Sunday, April 9, 2017

Academic Leadership--Part 1: Defining Academic Leadership

A friend of mine recently sent me a stack of old Emerald
papers. The Echo was our high school newspaper
in Waterford, Wisconsin. One of the notices in the paper
was my statement to try to get elected onto the student
council. I think I lost the election, but I kept involved with
school governance or management my entire life. I'm
not sure how my name got misspelled.
Recently I led a workshop with my terrific colleague, Terri Shapiro, on academic leadership. We split the workshop into two parts. I covered introductory topics around academic leadership and how to find a position to fits one's skills and Terri reviewed information on how to avoid pitfalls once in a leadership position.

In this multipart series, I will review some of the highlights from my part of the presentation. This part will introduce the series and define academic leadership. Part 2 will detail how to find the position that is right for one's skills. Part 3 focuses on how to create opportunities for advancement. Part 4 reviews issues around whether to find opportunities at one's current institution or whether to consider a move.  Part 5 will consider what step-up skills to build as one prepares to advance. Finally, Part 6 summarizes the steps one should take to start to advance within an organization. The complete series is linked here.

Before moving forward, it is worth defining academic leadership.

Academic leadership is leadership that:

  -Provides guidance, vision, and organizational management for a department, committee, college, or university.

  -Provides specialized expertise (i.e. accreditation, diversity, or research)

  -Provides disciplinary leadership for external organizations such as a professional association.

Frederick Douglass statue at Hofstra University.
Of course, more broadly, leadership can be defined as leading a group toward a common goal. Some have informally defined leadership as herding cats.

Many university faculty do not consider academic leadership a good career option. They look at those who go into academic leadership as former colleagues who go to the dark side. This is not a very nuanced view of university life. Administrators are a necessity at universities and it is important that some of them come from the faculty. In addition, academic leadership positions provide amazing opportunities. Certainly leadership is not right for every faculty member. I know many amazing professors who would be poor leaders. They are great teachers and scholars, but are not so great at herding cats. 

It is also important to note that most university faculty spend about a decade earning a Ph.D. on a very narrow topic. In that time, they get very little administrative training except through the school of hard knocks. Contrast this with many administrators of other organizations who have MBA's or other types of business or management degrees. Unlike administrators in other organizations, university faculty learn how to become administrators over time by taking on progressively more complex roles. That is why it is worth considering whether or not to move toward administration early in one's career.

Oxford University.
There is a range of leadership positions at university and not all of them are in administration. Below is a list of some of the kinds of leadership opportunities that exist on most college campuses:

  -Committee chair
  -Department chair
  -Student club advisor
  -Center director
  -Associate dean
  -Vice provost
  -Vice president
  -Executive director

This is a short list that could be made much longer. What other academic leadership positions are available on your campus?

Next time, I will review how to find a good position that matches your skills. One topic to reflect on prior to Part 2 of this series: How do leadership opportunities vary by rank? What opportunities are available for adjunct faculty, assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors?

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