Fifteen Suggestions for Developing a Successful Immersion Program

What does an immersion program look like?

Currently, we’re piloting a 14-week immersion program that focuses on an inspirational theme we knew would generate interest. Participants meet for 3.5 hours each Tuesday, with an all-day trip to neighboring institutions on the first Tuesday of each month. During the first half of the semester, the participants hear from on- and off-campus leaders to learn more about the university and its peer institutions. During the second half, they will explore a team project and ultimately deliver a presentation of their findings to the president and provost. Whereas the program’s specific theme is new, and whereas some of the participant makeup is new, the program’s general format parallels many of our other immersion programs’.

Regardless of the type of program, an immersion experience can accelerate the development of people’s leadership skills. Leadership skills benefit every individual, as well as the institution or community as a whole, irrespective of the person’s official position. People with leadership skills achieve more, develop a greater sense of purpose, and improve organizational or community health.

The very structure of an immersion program fosters those skills. Like most of our others, this pilot program challenges participants’ time-management skills in order to build their capacities for new initiatives, raises their institutional awareness, and organizes sustained engagements with diverse perspectives — not only to develop participants’ critical-thinking skills and diversify their problem-solving techniques, but also to encourage institutional thinking over departmental thinking.

Projects dramatically improve immersion programs. A project can help participants not only develop their teamwork skills, but also comprehend the value of collaborating with stakeholders and cultivating champions for the cause. Whereas everyone appears to understand the importance of buy-in, few demonstrate knowledge of how to cultivate it. The early, uncertain stages of our projects include structured conversations and brainstorming sessions with stakeholders, while the participants try to better understand and accommodate the stakeholders’ needs. This investigative process elevates stakeholder awareness of unmet needs. It also invites them to help shape the end result. Both of those aspects often generate champions for the cause. Behind the scenes, the champions then raise more awareness, and particularly if they come from diverse constituencies, they broaden buy-in. Without a project and structured reflection on the process, even immersion programs would have trouble raising awareness of how to generate buy-in.

Perhaps most importantly, immersion programs foster close friendships. Close friendships can lead to sustainable networks for increased knowledge-sharing, collaborations, and potentially even resource-sharing. Connectivity creates an adaptable and resourceful institution or community, capable of responding rapidly to threats and seizing timely opportunities. In fact, friendships succeed where reporting structures and other forced networks fail. Their tangential conversations can blossom into innovations, and intimacy can increase collaborators’ personal investments. That level of friendship necessitates not only ice-breakers, a “Vegas” environment, structured peer interactions, and scheduled time for group reflection, but also topic flexibility to accommodate tangential and idle conversations.

After last week’s day trip, a participant related how much she values our bus rides. The bus rides have helped her, in her words, “really get to know” some of her colleagues. She claimed their new-found friendships already have seeded potential collaborations. Bear in mind, she and her colleagues do not merely desire to maintain their relationships. They better comprehend each others’ needs, skills, and resources, as well as how they fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

That comprehension improves organizational culture and effectiveness, and well-structured immersion programs can not only replicate that comprehension. Well-structured immersion programs can scale it.

Here are fifteen suggestions for developing a successful immersion program:

1. Elevate the program’s profile by creating a competitive application process.

2. Clarify time and other obligations in the call for applications.

3. Further raise the program’s profile by outsourcing the participant-selection process to a committee.

4. Coach the selection committee to choose participants based on their diverse backgrounds, experiences, access to resources, …. In other words, select to create the best program experience. Selection is part of the design.

5. Schedule the program to meet routinely for multiple hours at a time; more frequent meetings can require fewer hours for fewer weeks, but less frequent meetings demand more consecutive hours for additional months.

6. Create a relevant ice-breaker activity.

7. Incorporate a relevant team project into the experience.

8. Craft a project charge that is broad enough to encourage team ownership but specific enough to provide structure.

9. Consider reserving a day for participants to shadow relevant but diverse colleagues, community members, or professionals.

10. Invite diverse, but relevant contributors.

11. Schedule regular opportunities for reflection and discussion, away from contributors.

12. Have participants anonymously evaluate contributors in order to make program improvements.

13. Build time into the schedule for meetings with project stakeholders and for general project development.

14. Require a project presentation before an esteemed audience.

15. Additionally raise the program’s profile by utilizing that esteemed audience in a closeout ceremony.

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Professional Development as Rewiring the Institution for Adaptability

Here at the Center for Teaching and Learning, we have been socially networking the university in order to create a more adaptable institution, capable of rapid changes. By bridging the silos of academic departments and colleges, we thus far have facilitated not only the development of new ideas but also actual changes to the university’s organizational chart and processes. We’re becoming a stronger institution in the face of unprecedented technological, economic, and social changes.

