Archive for May, 2015

squareWhat words of wisdom could Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and the founder and CEO of Square,  possibly have for the academic dean?   In a National Public Radio interview with Kai Ryssdal on May 21, 2015, Dorsey discussed his management style.    In particular, he discussed a management style similar to my own.   One where people and their ideas are highly-valued, one where decision-making is pushed closer to the stakeholder, and one where organizational leadership is key.   Following is a quote from the interview with Jack Dorsey:

I say that if I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure. (That’s) because I don’t have the same context as someone who is working day to day with the data, with the understanding of the customer. I definitely see the organization and the people in it as the ones to make the decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.

How many academic leaders can honestly agree with a management philosophy where “my job is to make sure that decisions get made” and where “there is an organizational failure if I am making the decisions”?  I would like to re-frame Jack Dorsey’s quote to make it applicable in a university setting:

I say that if a provost, dean or department head has to make a decision affecting academic program curriculum, the university has an organizational failure. This is because the provost, dean or department head does not have the same context as someone who is working day to day with an understanding of the students and the expected learning outcomes of the academic program.  The provost, dean or department head should definitely see the university and the faculty in it as the ones to make the curricular decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.  (quote: Dr. Percy Trappe)

What do you think?   Does this ring true?  Is this your experience?   I would suggest that department heads, deans and provosts have much to learn from Jack Dorsey.

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe   


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logobigLinus Torvalds would seem an unlikely person to shed light on the role of academic Dean.    Torvalds was the initital creator of the Linux kernel that has become the most popular kernel for operating systems.  Today he is the chief architect of the Linux kernel and acts as the project’s coordinator.     Today hundreds of millions of computers, smartphones and embedded processors run Linux.   Beyond being the driving force behind a single software product, Torvalds is generally credited with popularlizing open-source software (OSS) and open-source software development methodologies.

It is Torvalds’s perspective on the open-source software development process that I believe has a parallel in academic leadership.   Following is a quote from Torvalds in a 2012 interview with Scott Merrill from “Tech Cruch”.

I like the *process*. I like writing software. I like trying to make things work better. In many ways, the end result is unimportant – it’s really just the excuse for the whole experience. It’s why I started Linux to begin with – sure, I kind of needed an OS, but I needed a *project* to work on more than I needed the OS.

In fact, to get a bit “meta” on this issue, what’s even more interesting than improving a piece of software, is to improve the *way* we write and improve software. Changing the process of making software has sometimes been some of the most painful parts of software development (because we so easily get used to certain models), but that has also often been the most rewarding parts. It is, after all, why “git” came to be, for example. And I think open source in general is obviously just another “process model” change that I think is very successful.

So my model is kind of a reverse “end result justifies the means”. Hell no, that’s the stupidest saying in the history of man, and I’m not even saying that because it has been used to make excuses for bad behavior. No, it’s the worst possible kind of saying because it totally misses the point of everything.

It’s simply not the end that matters at all. It’s the means – the journey. The end result is almost meaningless. If you do things the right way, the end result *will* be fine too, but the real enjoyment is in the doing, not in the result.

And I’m still really happy to be “doing” 20 years later, with not an end in sight.

What is the lesson(s) for the academic dean?  First, I love the phrase … “I needed a project to work on more that I needed the …”.      As a Dean, do you ‘need’ the project?    Is the ongoing ‘project’ of running the school your driving motiviation?   Second, clearly the journey is important.   Do  you enjoy being an academic dean?   Are you motivated by solving the problems facing your school and working collectively with your faculty?    Are you enjoying the journey?  Are we concerned with the “ends” – yes, but ultimately, it is about the journey.   Changing the way we do things – the academic processes are hugely important in academia just as they are in software development.   Thank you Linus!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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rigor-cientc3adfico1Several years ago the Provost at our university asked all department heads to report on what we were doing to ensure academic rigor in our programs.   After several rounds of discussion with department faculty, I drafted a memo for the Provost.  Following is that memo – I hope that you find it instructive.

