Creating a Center for Professional Development and Leadership

Colleges and universities have realized increasingly that effective teaching by instructors and successful learning by students does not occur through serendipity. Even though more and more graduate programs are providing doctoral students with experience and training in how to teach at the college level, many faculty members still reach their positions largely through an education based on how to perform research, not on how to include students in that research or train others in their disciplines.

The resources devoted to a center for teaching and learning can help excellent professors become even more effective in the classroom, bring improvement to instructors who face challenges in their teaching duties, assist graduate students with learning how to become effective teachers before they ever enter a classroom, and provide all students with improved strategies for college-level learning.

Despite these successes—or perhaps because of them—it has become ever more apparent that teaching and research are not the only responsibilities in which faculty members engage and for which they need training in how to be more effective.

College professors serve on committees, eventually are asked to chair these bodies, act collectively in faculty assemblies and senates, initiate course proposals and curricular reforms, and challenge policies that are no longer useful or productive. They may go on to become department chairs, division coordinators, program heads, deans, provosts, or even presidents. They are expected to demonstrate leadership in their courses and in their service responsibilities, manage resources responsibly, and supervise student workers or members of the staff.

If many faculty members still receive little formal training in how to teach, most still have almost no access to formal programs in how to lead, even though shared governance requires many members of the faculty to assume leadership roles. For this reason, the time has come for colleges and universities to consider a corollary to their centers for excellence in teaching and learning, the Center for Professional Development and Leadership, which can provide formal training for members of the institution who seek or are asked to accept positions of responsibility over others.

A fully developed center for professional development and training would provide opportunities for:

  • undergraduate students to learn parliamentary procedure, budget planning, and other skills they will need in order to be effective leaders in student government, campus organizations, and life after graduation;
  • graduate students to learn successful strategies in leadership that will prepare them for their roles as faculty members, lawyers, physicians, managers, and other positions for which they are preparing;
  • faculty members to learn effective ways of conducting meetings, developing new initiatives, preparing for an administrative position, supervising others, resolving conflict, and developing their own career plans;
  • department chairs and deans to learn best practices in conducting performance evaluations, planning and supervising budgets, developing good morale within their units, moving an area forward, solving personnel problems, and meeting the many other challenges that arise when one is in an administrative position; and
  • provosts, other vice presidents, and the president or chancellor to learn advanced approaches to strategic planning, securing additional resources, dealing with the media, developing a vision, promoting diversity, and dealing with the stress that arises from leadership positions.

An effective center for professional development and training should offer workshops and Web courses for those who wish to develop their leadership skills, individual consultations for those who are experiencing specific challenges, remediation when a supervisor has received evaluations indicating that improvements are necessary, and a highly visible proof of an institution’s commitment to visionary leadership and the best principles of management.

Jeffrey L. Buller is dean of the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of The Essential Department Chair: A Practical Guide to College Administration (2006), The Essential Academic Dean: A Practical Guide to College Leadership (2007), and The Essential College Professor: A Practical Guide to an Academic Career (forthcoming). (All are published by Jossey-Bass.)

Excerpted from Academic Leader, July 2008.