This week I pitched to the Faculty Senate the idea of the faculty and staff senates’ collaboratively housing a women’s leadership program. I made a case for creating a professional-development program that is truly self-development and which fosters not only cross-campus knowledge transfer, but also inter-divisional collaborations and resource sharing that can strengthen the entire institution. Equally importantly, the university has an opportunity to visibly demonstrate its support for women in leadership. Faculty questions were limited; it was a lot to take-in. Still, through individual discussions, I learned some primary concerns.
On the one hand, we as a university suffer from both insufficient funds for new professional staff and a worry about administrative bloat. On the other, the faculty have had to harbor more and more administrative responsibilities, part of a growing trend of reframing faculty as academic professionals with a growing number of non-teaching responsibilities. Within the context of the senates’ co-owning this program, at least some senators privately expressed concern about the latter.
That’s a legitimate problem. The program I’ve proposed is not a simple one. One faculty member and one staff member would serve as co-coordinators and co-facilitators. Based on my initial cross-campus interviews, we can roll out a series of workshops on requested topics — interviewing, negotiation, building a support structure … — while fostering a sense of both cohort and campus community, the latter via diverse campus contributors. Early in the semester, each participant would shadow another participant in a different university division and report back to the rest of the group, which would improve cross-institutional cultural understanding. After meeting for 3.5 hours every other week for five sessions, the cohort should have bonded enough to pursue as a team an intrinsically-motivated charge, such as investigating a personal frustration that negatively impacts student success and is a high priority for the institution to address. The charge would enable the cohort to develop teamwork skills, learn more about the university, cultivate an understanding of institutional priority, and possibly inspire champions for their cause.
One faculty member privately expressed concern that the program’s design would overtax the faculty and staff coordinators. Although we would hope to reward the coordinators with more than a line on the C.V. — for example, by using state and institutional diversity-grant funds to support their attending a state or national leadership retreat — we wouldn’t be able to promise them anything since we’d have to secure those funds after they’ve started. This faculty member rightfully questioned what would happen if a coordinator’s interest faded in the face of a high workload coupled with uncertain or no reward.
Still, I learned through my campus interviews and private conversations that, with or without a home, this or a similar program will happen. The demand is so high that even if the senates rejected the project and the administration couldn’t take ownership of it, individual faculty and staff would assume responsibility on their own. It would become a grassroots program.
While that fact in itself is truly beautiful, an institutionally homeless grassroots initiative sends the wrong message. It implies, the institution does not value women’s leadership.
The real problem has nothing to do with campus desire to support the program. Although we can pursue university and state diversity grants, people do not want to put an organizational name on something without that specific organization’s appropriately funding it. Meanwhile, the entire campus has committed its resources to an ambitious Quality Enhancement Plan and other student-success efforts.
We have other formal avenues if the senates do not assume responsibility for the program. But I hope faculty and staff senators recognize the opportunity and seize it. A women’s leadership program co-owned by the senates has greater significance than one housed in a different area. It says, We the employees of this university have united for more than information gathering or problem-solving. We have united to act for own our destiny.