CURRENT ARTICLE • August 23rd new CAO

A Few Thoughts for the New Chief Academic Officer


After a number of years as CAO of a small southeastern college, I was asked to participate in the Council of Independent Colleges’ workshop for new CAOs. The organizers asked if I would lead group discussions on the theme of “Surviving and Thriving as a New CAO.” I agreed, though I warned the organizers that while I could speak as one who had survived (so far), thriving is always an aspiration. In some ways, thriving as CAO is a bit like someone who takes the stage and announces that she’s a comedian, only to be told by an audience member, “We’ll be the judge of that.”


forms August 21

A Matter of Good Form


That paperless academic environment we’ve been promised for the past few decades never quite seems to arrive. Each year, academic leaders find themselves inundated with more and more forms. Although many of these can now be completed online, a surprising amount of paperwork that has to be completed by hand still crosses our desks. Every week seems to bring a new form, many of them seemingly created by people without much design skill who haven’t given a great deal of thought to the person who’s going to be completing the document. With that in mind, therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile to articulate a few general principles of etiquette that we might adopt whenever we’re adding to the stack of forms we expect those at our institutions to complete.

restructuring academic programs August 20

Restructuring Academic Programs into Larger Divisions


Since 2013, economists and financial strategists have insisted that higher education must reduce its costs. In fact, the Moody’s perception of mounting fiscal pressure on all key university revenue sources led to the 2013 downgrade of the credit rating for the entire sector (Moody’s, 2013). But even before the 2008-09 economic crash, the Berea College administration realized that its budget was not fully sustainable in the long term. In 2008, almost 80 percent of Berea’s budget came from its endowment, which by March 2009 dropped from more than $1 billion to less than $700 million.

tools August 16

Filling an Empty Toolbox


The convention in many video games is for the players to begin with only a few rudimentary tools or weapons and then increase their arsenal as they complete more complex challenges. Administrative positions are amazingly similar. Most of us start out with few, if any, tools in our leadership toolboxes and add resources only as we mature, gain more experience, receive appropriate training, and learn from our mistakes. In fact, we make a lot of those mistakes initially, largely because our repertoire of administrative strategies is so small. In the familiar adage that’s been attributed to practically everyone from Mark Twain to Abraham Maslow, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” So if something has worked once to solve a problem—creating a task force, working with opinion leaders behind the scenes, or simply forging ahead by making a decision ourselves—we keep doing that until the time comes when that approach fails—perhaps spectacularly and destructively.

Approaches to Building and Sustaining a Diverse Adjunct Workforce August 14

Approaches to Building and Sustaining a Diverse Adjunct Workforce


With nontenure-track faculty now comprising 70 percent of the faculty workforce, academic leaders face daunting challenges in creating proactive workplace strategies that address this new reality. Even though more than a quarter of nontenure-track faculty are now in full-time nontenure-track appointments, the majority still teach part time. Despite the urgency of addressing this dramatic shift in the faculty workforce, as we point out in Creating a Tipping Point: Strategic Human Resources in Higher Education (Jossey-Bass, 2013), higher education has been comparatively slow to realize the potential of human resources (HR) in developing strategic talent practices. By contrast, in the private sector, a twenty-year research study (Ulrich et. al., 2008) with 40,000 respondents in 441 companies found that when HR professionals develop high-performance work systems, these practices affect 20 percent of business results. Such practices, however, need to be integrated and systematic to produce these outcomes.

Surviving a Leadership Transition August 13

Surviving a Leadership Transition


Leadership changes in the upper administration can be stressful for chairs and deans. We’ve all seen situations in which a new chancellor or president arrives, and between six months and a year later, there’s an entirely new team of vice presidents. Sometimes entire divisions are reorganized. Offices are moved from the supervision of the provost and vice president of student affairs to create a new center for enrollment management, or an existing division of enrollment management is dissolved, and the people who worked in it are reassigned to the provost and vice president of student affairs. At times, too, new CEOs like to bring in their own team, usually people they worked well with at their previous institutions. (On why such a move is almost always a mistake, see Buller 2016.) A new vice president for academic affairs is often followed by the hiring of new deans, a new dean by new chairs, and so on.

Peacemaking 101 August 9

Peacemaking 101


You are the chair of a department of six full-time faculty members. You have been chair for three years, are tenured, and hold the rank of full professor. Four of your faculty members are tenured, three hold the rank of associate professor, and one, Dr. Bill Dudas, is a full professor. One faculty member, Dr. Amanda Thompson, is a tenure-track assistant professor in her fourth year at the university. You consider Thompson your most valuable and productive faculty member. She is a master teacher, a great scholar with many databased articles published in highly regarded journals, and on five university committees as well as three key committees in the department. She is project director for a US Department of Education five-year grant to fund students in the department’s master’s degree program.

How to Lead Assessment in Your Unit August 7

How to Lead Assessment in Your Unit


Being in charge of assessment within one’s unit involves more than measuring student learning outcomes. It’s about leading cultural change, a process that is best undertaken in collaboration with those who know the discipline, program, and students best—the faculty and staff.

In an interview with Academic Leader, Linda Neavel Dickens, director of institutional accreditation and program assessment at The University of Texas at Austin, offered advice on how to lead this collaborative process.

Preparing Academic Leaders Through Simulation and Role-Play August 6

Preparing Academic Leaders Through Simulation and Role-Play


When it comes to how we interact with our students, most of us have made the transition from teaching to learning. We understand that, in order for students to master a subject, they can’t be spectators; they have to engage actively and consistently in the learning process. Even when we struggle to live up to our expectations because our classes are too large or are taught online, we find ways to get away from the old “teaching by telling” model and move closer to our “learning by doing” ideal.

Why, then, don’t we follow this same principle when it comes to preparing academic leaders? A quick website search reveals that most institutions provide chairs, deans, and faculty leaders either no training at all, or a series of independent workshops on such topics as budgeting, time management, and conducting faculty searches. Make no mistake: Workshops of this kind play an important role in providing academic leaders with the information and skills they need, but they’re hardly enough by themselves. They need to be integrated into a program that’s continuous, structured, and interactive. We learn by doing no less than do our students. One way of making leadership training more effective is to incorporate simulation and role play.

Five Newbie Mistakes Made by Academic Leaders August 2

Five Newbie Mistakes Made by Academic Leaders


The first six months (or even year) of a position is often called an academic leader’s “honeymoon period.” People are more likely to overlook an administrator’s mistakes and to cut the person a little bit of slack about taking the institution or program in a new direction. That’s a good thing, because new academic leaders frequently get in their own way by committing five mistakes due to inexperience—at times bringing their honeymoon period to a sudden, inglorious close. Although these five newbie mistakes are most common among academic leaders who are brought in from the outside, a few of them are also committed by those who are new to their jobs within the same institution.