In the spring, we will start bridging the gap between faculty and staff, and ideally, we’ll expand this framework to better connect the university’s employees with the surrounding community — the latter’s goal being to facilitate mutual sustainability and growth — and then with other TBR institutions to diversify the available problem-solving skills and overall knowledge and other resources.

But I had missed an additional component that’s structurally necessary for this vision.

Change-leadership scholar John P. Kotter (2014) suggests an additional component in the facilitation of rapid changes. Kotter argues for a dual organizational system, which our Center already facilitates minus a key ingredient. Counterbalancing the university’s hierarchical bureaucracy, a network of passionate people in Kotter’s ideal organization explores threats or opportunities and promotes rapid changes that the hierarchy otherwise cannot address in time. Here at Austin Peay, our Center’s cohort programs network people from across the organization who feel a sense of urgency and want to be change agents. But after they help communicate the change vision, if the administration cannot merely implement the change — as it could, for instance, in the relocation of our Career Services from Academic Affairs to Student Affairs — then the change initiative gets redirected to a taskforce within the very same bureaucratic organization. In other words, the bureaucracy recaptures it and deprives it of its momentum.

The solution? A facilitated (not chaired) guiding coalition.

Like a taskforce, the guiding coalition would further research what is already being done here and at peer institutions, what has been done here and at peer institutions, costs, available resources, … but it also would have design-school-esque facilitated discussions to “[identify] and [remove] barriers which slow or stop [this] strategically important activity” (Kotter, 2014, p. 32). That last part is what a taskforce cannot achieve.

This extra component to Kotter’s dual organizational system will enable us to oversee not only idea generation, but also, at least in certain instances, implementation. For a stronger Austin Peay. For a stronger community. For a stronger higher educational system.

Reference

Kotter, John P. (2014). Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

The Role of Higher Education Is Expanding

A former teacher by the name of Sarah Smith recently wrote an article “[blaming] liberal education dogmas for creating a generation of hopelessly ill-equipped teachers.” Smith points-out that, despite her degree in English, she chronically makes spelling and grammatical errors — and that she’s not alone.

Unfortunately, the problem is far more complex than liberal-education dogmas. Reading and writing involve so much more than grammar, spelling, and vocabulary that college courses cannot remediate students, at least not adequately, and still meet its higher educational objectives. Mathematics has a similar remediation problem. Nowadays, educational software supplement many writing and math classrooms to target students’ individual learning needs–but they cannot make-up for the lack of a strong foundation.

In April, the American Association of Community Colleges recommended metrics-based connections and collaborations between community colleges and high schools to ensure college readiness, and as we continue to expand college access with a simultaneous insistence on higher graduation rates, we’ll see more unusual solutions.

Higher education is in the midst of expanding its paradigm. Just as Lincoln’s land-grant universities expanded higher education from developing informed leadership to creating informed citizenship, we’ve recently broadened the focus from improving college access to simultaneously increasing student retention and graduation rates, and likely we will expand again to bridge the gap between graduation and employment. With each of these larger visions come new challenges. Currently, we have unprecedented numbers of first-generation, low-income, and non-traditional students. Politicians, federal and state grants, teachers, high-school counselors, and parents encourage students who otherwise never would have attended college, to now go to college; theoretically, we’re increasing opportunities for the disenfranchised and raising the local resource pool for skilled employees, community problem-solving, and general prosperity.

Unfortunately, because so few of these new students expected to go to college, many come with insufficient background knowledge or skills. Whereas some already had what it takes to get a college degree and needed only the financial resources and social encouragement, others never cared about their education because they never expected to work anywhere but the corner store or in local day-labor pools. Even when armed with individuated software and the most solvent pedagogies, including differentiated instruction, today’s faculty face unprecedented challenges.

Many universities now explore technological and systemic solutions: default scheduling, living learning communities, bundled courses, academic alerts, advising as teaching, introductory courses with extra hours for remediation, first-year experience courses, second-year experience courses, course recommendation software, degree-major recommendation software, degree pathways, redirect advising, grit-scale evaluations …. And I suspect, similar to the American Association of Community Colleges’ recommendation, universities will integrate with community colleges and high schools — and as initiated via service-learning and internships, with local or even global employment opportunities.

