The transition to a new academic leadership position is full of complexities, unwritten rules, and new challenges. Whether the new provost, dean, or chair is new to the institution or has years of institutional knowledge, a simple orientation is not enough to get him or her off to a successful start, says Anne Massaro, project manager and organizational development consultant at The Ohio State University.
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As a department head, I initiate or respond to seemingly endless phone calls, emails, and letters to and from almost every corner of the campus, the community, state agencies, etc. Our department’s office coordinator is swamped by similar interactions. Our faculty members, while working mostly with students, also interact with many others each day. We must all be well-versed in the “who does what” and “how things get done” on our campus and beyond.
Over the past few years, I have realized that most of the preparation for academic leadership is focused on how to effect institutional change and make a positive difference. These certainly are the “big ticket” items. The truth is, however, that such broad topics don’t really hit on the blocking and tackling of daily management. With that in mind, here is a little collective wisdom that may prove especially useful for those who are beginning their journey in academic affairs.
My responsibilities as associate provost and dean of instruction position me to serve as a sort of academic ombudsman, a person who receives concerns raised by both faculty and students and who, when necessary, facilitates the proper execution of the university’s grievance procedures.
In popular fiction, zombies are often described as “the undead,” once lifeless bodies that have been reanimated through supernatural forces. Since they are essentially walking corpses, fictional zombies are almost impossible to “kill,” and just when you think that all the danger has passed, they suddenly rear up again in their never-ending search to consume your brain. Unfortunately, higher education has its share of zombies, too. These are the rumors, doubts, or signs of mistrust that arise periodically and prove impervious to logic or argument.
In the now famous presentation at the 2008 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Long Beach, California, Benjamin Zander, the music director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, spoke of the insights he gained into what makes a conductor great. Zander noted that only after 20 years at the podium did he realize that the conductor is the only person in the orchestra who “doesn’t make a sound. He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful.” (Zander, 2009)
As the new department chair, you are pleased when a graduate student comes to you to discuss her career. That pleasure fades, however, when you find that the conversation is not about choosing between job offers, but about a consensual affair she says she has been having with a faculty member up for tenure. The student says she had been trying to end the affair, but the faculty member has resisted, even threatening to delay her degree. Although she says she has talked to every member of her committee as well as the student advocate, she refuses to file a formal complaint or let her name be used for fear it will damage her career. However, she suggests to you that the faculty member does not deserve tenure.
Finding the right candidate for a faculty position is a critical decision, and selecting the right person can involve a complex search for the perfect combination of qualifications and experiences. Adding to the complexity of the process are the legal and policy issues that institutions must address to ensure a fair screening process.
An increasing part of any academic dean’s week is fielding calls (and sometimes unannounced visits) from concerned parents. These so-called “helicopter parents” are well-known to student life professionals. In the past, they’ve called to try and influence the admissions process, to negotiate improved housing assignments, and to manage the personal lives of their children.