toolbox September 17

More Tools for the New Dean’s Toolbox

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A couple years ago, I wrote an essay for Academic Leader suggesting that new deans should examine the administrative implements in their metaphorical “toolbox” to make sure they were ready for the job at hand: providing leadership to their institution when difficult dilemmas require effective administrative action. Those tools included: (1) a hammer when it was imperative to come down hard; (2) a saw when a dean must decide to cut some program or individual loose from the institution; (3) sandpaper to smooth out the rough spots left by hammer and saw; (4) a drill when a complex issue requires more “drilling down” to reach the substrata of the issue; and (5) tape to bind up the fractures, broken relationships, and disconnected policies and practices needing mending.


Preparing Academic Leaders Through Simulation and Role-Play August 6

Preparing Academic Leaders Through Simulation and Role-Play

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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

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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.


bottom-line leadership June 22

Bottom-Line Leadership

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A friend of mine posed a question that I’ve been grappling with: “Why are so many college and university presidents so … bad?” The question caught me off guard since many of the college presidents I meet are hardworking, creative, dedicated leaders. But I knew exactly what he meant. Increasingly, the faculty and even many midlevel administrators at colleges and universities are finding themselves dealing with presidents and chancellors who appear to view faculty members as though they were the enemy, micromanage colleges and departments within an inch of their lives, alienate one group of institutional stakeholders after another, and then depart from the institution after five or six years, leaving others to pay the bill for the damage they’ve done. The fault lies, I believe, in something I call bottom-line leadership.


formal leaders June 20

Developing Formal and Informal Faculty Leaders

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Leadership is not restricted to those in formal leadership positions. Rather, all faculty members in one way or another fill leadership roles and may eventually become formal leaders. Therefore, it’s important for them to develop their leadership abilities. In an interview with Academic Leader, Mariangela Maguire, associate professor of communication and former academic dean at Gustavus Adolphus College, and Laura Behling, associate provost for faculty affairs and interdisciplinary programs at Butler University, discussed how to ensure that faculty get the leadership development they need.


transition to deanship June 6

Maintaining a State of Readiness for Sudden Transition to Deanship

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Many deans enjoy long, productive careers that terminate with retirement. In some cases, deans may make a voluntary strategic career move to a larger institution as a step in a grand plan to move to the highest levels of administration. In cases of impending retirement or an announced move, time may be available to groom a temporary or permanent replacement or conduct an external search. However, in other cases deans may have shorter tenures and their departure may be sudden and unexpected.



failing gracefully April 27

Failing Gracefully

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Make no mistake about it: If you serve long enough as a university administrator, sooner or later you will fail at something—massively, undeniably, and embarrassingly. Either the result that you intended from an initiative never came close to being achieved, or you’ll have a new supervisor who feels you’ve wasted your time pursuing X when you should’ve been pursuing Y, or you’ll charge off in a bold new direction only to discover than no one is interested in following your lead. Never having a failure isn’t really an indication that you’ve done everything successfully; it’s more likely an indication that you haven’t been trying enough new ideas or endeavors. Certainly, you can fail by attempting to do too little rather than too much. But to fail miserably … that usually entails the launching of a new, albeit ill-advised enterprise.


higher education administration April 20

Zen and the Art of Higher Education Administration

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One of the best books on how to be an academic leader actually has nothing to do with higher education administration. Daniel Levin’s The Zen Book (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2005) is a combination of introduction to Buddhist practice and guide to daily life. It is also a wonderful summary of principles that are useful to any academic leader. Consider the following.


using stress April 13

Using Stress to Create Change, Just as Nature Intended

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Organizations are often anthropomorphized— attributed with the characteristics of living things. One might describe an organization as strong or weak. Organizations might be said to flourish or wither. They might be said to experience periods of peace or other periods in which they are under attack and in a position of mortal danger. We might describe an organization as a family or as a team. The stock price of a company may be said to dive or to soar. Organizations are said to be born and, sadly, they often die.