Setting academic priorities, evaluating faculty, succession planning, making the transition from faculty to administrator, the issues and leadership responsibilities are many, and seem to grow daily. Turn to Faculty Focus for academic leadership articles written to help deans, chairs, and other academic decision makers lead effectively.
November 13 - More Efficient Meetings Lead to More Effective Decisions
According to John Tropman, professor of social work at the University of Michigan and author of Making Meetings Work: Achieving High Quality Group Decisions, well-run meetings consist of three elements: announcements, decisions, and brainstorming. This straightforward structure belies the lived experience of many who endure long, seemingly pointless meetings that accomplish little.
Difficult conversations are inevitable in any organization. Understanding how they arise and how they play out can help minimize the disruption without avoiding the issue or alienating those involved.
September 9 - Strategies for Dealing with a Certified Jerk
Incivility and lack of collegiality are on the rise in institutions of higher education (Cipriano, 2011). This phenomenon can range from disputes and tension at one end of the spectrum to violence at the other. There are many departments that suffer from non-collegial, uncivil, and nasty encounters between faculty members, faculty members and professional staff, and faculty members and students.
November 14 - Tips for Managing Curricular Conflict
Curriculum changes or differences of opinion about what should be taught and how it should be taught can create tension in any department. And the budget situation in many departments can add fuel to the fire. Jon Bloch, chair of sociology at Southern Connecticut State University, offers the following points to keep in mind to help manage these conflicts:
Accepting and sharing responsibility for creating a productive work setting within the department and institution result, at least to a great extent, from how well each member of the community carries his or her own fair share of the common workload. The challenges faced by higher education institutions in the 21st century cannot be successfully mastered, nor can the efforts of dedicated professionals be sustained when the actions of a faculty member are divisive, uncompromising, and inflexible. In a similar way, it is destructive to a department’s morale and effectiveness when one or more of its members accept a significantly lower degree of responsibility for achieving a shared purpose. These elements lie at the heart of that salient, fundamental hallmark of successful interactions in academic life that is commonly called collegiality.
Two concerns are often raised when department chairs attempt to address breaches of collegiality through the faculty evaluation process. The first is whether they’re permitted to do so at all, since very few faculty handbooks list collegiality as a criterion for reviews. The second is whether evaluation is an effective means of dealing with these challenges, since collegiality is often regarded as something highly subjective and not measurable or verifiable in any consistent way. The first of these concerns can be dealt with rather quickly, while the second will require a much more extended discussion.
Ongoing problems within a department can have profound consequences, including difficulty in recruiting and retaining faculty and students, loss of funding, and even program termination. While the health of a department cannot be the responsibility of a single person, the department chair plays a pivotal role in getting departments out of trouble and maintaining a healthy, positive direction.
If some faculty do not fully embrace their role as academic advisor, don’t assume that they are indifferent to students’ needs or feel that advising is strictly a student affairs function. More likely, this reluctance is due to a lack of preparation and support.
Here are three questions of interest to those of us concerned with institutional support of teaching: 1) Is the strength of an institution’s “culture of teaching” or policy support for teaching and learning reflected in faculty members’ pedagogical practices? 2) Are “cultures of teaching” more prevalent at institutions with “learner centered” policies? 3) Do the relationships between institutional policies, faculty cultures, and teaching practices differ across institutional types?
Higher education institutions generate a wealth of data that can be used to improve student success, but often the volume of data and lack of analysis prevent this data from having the impact it could have. “I think it’s hard for the general faculty population or administrator population to really have a handle on the data that is really driving decisions,” says Margaret Martin, Title III director and sociology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University. “They don’t get a chance to see it or they just get very infrequent information about it. So there may be too much data, but it’s often not communicated effectively to people in ways that are both understandable and useful to them.”