foundation, but private foundations have little public oversight for their spending, and the legal landscape in the relationship between university and foundation varies from place to place and state to state.  Anyone entering this milieu needs to make it her business to understand personal ethical and legal responsibility in all transactions, and to understand both institutional accountability and the rules and laws governing giving.

Research grants and donations should be subject to full disclosure of sources of funding. As in the political realm for public policy, scientific research is not necessarily neutral – it can be political, in fact – and difficult to establish that it is work contributing to the public good.

How does the move toward decentralized budgets, in part or in whole,  impact deans and department chairs as it relates to fundraising responsibility?

 It provides a potentially productive tension in their work.  It calls for an entrepreneurial mindset and provides real authority to accompany budget responsibility. There is also increased budget transparency for faculty and, with it, the opportunity to increase trust.  That fits well with shared governance that depends on faculty buy-in and implies shared responsibility and shared accountability, and can make internal team-building easier.

But decentralized budgets may pit one college or department against another.  The challenge is to keep the big picture in view, to contribute to an institutional culture that leads away from unproductive competition in fundraising.

How do industry partnerships impact the need for departmental/college fundraising on university campuses?

 They both open the door to large contributions and set new ethical traps to navigate.  These “partnerships,” often called industry affiliate programs, are generally organized by a department.  A fixed fee ensures access and influence.  And, just as large political contributions raise questions of donors “buying” public policy, the lack of transparency in these industry programs creates the specter of a researcher being “bought.”  There are no real industry guidelines for these corporate funders, nor has academia established universal standards for conduct.  And there are obvious differences between departments in opportunity in this category of fundraising.

How do you cultivate a strong culture that promotes individual growth and strengthens the institution?  How can you lead from any position?

 Culture is not necessarily about professed values, which may be ambiguous and easily misinterpreted.  Culture is about the behaviors you want to cultivate.

Political candidates and office holders win and lose on their ability to establish a strong culture that invites public trust and that informs staff decisions at every level.  Academic leaders at every level are also 100 percent responsible for establishing a culture that supports both individual and institutional growth.  They do it with a clear, always visible, passionate commitment to mission.  It begins with their own display of a spirit of generosity within the department or college and absolute insistence that that spirit rule the day in all action.  They educate those they lead that there is no room for cutthroat competition, that increasing the critical mass of compelling stories of work being done in and planned for the institution builds a stronger case for each department and college.  It is impossible to discern immediately where a potential donor’s interest may lie or may be piqued; long-term relationships that support a strong future for the institution call for broad exposure of all its strengths and opportunities in a healthy and collaborative culture.

Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is the managing editor of Academic Leader and the chair of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference. She is the owner of Hilltop Communications (hilltopcommunications.net).