|Robert V. Smith,
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Editor
Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium Academic Leadership Development Program
—Milton Greenberg (1927- )
One of the ironies of the higher education enterprise is that academia does not always practice what it teaches in its classrooms, a situation that is particularly true for the training and development of individuals to rise in the ranks of higher education leadership and administration (quote above and other references in Smith, 2006). In some academic units such as colleges or schools of business across the country, students are taught to invest time and money in the careful training of personnel, especially in the development of a pipeline of well-trained individuals sufficiently exposed to the challenges of the company to be prepared to move into leadership roles as the company’s administrative officers and board chairs approach retirement age. However, in most institutions, individuals in higher education are thrust into such complex roles with little guidance and are expected to “sink or swim.”
Most industries would count themselves very lucky to have such a well-educated, intelligent and dynamic group of individuals as the faculty on university campuses from which to choose their leadership. However, few would expect these people to step into a totally new role with duties that impact the reputation, fiscal and cultural health of the organization with no exposure even to the most rudimentary organizational issues facing the institution. While some faculty members are able to garner a bit of knowledge about the overall institution through service on committees and in faculty governance, the lack of a systematic and academic method of imparting administrative knowledge and expertise is a serious issue in most colleges and universities. Too often, this absence of leadership development has the effect of “setting up to fail” the very individuals who have been singled out for promotion, thereby creating the very opposite of what the institution hopes for them and they hope for themselves.
Another dimension to the above argument is the fact that competition for insightful and experienced academic leaders is fierce and getting more so every year, particularly as the “graying of administrators” catches up to the “graying of faculty members,” an issue that has been of concern for years (Dubowsky et al., 2000; Clark and Hammond, 2000; Bombardieri, 2006). The faculty members who were hired in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s to respond to the “Baby Boom” are rapidly reaching retirement age, even though legislation in the mid-nineties removed mandatory retirement at age seventy. That same pool of hires fed the ranks of academic leadership.
Members of the Vietnam War generation likewise are moving into their fifties and sixties and will soon be heading toward retirement. Overall, the noted demographic conditions further emphasize the need for colleges and universities to create programs and policies that encourage the development of a new generation of academic leaders who can come from the ranks of faculty but who have been given an opportunity to learn a great deal about the enterprise of higher education and how to navigate the multiple constituencies upon which it depends. Such a leadership program can also provide a preview of a lifestyle that a faculty member may decide is not right for him or her and avoid mistakes that can be hurtful—both to the individual and the institution.
Enter the Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium
Considering the academic leadership challenges noted above, an initiative on academic leadership is being undertaken by the member universities of the Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium (SECAC). In 2005, the SECAC was incorporated to foster academic collaboration among the Southeastern Conference (SEC) member institutions (Smith, 2007). Led by the provosts of the SEC schools, the SECAC has identified initiatives on which their mutual interests can be brought to bear to provide programs for students and faculty. The first initiative, Education Abroad, began in 2005 and has worked to expand international educational programs for SEC students.
Another inaugural initiative, the SECAC Academic Leadership Development (ALD) Program, will foster academic leadership among the faculty in the SECAC schools. The vision of the ALD Program is to be at the forefront of advancing faculty members as academic leaders within the SEC universities. The ALD Program will identify, develop, prepare, and advance academic leaders from within the faculties and academic administrations of the SEC universities. By providing the knowledge and skills necessary for academic leadership, the ALD Program will follow the model set out by the Academic Leadership Program of the Big Ten Universities and the University of Chicago through their Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), and assist in identifying and developing the next generation of leaders within the SEC institutions.
Developing ALD Program Workshops and Content
There are unique challenges to leadership in the higher education arena that are not found in most private-sector entities and in many public-sector entities. Thus, the development of leaders who embody and embrace the principles and tenets of the “academy” is an increasingly significant need. Indeed, when the SEC Provosts considered founding the SECAC ALD Program, their rationale was based on several provosts’ observations of “thin” candidate pools for an increasing number of academic leadership openings. Thus, growing leadership from the ranks of SEC faculty was seen as a possible solution—to insure the future success of colleges and universities. Stated somewhat differently, the ALD Program has been conceived as a mechanism for insuring that there will be talented, nurtured, enthusiastic, and diverse pools of candidates from which the next generation of leaders in the SEC universities can come.
