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Why we are doing the PPDS series

Provost's Remarks

Provost Hellenbrand Photo
Remarks by Provost Harry Hellenbrand
March 8, 2006
Provost’s Professional Development Series

Doing the Right Things, Right

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,” ( Peter F. Drucker)

Why this series on managing and leading in academic affairs, and why now?

Basically, we—chairs, associate deans, deans, budget officers, directors, and central administrators—share a growing realization that we ask people to manage and lead in a difficult time, and rarely prepare them to do so.

I’ll take myself as an example. As a graduate student preparing to be a professor, I spent 85% of my time researching, 15% of my time teaching, perhaps. That was supposed to prepare for my job in a small liberal arts college and, later, a public comprehensive university where I actually taught 85% of the time and researched 15%. Then I entered administration. There, I spent at least 85% of my time on managing and leading and at most 15% on teaching and research. Does one step prepare for the next?

Teaching and learning centers, though under-resourced, ease the transition from graduate student to teacher. But how do we support those who move into administration and governance? ACE, Chairs’ Workshops, national workshops for new deans, and the Harvard Institutes are effective; but the opportunities are limited, clearly. So, with your counsel, we have arranged this series around managing and leading in a public comprehensive university. Your advice and criticism are essential to its success, since just as we are the students, we also are the experts. We must teach one another.

It is tempting to begin with a rhapsody about change, the challenges to leadership, and the complexities of collaborative leadership. I’ve heard that many times. Or, I can invoke the prospect of WASC—and our need to demonstrate that, as staff and faculty, we gather evidence about the effectiveness of what we do and then improve our programs, based on what we have learned. But we do not have either a pre-conceived formula for success or a rehearsed chant with which to inspire or terrify you. We just sense what the issues are—that management and leadership are skills that we do not develop sufficiently. And apologies to Hillary, we have a gut feeling that it will take a village of managers and leaders to begin to identify and co-teach these skills.

Think of the perplexities you have as managers, as daily stewards of faculty, staff, students, budgets, buildings, and equipment.

  • GOVERNANCE: We expect you to be decisive and timely; yet we demand that you practice shared governance.
  • INITIATIVE: We need you to be entrepreneurial as the state’s affections turns from hither to thither and yon; but we warn you about litigation, legislation, and risk aversion.
  • COMPLIANCE: We warn you about policy changes; but more often than not, they either sweep by in email or arrive post hoc in audits.
  • THE MANY HATS: You were trained as a scholar, a teacher. It was, perhaps, a reasonable stretch to manage curriculum and to critique peers in RTP. But are we prepared to research, sell, and staff for-profit programs? To identify, cultivate, land, and steward major donors? You were hired, you thought, into a state university. But that school—and your role—have morphed into the University of Phoenix and a charitable foundation. You took your job, probably, to guard or implement your discipline; but now, you are a time and labor certifier, a contract interpreter, an event impresario, a webmaster, and a travel agent. You must manage in all these contexts.
  • MOTIVATION: To the extent that we can, we manage professors, who regard themselves as independent contractors—free minds. But we must relate to them through the arcane practices of the Contract and the Education Code. Want to reward someone? Do contract, code, and past practice permit it? Want to chastise someone? Is the action progressive, the evidence documented?
  • BUDGET: Everyone asks for more from you—more students taught, more grants and gifts, more technology, more reports, more released time. Meanwhile, in constant dollars, your budget shrinks. You must do more with less, unless wearing your fund-raising hat, you transubstantiate crackers and hootch into croissants and chardonnay.
  • GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Students come to you under-prepared but with the self-righteousness of customers who have memorized the return policy. Your academic discipline demands, well, discipline. You must differentiate a customer’s prerogatives from a student’s obligations.

The problem for us as managers is not that higher education is too corporate. Rather, the problem is that no one model of organizational leadership can capture the complex culture of a university. Each of us is:

  • a manager, entrepreneur, steward;
  • a standard bearer, a creature of contracts and codes, and a customer services representative;
  • and an intellectual coach, a budget-supervisor, and an inventory clerk.

Do our vacancy announcements state the jobs accurately? I doubt it.

Later sessions will return to managing well. But today we talk about leadership and one special aspect—planning. To manage is to distribute and monitor resources for a certain effect. To lead, however, is to define the goals, benchmarks, and the contexts in which we manage; it is to motivate people to share in defining those goals and to strive to fulfill them.

As leaders, we turn to charisma, legitimation, or authority to get this done.

