Georgian Court University
Statement of Leadership / Administrative Philosophy
In my experience, overseeing academics is somewhat akin to herding cats. Each person has a strong opinion on the direction the group should be taking, and each is hell-bent on going that way, regardless of what others think or say. Chairing the Science and Math Curriculum Committee at Georgian Court, I gained some useful insights into this "herding" process.
Prior to my term as chair, the committee had a reputation for having an extremely hard time developing consensus on issues; thus interminably long and contentious meetings. My goal in this kind of context is always to get things done with a minimum of drama and a maximum of efficiency.
To change how the committee functioned, I developed the habit of requesting that all issues to be discussed at the next meeting be placed on the agenda in advance. This allowed me to anticipate particularly contentious issues and to work to ensure that everyone knew exactly what the issues were and what was being requested. In many cases, misunderstandings and miscommunications could be cleared up before the meeting even took place. In addition, people had time to clarify their thinking and prepare their cases so that they could present them clearly and succinctly at the meeting. These small changes resulted in enormous improvements in both the atmosphere and the effectiveness of the resulting meetings. These changes emphasized the importance of clear and consistent communication in academic leadership.
Similarly, while effective leadership in any setting requires that every group member feel that their opinions are important and valued, overly frequent or prolonged meetings can sap time and energy, distracting faculty from more important pursuits. Therefore, when managing departmental affairs, I believe in a three-tiered structure for decision making. In the first tier are the every day "nuts and bolts" decisions of the department with few if any larger implications. Iím comfortable making these decisions using my common sense with very little input from others. Also in this tier are decisions that are inappropriate for group input, needing to be made by the administrator, such as enforcement of disciplinary policies and recommendations for promotion, tenure and merit pay. In the second tier are decisions that are appropriate for and worthy of input from others, but which have relatively simple "yes or no"- type solutions. I believe these decisions are most effectively dealt with via email or similar, asynchronous, discussion forums. Also in this tier are decisions that effect only one or a small group of faculty, such as the assignment of teaching responsibilities. These decisions are best dealt with through one-on-one or small-group discussions. In the third tier are key policy issues that have implications for the entire department, school or institution. Such major decisions clearly should be shaped by the entire group to ensure that the best possible alternatives are selected, and to build a sense of ownership and community. Such a three-tiered strategy maximizes time available during scheduled meetings for discussion of substantive issues.
When important issues are discussed within a larger group or department, it is the administratorís responsibility to ensure a complete discussion of the issues, ensuring that all members of the group are heard. Ideally the group will reach consensus on the preferred way forward for each issue. However, 100% consensus is not always possible and, sometimes, once all of the sides have been heard and considered, it is often better to move on to a vote than to keep reworking an issue that is clearly intractable. Once a decision is made, the administrator should accept and implement the majority decision. There is nothing more frustrating as a faculty member than putting time and energy into a discussion, and then finding that, because the decision didnít come out the way that the administrator(s) wanted it to, it wonít be implemented. If the administrator has reason to believe that there is only one appropriate outcome for a decision, then that issue should be moved to the first tier and made without wasting faculty time and energy in its discussion.
An important part of being a leader is creating opportunities for success for those around you. I believe that administrators should work to foster an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity, innovation and excellence within the department so that each person can maximize their success. Being a cheerleader is also a great motivator. Sister Patricia Burns, who was chair of my department for many years, used to go out of her way to actively solicit information about the good things being done by faculty, staff and students in her department. She publicly acknowledged and appreciated those actions. In so doing, she made us all feel valued and eager to do more. I always try to do the same thing. And, while individual success is important, shared success is also valuable. I am thus committed to mentoring and supporting collaborations between faculty across the university. Such collaborations are both academically and intellectually stimulating, and are also powerful community builders.
Finally, an important part of building a successful career is finding the right balance between teaching, research, advising, other forms of service, and oneís everyday life. I believe that mentoring younger faculty to help them find the right balance between all of these competing demands on their time is an important part of a department administratorís responsibilities.
Dealing with stress as an administrator is always a challenge. I have found several strategies that really help me with this. The first is remembering that delegating a task is not necessarily the same as shirking that responsibility. In many cases, delegation can be a win-win scenario. For example, I have a colleague who is chairperson of her department. While she has many wonderful qualities, she finds scheduling classes extremely challenging. However, another member of the same department has a particular strength in that area. By delegating the task of organizing each semesterís class schedule, the chairperson capitalizes on the junior faculty memberís strength, while allowing that faculty member to add to the list of service contributions she can document for tenure and promotion. Enabling and even motivating others to contribute to department life, and then ensuring that they feel valued for their diverse achievements, is often one of the greatest gifts that an administrator can give to her faculty and staff.
I am also a compulsive "to do" list maker. I find that such lists help me keep track of the tasks that need to be done, and prioritize them, so that the most important things donít get lost in the shuffle. I also have always had the good fortune of good friends both within and outside my workplace. Knowing that support is only an email or phone call away helps make challenging situations less so and friends who will always tell one the truth are an invaluable asset in any situation. Finally, maintaining a healthy sense of humor and fostering the same in those around you is perhaps the best stress-management strategy of all.
Page updated October 1, 2009