The University of South Carolina (USC) has agreed to coordinate the development of the ALD Program and to host the first of the two leadership workshops planned for the 2008-2009 academic year. To initiate the ALD Program, each Provost appointed a liaison to the SECAC ALD Program in early Fall 2007. The first planning meeting of the liaisons took place October 29 and 30 on the USC campus. Overarching vision and mission statements were developed along with the structure of the workshops, topics to be covered, plans for upcoming workshops, and the institutional process for nominations as well as follow-up activities for leadership program fellows. In the pilot year for the ALD Program, two workshops would be conducted, one in October of 2008 and one in February of 2009, with the University of South Carolina and the University of Arkansas hosting, respectively.
During their October 2007 meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, the liaison group focused its discussion on the need for both theoretical and conceptual leadership topics as well as more applied, including pragmatic exposure to leadership issues and concerns. Building on the successful model of the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) of the Big Ten Universities, the workshops will combine lectures by experts in various leadership fields with interactive exercises that engage the participants in real-world case studies and “in-basket examples” of typical items that must be addressed in the course of a workday by an academic leader. Exposure to selected literature on academic leadership as well as practical examples will provide the ALD Program fellows with a grounding that is unavailable in any other setting.
The first workshop in Columbia, SC in the fall of 2008 will focus on Leading for Excellence as a theme, and will provide resources on academic leadership as well as speakers and interactive exercises that highlight the tenets of leadership in general and academic leadership in particular. The host institution will also tap local and external experts to provide information on various aspects of managing in a higher education setting.
Besides embodying and acting upon the principles of good leadership, academic leaders in the current climate for higher education must be prepared to communicate to varied and diverse sets of external constituents and understand the organizational structures at the local, state, regional and national levels in which those constituents fit. Beyond addressing those who hold an organizational stake in the institution, academic leaders must also be prepared to respond to a variety of media outlets on both routine and controversial matters. Thus, an overall communication skills component is key to developing academic leaders and will be incorporated into the Fall 2008 workshop.
Another key component of leadership training is that of emergency or crisis preparedness. Sadly, recent events on college campuses emphasize the need to include discussions about responding to emergencies and developing preparedness plans. Although many institutions have fully-developed plans to deal with natural disasters or with accidents involving the extensive and sophisticated research conducted on the campus, only in recent years have institutions had to address communication technologies to alert students, faculty and staff to threatening or criminal activity within the boundaries of the campus. The tragedy of Virginia Tech in April 2007 reminds all that the openness of the college campus and the pressures of college life on young and impressionable students can be a difficult combination to manage, and few people have anything in their experience that prepares them to address such crises.
The second workshop—slated for Fayetteville, AR in February 2009—will focus on Implementing Excellence as a theme and will provide practical information on planning, funding, and budgeting, including their impacts on the institution. While each institution has a unique character and culture, there are aspects of planning and budgeting that are similar and can be adapted to respond to the differences among institutions.
As Smith notes in his guide for academic administrators, “Institution-wide planning typically emanates from the executive leadership of a college or university. Because a variety of academic administrators are often asked to contribute, it is good to have a common understanding of the process and results of such planning.” (Smith, 2006) While there are myriad approaches to strategic planning, it is incumbent upon all organizations to develop a sense of where they stand relative to peers or aspirational benchmark institutions and where they are going in the future. Key to reaching goals and realizing visions is tying the planning process to the budgeting process to ensure that the resources are linked to the achievement of both goals and vision. Although funding mechanisms vary by state and by institutional control (public or private), the principles of planning and budgeting are fundamental to the long-range success of the institution and can be adapted to respond to the availability of resources regardless of the sources of those funds. Information on various types of planning, budgeting and funding formulae is critical to the development of successful administrators, whether it be at the institutional, the college, or the departmental level.
The focus on accountability that has been extensive at the state and regional level, especially for public higher education institutions, has taken on increased attention at the federal level as well. While most institutions have received increasing scrutiny from state governing and coordinating boards, legislative leaders and committees, and their own boards of trustees and regents, the activities of groups such as the Spellings Commission have further enhanced the interest of the various stakeholders in the operations and outcomes of colleges and universities. For both private and public institutions, the expansion of advancement activities brings additional external constituents into the group of individuals to whom academic leaders are held accountable on a variety of issues.
Growing concern over environmental impacts and institutional sustainability has also prompted considerable attention in recent years from academic leaders. The expansion of facilities and the ever-increasing footprint of many colleges and universities force campus leaders to develop plans for insuring that their institutions and home communities are not adversely impacted environmentally. Indeed, universities should strive to be models of sustainability and lead the way in identifying cost-effective methods of eco-friendly operations.