The role of higher education is expanding. And that expanded role comes with growing pains. The transition appears to — or perhaps does — lower the value of a degree, not merely by increasing the percentage of people with degrees (an elitist argument that we should strike from the conversation), but also by allowing students like Sarah Smith to graduate with higher-order skills but without an adequate remediation of their basic skills. But we’re working-out the kinks, and I have complete faith that we’ll get there.

And for someone who calls herself illiterate, Sarah Smith did write a great article.

Unbundling Higher Ed: An Insider’s Perspective

Shrinking state funds, increasing oversight from foundations, competing for-profits, underemployed families, rising tuition, technological disruptions, the uncertainty of future employment sectors, the diminishing perceived value of higher education, and incessant calls for “change” challenge the public university system at its very core. That challenged core affords opportunities, most notably for the private sector — opportunities of which faculty need to take note.

What sort of opportunities? Michael Staton (2012), cofounder and CEO of Inigral, argues that since the collapse of music albums, newspapers, and the industries that depended on them, our constant online engagements transform the conceptual framework for understanding all services, even educational ones (p. 3). Staton goes so far as to define “college” “as a packaged bundle of content, services, experiences, and signals” (p. 4). He insists that this conceptual framework screams “market opportunity” that the university system won’t be able to conceal or protect (ibid). While collecting and analyzing more data than overworked faculty can, entrepreneurs can unbundle and more efficiently produce or distribute many of higher education’s component parts: course content, content sequencing, content delivery, feedback, credentials, coaching, professional networking … (pp. 6-9).

Jeffrey J. Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education recounts a conversation with Clay Christensen, Harvard business professor and expert on disruptive innovation. In that conversation, Christensen argued that prohibitive costs warrant new models for higher education. According to Christensen, “The history of innovation tells us those new models are not going to come from within higher ed. They will come from new entrants” (Selingo, 2013, p. xiv).

We already see new entrants and the start of this unbundling process. In 2011, venture capitalists devoted $429 million to educational companies, with an unprecedented 124 educational start-ups (Selingo, 2013, p. xi). Former senior vice president of the Lumina Foundation of Education and president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado, Robert C. Dickeson (2010) claims, “The extent of the privatization trend has gone beyond outsourcing and now includes both tactical and strategic alliances that hold great promise” (p. 4). The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, for example, endorses collaborative partnerships to improve productivity and efficiency (Eddy, 2010, p. 23). At the 2013 SXSWedu Conference, the president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education shared his having had a recent meeting with a university president who sought a public-private partnership to improve the university’s student-success rate (Lyman, 2013, par. 4). Entrepreneurs no longer have to “seize” opportunities. University administrators solicit entrepreneurial solutions to their most pressing problems.

Companies provide expansive online course supplements with videos, assessments, plagiarism-detection services, essay-grading features, and instant feedback. Here at Austin Peay State University, Degree Compass offers insights into the future of course registration: a third-party service informs student progressions through degree pathways based on individual and comparative historical data. In Fall 2013, we began piloting institutional coaching through InsideTrack. Are these problems?

Instead of digging-in our heels, Staton (2012) argues, we should dig-in our shovels and build the foundations for not only stability, but more importantly institutional, faculty, and student success (p. 11). As best-selling entrepreneurial author Seth Godin (2010) reminds us, “If we can put it in a manual, we can outsource it. If we can outsource it, we can get it cheaper” (19). Cheaper can lower tuition and decrease the amount of debt students and their families incur. So the question becomes, What do we do that can’t be outsourced or automated? Or put more melodramatically, If digital or other services unbundle us, what of value do we have left?

Of course, this melodramatic search for a ghost in the educational machine overlooks the obvious. The professorate and on-ground collegiate experience provide well-documented, irreplaceable value — most notably, in faculty-student interactions and engagement with peer diversity. Professors model the thinking patterns, attitudes, and behaviors — what Staton (2012) calls the “meta-content” in faculty-student interactions (p. 24) — that lead to student success and lifelong learning. Sustained engagement with diversity fosters critical-thinking skills and prepares students for global citizenry. Entrepreneurs couldn’t easily unbundle or more efficiently distribute what, in its core, is a collection of quality human relationships.