  • Unless you are Derek Bok, forget charisma.
  • If you are not Chancellor Charles Reed, forget authority.
  • And if you are not CSU counsel Gale Baker, kiss legitimation good bye.

That leaves us mainly with persuasion. Like the founders in the 1770’s and 1780’s, we must distill direction from our common culture and together write and speak the texts, the plans, that will commit us to action.

Why plan, why not proceed as we do? We get ahead of the curve when we see that much of what we consider accidental, like budget cuts or dysfunctional technologies, are part of larger trends. We can and should anticipate them by regularly scanning ahead—they are the environment.

Here are ten.

  • DIMINISHING SUBSIDY IN CONSTANT DOLLARS OR PERCENT OF STATE EXPENDITURES: the withdrawal of state subsidies to higher education because of competing priorities and referendums—a trend.
  • ACCOUNTABILITY: Despite this withdrawal, increased accountability on grad rates, k-12 effects, impacts on region—here to stay.
  • COMPETITION: As subsidies withdraw, the invasion of the privates to teach to our base intensifies.
  • CERTIFICATION, ESPECIALLY ON-LINE: Mounting demand for professional degrees and certificates as white collar careers morph and as time pressures squeeze out travel time so that harried professionals TVO their education.
  • TECHNOLOGY: A ceaseless appetite for technologies—our national fetish. Along with new devices comes the need to redesign work flow—and teaching/learning--in ways that actually identify savings in time and labor and that make learning a more effective process.
  • FRAGMENTATION: The multiplication and subdivision of the disciplines, challenging collegiality, stretching budgets, and fragmenting further what universities mean.
  • COMMERCIALIZATION: The transformation of the university commons into commercial and recreational emporiums, such that consumption replaces dialogue.
  • ACCESS: The expectation that masses can and should attend universities. Gaps open between capacity and demand, faculty expectations and student preparation.
  • VIRTUALIZATION: The University becomes not so much a place but a suite of virtual processes on people’s desktops. Need a student record? Go to the HR data mine. Forget how to calculate? Call up the online Math tutorial. Cannot find your teacher? Email her.
  • MISSION CREEP: a university, a social agency, a club, an event arena, a financing corporation, a counseling center, a walk-in clinic. What are we?

And, I believe, while we might need to color in our mission, we know its outline—that is, we sense, at least, the direction that we will steer through these trends.

We must be consequential locally, affecting change in the five valleys.

We must dedicate ourselves to academic quality: specifically to setting benchmarks for what students should learn and develop, as examples; then to assessing the gap between intention and achievement so that we can plow what we learned into what we do next.

We must be learning-centered, constantly refining the pedagogies that enable us to communicate content and skills to students who learn at such different paces.

We must be attentive to students as people; that is, we must make our own bureaucracy, curriculum, technology, and services transparent and accessible.

Above all, we must value academic specialization as a prelude to professional careers; we insist on general education, too, as a toolset for both citizenship and change.

Finally, we know the basic challenges that these trends pose to the actualization of our mission:

  • Restructuring work and rewards so that, for example, faculty dedication to their disciplines lines up more coherently with the University’s regional actions.
  • Developing meaningful assessment that is not a succubus of time but rather a transfusion of re-oxygenated blood.
  • Prioritizing what we want to do to match the mission and fit the budget. We value learning-centered. What means to it? Technology for self-pacing? Smaller class size for intimacy? Reduced teaching loads to enhance preparation? All? Other?
  • Building curricula and services that students need, not so much want; then, adjusting capacity to demand, balancing majors with general education and minors, and linking the classroom to the world.
  • And planning efficiently and organically, such that we solicit broad input, capture essential directions, but avoid redundant and excessively detailed plans.

We are rather good at crisis management, the day to day, and the ad hoc. We respond, we react, we triage.

But can we foresee—not fantasize, not prognosticate cryptically like Nostradamus?

Can we squint and refocus so that we can see to the horizon, make out the figure that appears to rise toward us just beyond the curve?

Today, we have an opportunity to think more about planning as a process—

  • how to build on evidence/assessment,
  • how to plan as colleges/divisions and as academic affairs,
  • how to link college and campus priorities, how to develop a vision.

We can ask questions about the planning process ahead, next year. And we can pay special attention to the gaps—the interstices between divisions and colleges—that require bridging and planking so that travels don’t plunge out of sight.

We are guided by Brian Nedwek. He is the Vice President for academic affairs at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. He was previously the Vice Provost at St. John's University in New York, where he managed program review and strategic planning for the university. He is a past president of SCUP and a recipient of the SCUP Distinguished Service Award.


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