Selecting ALD Program Fellows
In advance of the initial workshop, each institution will develop a process locally for nominating three to five individuals as fellows to take part in the ADL Program. The design of the methodology for nomination and selection will be at the discretion of each SECAC member institution to ensure that the process accommodates the institution and fits within that institution’s structure and culture. Additionally, each institution will develop its own program for following up on the ADL Program workshops to provide leadership activities for the fellows that occur throughout the year. Examples of such activities from prior successful leadership programs include periodic leadership seminars and activities for current and former fellows as well as internship projects and social events for fellows and campus administrators.
Although each institution will be responsible for identifying and nominating its own ADL Program fellows, the consensus is that the successful nominees will likely have shown some interest in moving from the faculty to the administrative ranks of the university. Service as a department chair or associate or assistant dean or vice president, even on an interim basis, can provide evidence of such interest along with service in shared governance organizational leadership positions. The administrative experience gained in these positions is often sufficient to afford the individual a sense of the types of responsibilities and demands of academic leadership as well as providing some insight into the ability of the individual to adapt to the new environment of leadership. Likewise, administration of research and teaching centers can be excellent background for someone who is considering a change in career from the classroom and scholarly activity to the more public and interactive roles of deanship or other administrative positions.
While several of the liaisons who helped develop the plan for the ALD Program indicated that their moves into administrative duties were almost accidental (i.e., being in the right place at the right time), all agreed that solid information about the challenges and opportunities of academic leadership along with specific “nuts and bolts” information about academic organizations would have been extremely helpful in making a successful adjustment to their new roles. The strength of the design of the ALD Program is that it will be based upon the experience of actual practitioners who will be able to embed their own experiences throughout the workshops.
Assessing Results of the ADL Program
Assessments of the workshops and activities will be conducted to ensure that the content and delivery of the material meet expectations and are relevant to the ALD Program fellows. It is expected that similar assessments will be done on the programs conducted throughout the year at SEC institutions. The goal is for these programs to be premier models for the development of academic leaders and all efforts on the part of coordinators and the SECAC leadership will be aimed at that goal.
In summary, we have described the SECAC ALD Program—how it was conceived, an indication of its goals, and some commentary on the proposed structure and content of workshops and related activities during the 2008-2009. SEC faculty members should be on the lookout for further information through the SECAC website (http://www.secac.uark.edu/) and their deans’ offices. Suggestions or questions are also welcome by us and may be directed to the SECAC ALD Program coordinator, Christine Curtis (email@example.com). Queries about All Things Academic should be directed to Bob Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A recent article by Lucie Lapovsky, former president of Mercy College in New York (insidehighered.com, November 5, 2007) discusses the pros and cons of choosing a president from inside versus outside the institution. Bringing in new ideas by someone who does not have longstanding emotional ties to the community can invigorate a university or other higher education institution. But an equally good case can be made for promoting someone from within who knows the culture and the individuals, their strengths and weaknesses, and may provide a better chance to make meaningful change more quickly.
Many of the same issues hold true when searching for individuals at the associate dean level and above. The search process for academic leadership can be time consuming and emotionally draining for those involved, and unfortunately does not always generate a pool of candidates with the strengths, experience, and diversity desired for the leadership positions. By identifying individuals who have a demonstrated desire to take on administrative positions and developing the talents, initiative and knowledge base of those individuals, the SECAC Provosts hope that the ALD Program will tap into a pipeline of future academic leaders that will strengthen SEC institutions for generations to come.
Bombardieri, Marcella. ˝Graying of US academia stirs debate,” Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2006/12/27/graying_of_us_academia_stirs_debate/ (November 7, 2007).
Clark, Robert L. and Hammond, P. Brett. “As Professors Age, Retirement Policies Need Rejuvenating,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.come/weekly/v26/i39/39b00701.htm (June 2, 2000).
Dubowsky, Nathan, Harman, Elliot, Jr., Simons, Leonard, and Przybylski, Jerry. “The Graying of Science Faculty in U.S. Colleges and Universities.” Journal of College Science Teaching 29, no. 6 (2000): 390-393.
Smith, Bob. “SECAC: What is it?” All Things Academic, 8, no. 3 (2007); http://libinfo.uark.edu/ata/ (November 7, 2007).
Smith, Robert V. Where You Stand is Where You Sit. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2006.
Lapovsky, Lucie. “An Alternative Approach to Finding Presidents,” Inside Higher Education, http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2006/05/12/lapovsky (May 12, 2006).
*Christine Curtis serves as Vice Provost for Faculty Development at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.
**Kathy Van Laningham serves as Vice Provost for Planning and Director of the Office of Institutional Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Kathy is also serving as the University of Arkansas Liaison for the SECAC ALD Program.
***Bob Smith serves as Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
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Last updated: December 5, 2007