If we were to play devil’s advocate in support of the disaggregation of higher education, we might conclude that what entrepreneurs can unbundle and redistribute can enable faculty to concentrate their efforts where they have the greatest impact. Any degree of “flipping” a course, for example, aims to relegate solitary learning practices (like watching lectures and taking quizzes) to online engagements and, more importantly, to open the classroom to in-depth peer-engagements and faculty-student interactions. Automated course-registration systems and outsourced institutional coaching — another two examples — can liberate academic advising for more valuable faculty-student interactions. From this perspective, the faculty’s time is not only precious, but also poorly allocated. Disaggregating the professorate does not necessarily diminish, but rather potentially augments the professorial role in student development and learning.

Since the 1950’s, the faculty’s role has changed from scholar to “academic professional” (Sorcinelli et al., 2006, p. 2). In large part thanks to Ernest L. Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), the professorate transcended “the tired old teaching versus research debate” (Boyer, 1990, p. xii), specifically by shifting attention from teaching to learning (Sorcinelli et al., 2006, p. 3). Faculty redirected their attention from defining their responsibilities to exploring the different means and venues for student learning. This new direction enabled a more diverse interpretation of the professorate. In Boyer’s (1990) words, “The richness of faculty talent should be celebrated, not restricted …. Such a mosaic of talent, if acknowledged, would bring renewed vitality to higher learning and the nation” (p. 27). While temporary-faculty contracts centered on teaching, tenure-track and tenured positions exploded with responsibilities, ranging from the acquisition of grants to the performance of administrative duties (Sorcinelli et al., 2006, p. 4).

In part due to the disaggregation of services that can be standardized or automated, faculty responsibilities continue to diversify, most notably to include co-curricular learning opportunities. Academic advising, for instance, is in the process of transforming from course registration to “an educational process” with its own distinct learning outcomes (Campbell and Nutt, 2008, p. 4). Similarly, George D. Kuh (2010) highlights student employment for its potential integration with the curriculum (para. 4). In fact, Kuh (2008) speculates that higher education can frame both on- and off-campus employment “so that work enriches, rather than competes with or is orthogonal to, an institution’s learning goals for its students” (p. xii). One might go so far as to claim that service-learning has enabled universities to formally explore, beyond internships, how to expand educational oversight and credit to community practices. From advising to other co-curricular interactions, faculty increasingly impact student learning inside, between, and outside classrooms with greater intentionality. In other words, this process of automating or outsourcing low-value work in fact has the potential to concentrate the faculty’s high-value efforts on the very essence of education, while broadening the physical and temporal domain of student learning.

But that potential utopia can give way to a potential nightmare if faculty don’t take the lead in these externally imposed frameworks for change. We operate in an environment in which the only way to warrant funding from foundations, private donors, or even certain components of state funding formulas is to make constant changes, regardless of whether those changes clearly benefit students before broader implementation. If the faculty do not take the lead by proactively (but selectively) implementing national trends, then foundations or entrepreneurs might influence administrators, state legislators, or the governor to implement them without faculty insight or oversight, and student movement to a degree could supplant the primary reasons for the degree.

Disaggregating services can help us identify, assess, improve, or even reimagine the packaging and delivery of services we already, albeit often unconsciously, package and deliver to students, alumni, and the community. Unbundling, automating, and outsourcing services can improve efficiency and liberate otherwise encumbered human, technological, spatial, or financial resources.

But if faculty willfully ignore or blindly reject the growing number of external models and pressures for such approaches, then those who reside solely outside the classroom will doubt and ignore the ghost in the educational machine. Unaware of the differences between content and meta-content, they will manage these changes in the absence of those who should lead them.

 

 

References

 

Boyer, Ernest L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate. New York, NY: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Campbell, S. M. & Nutt, C. L. (2008). “Academic Advising in the New Global Century: Supporting Student Engagement and Learning Outcomes Achievement.” peerReview. 10 (1), pp. 4-7. Web. 7 July 2013. <http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi08/prwi08_AcAdv.cfm>

Dickeson, Robert C. (2010). Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Eddy, Pamela L. (2010). Partnerships and Collaborations in Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Godin, Seth. (2010). Lynchpin. New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc.

Kuh, George D. (2008). Forward. Five Impact Practices: Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality. Jayne E. Brownell and Lynn E. Swaner. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities.

Kuh, George D. (2010). “Maybe Experience Really Can Be the Best Teacher.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web. 15 July 2013. <http://chronicle.com/article/Maybe-Experience-Really-Can-Be/125433/>

Lyman, Frank. (2013). “Making Public-Private Partnerships Work in Higher Education.” The Huffington Post. Web. 16 June 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-lyman/making-publicprivate-part_b_2884747.html>

Selingo, Jeffrey J. (2013). College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. New York, NY: New Harvest.

Sorcinelli, Mary Dean; Austin, Ann E.; Eddy, Pamela L.; Beach, Andrea L. (2006). Creating the Future of Faculty Development: Learning from the Past, Understanding the Present. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Staton, Michael. (2012). “Disaggregating the Components of a College Degree.” American Enterprise Institute Conference, Stretching the Higher Education Dollar. August 2, 2012. Web. May 2, 2013. <http://www.aeig.org/events/2012/08/02stretching-the-higher-education-dollar>

Higher Ed Faces Daunting Challenges, and Opportunities

 

Higher education faces daunting challenges. It struggles to meet the demands of an economic crisis in which people need jobs and employers want higher-quality job candidates. Our computer-infused work environment requires greater technological, visual-thinking, and critical-thinking skills for even entry-level jobs. Globalization necessitates not only enhanced critical thinking, but correspondingly, the capacity for sustained engagements with ideological and cultural differences. Also, both citizenry and a growing number of work environments require the skills to navigate an increasingly rhetoric- and statistics-based world. In the face of rising student debt, students and their parents, legislators, and potential employers, however, now question the value of higher education. They most overtly question degrees in the humanities — which foster many of those skills, only without a clear career path. This conflict has resulted in new entrants in the market who then compete with at least the public colleges and universities, which have had to raise tuition to replace diminishing state funds.

This conflict reinforces the ongoing transformation of faculty in the university system. Especially to circumvent administrative bloat and its costs, 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. These responsibilities demand a new social architecture, and we can achieve it only through innovative professional development.

Social architecture has two goals: distribute responsibilities and “integrate diverse efforts in pursuit of common goals” (Bolman & Deal, 2013, p. 44). The social architecture of higher education effectively distributes responsibilities, but it also creates silos. In fact, the extreme specialization by which higher education distributes responsibilities also creates the silos. Compounding this problem, a myth of solitary genius betrays reality: knowledge and innovation are not individual pursuits, but rather the result of collective practices. Extreme specialization and its resulting isolation permeate the culture of higher education and impede integrative initiatives that can facilitate common goals. To meet the demands of today’s challenges, the social architecture of higher education needs reform.

Higher education needs more diverse partnerships and collaborations. Whether in teaching, problem-solving, or creating new ventures, partnerships and collaborations diversify knowledge and expertise; expand the available human, technological, spatial, or financial resources; and distribute and diminish risks (Eddy, 2010, p. 21). Partnerships and collaborations can conserve resources, mend overextended departments, and improve sustainability and effectiveness.

Far too often, however, university representatives confine collaborations to a single division, like Academic Affairs, rather than explore collaborative opportunities between university divisions or with community partners. Pedagogically, many faculty look only to each other, particularly within their own departments, for collaborators. For new initiatives, some turn solely to their chairs, deans, or the provost for funding. In the end, stretched human and financial resources limit success.

Campus stakeholders reside in all university divisions. Student Affairs houses an array of departments that focus on developing student capacities for time- and stress-management, personal health and wellbeing, diversity awareness and appreciation, civic engagement, global citizenry, teamwork, and leadership. Under the direction of Human Resources, student employment can expand the range of immediate stakeholders for student development and success to the entire university.

The call for collaborations between university divisions is not new. At least since George D. Kuh’s 1994 keynote, “The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs,” student-affairs professionals have called for student- and academic-affairs collaborations that can produce what Kuh (March/April, 1996) calls “seamless learning environments” (p. 135). The term refers to curricular and co-curricular learning objectives working in tandem to overcome an otherwise fragmented learning process in order to foster lifelong learning.

The more faculty and staff interact, the better they can get to know each other, overcome inter-departmental or -divisional communication barriers and misunderstandings, foster a greater sense of campus community, collaborate, share knowledge and resources, innovate …. With shared imagination and support, a university’s faculty and staff can accomplish anything.

But partnerships and collaborations have to extend beyond the campus. The surrounding community also has a stake. The educational attainment of local citizenry can attract national employers, raise the competitiveness of local businesses, increase local tax revenue, improve community problem-solving skills, and in general expand both the pool and circulation of available resources. Imaginative administrators, faculty, and staff can identify and raise the awareness of potential stakeholders, collaborate with them, harness their vision, and empower, motivate, and mobilize community champions for student success.

Each university digs deep channels into the community that ferry students, workers, funding, and other resources back and forth for mutual sustainability and growth. Service-learning has enabled universities to formally explore, beyond internships, how to expand educational oversight and credit to community practices, but that and other integrative concepts need greater exploration. The university system’s further integration with the community can only benefit both it and the community.

Even to develop the skills and venues for partnerships, collaborations, and intentional explorations, faculty and staff and even community partners need innovative professional development. Differences in reward systems, norms for communications, reporting and authorization structures, and organizational objectives can convolute the incentives, decision-making process, documentation and assessment process, and expectations. Research indicates, on the one hand, that obligatory partnerships do not last past their mandates; on the other hand, partnerships that spring organically from pre-existing relationships foster mutual understanding, shared expectations, and more sustainable practices (Eddy, 2010, p. 21). After those human relationships yield collaborations, offices or personnel who maintain relationships with partnering organizations can nurture them and develop organizational bridges. But the human element has to happen first.

Here at Austin Peay State University, the Faculty Leadership Program (FLP) fosters campus interactions that can lead to student, faculty, and institutional success, and we’re expanding its framework to integrate faculty and staff through a Women’s Leadership Program (WLP). Unlike other universities’ leadership-development opportunities, the FLP and WLP do not cater to administrators. They do not support “leadership” as an official position. Nor do they promote campus success as a managerial responsibility.

Instead, the FLP and WLP promote leadership from the ranks. Adrianna Kezar (2001) reminds us that anyone, regardless of position, can serve as a change agent (p. 7). Through wide and deep personal networks, any individual can draw from diverse resources and knowledge to solve problems and develop campus innovations (Eddy, 2010, p. 29). At very least, a person can serve as a “node to connect disparate networks” (p. 64) in problem-solving and innovation.

Wide and deep personal networks expand personal awareness and influence. Diverse relationships enhance a person’s “cognitive flexibility” in an academically and operationally complex environment (p. 30). Close relationships improve that person’s influence in leveraging changes. A campus of change agents has the power to transform and strengthen the university, but it demands heightened faculty and staff awareness and interconnectivity.

Leadership from the ranks also responds more effectively than administrative managerialism does to external calls for change. Faculty and staff agency enables the “flexibility and adaptability that are particularly important in meeting external demands” (Kezar et al., 2006, p. 111), like those imposed by disruptive technologies, changes to the state funding formula, rising tuition during an economic downturn, social calls for increased accountability, decreased availability of state and federal grants, and the increased role of private donors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Educause, Complete College America, educational entrepreneurs …. The current climate demands heightened individual awareness and collective adaptability.

So long as state contributions fail to meet budgetary shortfalls, let alone continue to shrink, the public university system will need dynamic faculty and staff who can lead rapid changes in response to powerful external pressures, particularly those tied to monetary incentives. In an environment where only consistent, large-scale change initiatives can attract the funding for even essential university operations, strong faculty and staff leadership can shield students from harmful trends while developing and implementing bold practices that truly lead to student, institutional, and community success.

 

 

References

 

Bolman, L. G. & Deal, T. E. (2013). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, & Leadership; Fifth Ed. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Eddy, P. L. (2010). Partnerships and Collaborations in Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Kezar, A. J. (2001). Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century: Recent Research and Conceptualizations. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kezar, A. J.; Carducci, Rozana; & Contreras-McGavin, Melissa. (2006). Rethinking the “L” Word in Higher Education. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Kuh, G. D. (February, 1996). The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs. Retrieved from
www.housing.berkeley.edu/student/ACPA_student_learning_imperative.pdf

Kuh, G. D. (March/April, 1996). Guiding Principles for Creating Seamless Learning Environments for Undergraduates. Retrieved from www.uwf.edu/studentaffairs/assessment/documents/StudentLearningReadings/GuidingPrinciples_Kuh1996.pdf

 

 

Leadership from the Ranks

In the revised edition of Management, Peter Drucker (2008) draws attention to the overlay of multiple organizational structures vying for dominance, all with the shared aim of improving human productivity. The greater the crisis, Drucker argues, the greater the need for hierarchy; the more high-touch services, the more important becomes local autonomy (p. 68).

Higher education, of course, provides high-touch services. Faculty and staff serve as role models for cognitive skills, behaviors, and attitudes that can lead to success. Sustained employee-student interactions expose students to new frameworks for engaging themselves, each other, and the world. But these interactions require intentional design. Otherwise, they can crumble into lower-order thinking skills and low-value work for everyone — like what happens when academic advising deteriorates into merely course scheduling. In order to perpetually reassess, revitalize, or redesign intentional interactions, faculty and staff need a high degree of local autonomy.

Higher education also is in the midst of a crisis. Both citizenry and a growing number of work environments require the skills to navigate an increasingly rhetorical- and statistics-based world. But the social insistence on more college has expanded the number of student bodies with different needs, as well as redirected higher education’s focus to student retention and graduation rates. On one side, faculty now struggle not merely to deliver course content for diverse learning habits, but also to ensure diverse student engagement and in-depth content assimilation for an improved likelihood of continued student success. On the other side, academic professionals struggle to identify and resolve bottlenecks in the system and reach-out to previously ignored populations who could benefit from more education.

This re-imagining of higher education coincides with an economic crisis in which people need jobs and employers want higher-quality job candidates. In the face of rising student debt, students and their parents, legislators, and potential employers now question the value of higher education. Meanwhile, our computer-infused work environment demands greater technological and critical-thinking skills for even entry-level jobs — yes, even the jobs that can’t pay back the resulting debt. This conflict has resulted in new entrants in the market who then compete with at least the public colleges and universities, which have had to raise tuition to replace diminishing state funds.

Higher education is a high-touch service in crisis. On the one hand, the industry requires local autonomy. On the other, its crisis calls for strong leadership. Our university has worked to bridge the two by building campus capacity for leadership from the ranks. We have opted for professional development that pushes “thinking big” and interconnects the campus for collaborative autonomy.

Thus far, the process has worked well. Faculty and staff have created the Office of Undergraduate Research, Office of Service Learning, and Non-Traditional Student Support Center. On the organizational chart, they collaboratively relocated Career Services to improve its staffing and funding. They’re currently exploring ways of recruiting international students. They’re piloting redirect advising for students who are capable of earning degrees but who have encountered a brick wall in their current majors. They’re testing the preregistration of students before summer orientation. Faculty and staff investigate ways of designing a seamless learning environment.

No one merely has managed these changes or explorations. They result from collaborative leadership, an empowering of the ranks to determine when and how to move forward. That level of empowerment requires aggressive professional development. But it saves institutions from sacrificing their high-touch services to crisis management.

 

Drucker, Peter. (2008.) Management; Revised Edition. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

New Faculty Orientation for Faculty and Institutional Success

In redesigning the orientation program, I am struggling to envision from a new faculty’s perspective, how to decipher our university’s distinct student bodies, our students’ role models for successful attitudes and behaviors, their unique challenges on their time, their preconceptions of what it means to learn, their preconceptions for what it means to teach, their expectations for their courses and professors, their reasoning for choosing their majors, their thoughts and emotions when they no longer can progress in their majors, their potential for isolation from the campus and its opportunities, the factors that impact their opportunities when they graduate, …. and how the university operates as a system to improve the likelihood of student success.

Here are some of the campus-led program topics I’m imagining:

  • student demographics and their retention and graduation rates
  • teaching students with different at-risk characteristics
  • classroom management strategies for diverse student bodies
  • how to structurally prevent the likelihood of academic dishonesty
  • how to leverage the course-management system for student success
  • collecting course data for more effective changes
  • how to interpret student evaluations
  • student pathways, bottlenecks, and the system of student movement
  • the philosophic trajectory of academic advising: where we are heading
  • how and why the university connects with the community
  • RTP as a tool for student, faculty, and institutional success
  • campus as a collaborative community with a shared purpose: student success
  • emotional intelligence and conflict management with colleagues
  • retention to the second year and beyond

I’m also hoping to brand each year with, for instance, an “Incoming Class of 2014” T-shirt. Depending on the number of new faculty, perhaps we can provide them with individual teaching consultations.

We’re still early in the design process, and a lot of people will play a role in the program’s ultimate shape, but I truly believe we can orient new faculty to a systems-thinking paradigm that will help the institution stay proactive and innovative in fostering student success, while bolstering faculty retention and success.