TO: Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
FROM: Dr. Percy Trappe,  Department Head
RE: Memo on Academic Rigor
DATE: April 2012

The faculty members in our department believe that the following five core principles form the foundation of academic rigor:

Principle #1 – Rigor is a Commitment that should be Articulated in a Program’s Mission & Values
Our faculty have collectively developed a Mission and Values statement that clearly articulates a commitment to an active, experiential learning environment that prepares students to apply their knowledge.  The department emphasizes the high value placed on continuous improvement, collaboration, the promotion of individual strengths, and stakeholder relationships.

Principle #2 – Rigor is Defined within a Program’s Learning Outcomes
Program-level learning outcomes that traverse individual courses promote a culture of academic rigor.  Integrated coursework where prerequisite courses enable higher level learning in subsequent courses promotes faculty collaboration and the development of consistent, systematic and measurable standards.   Courses in our department contribute to two different sets of Program Learning Outcomes: (1) College Core, and (2) our degree programs.   The accreditation of our program provides external validation of these learning outcomes.

Principle #3 – Rigor is Refined through Continuous Improvement and Assessment
Faculty members utilize feedback from systematic assessment in order to continuously improve the curriculum content and meet the needs of our stakeholders.   Employers, alumni and the department’s advisory board are actively engaged in a formal process of feedback and improvement.

Principle #4 – Rigor is a Collective Faculty Value
Ultimately individual faculty members are responsible for the rigor within their classroom.   In our department each course has a faculty leader.  This faculty member is responsible for working with other faculty members to ensure that learning objectives are met and a reasonable level of consistency in academic rigor exists across sections.

Principle #5 – Rigor is Refined through Faculty Evaluation
As part of the faculty evaluation process, the department head and members of the faculty advisory committee give faculty members feedback regarding how well they are meeting expectations of academic rigor and, if needed, offer suggestions on how to increase academic rigor in their classroom.

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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NSSE_LogoFollowing are some of my thoughts about engagement and what it means for a college of business.   I presented these thoughts a couple of years ago at a conference.   Here is a summary:

“Engagement” in a college of business is an often misunderstood term.   This stems from the fact that there are three dominant perspectives on how engagement is conceptualized and viewed within the business school – (1) community engagement (Carnegie Foundation), (2) student engagement (National Survey of Student Engagement), and (3) faculty engagement (AACSB).

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching awards a community engagement classification to qualifying institutions of higher learning.   As of 2012, three hundred and eleven (311) U.S. colleges and universities were designated  with the Community Engagement Classification.   Carnegie defines community engagement as

“ … the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.”

In order to be selected, institutions must provide descriptions and examples of established practices of community engagement that show alignment among mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices.   The notion of a mutually beneficial partnership is at the heart of the Carnegie Foundation’s concept of engagement.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) assesses collegiate quality by estimating how undergraduate students spend their time inside and outside the classroom.   Through an annual survey of hundreds of colleges and universities, the NSSE estimates how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college.   The NSSE ultimately measures student engagement through five Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice:

  1. level of academic challenge
  2. active and collaborative learning
  3. student-faculty interaction
  4. enriching educational experiences
  5. supportive campus environment

Institutions use their data to identify aspects of the undergraduate experience inside and outside the classroom that can be improved through changes in policies and practices more consistent with good practices in undergraduate education.

AACSB International, the organization best known for overseeing accreditation for undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in business and accounting, strives to identify challenges and trends that are facing the business education industry through its research and initiatives.   In 2011, the Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) on AASCB Accreditation Quality was charged to conduct a review of AACSB accreditation standards and processes.  The BRC identified “encourage an appropriate balance of academic and professional engagement consistent with quality in the context of a school’s mission” as one of five critical issues is business school accreditation.  The BRC stated that AACSB standards have consistently promoted an academic focus, but have not adequately addressed engagement with practice and also suggested placing a stronger emphasis on interaction among students and faculty in an academic setting.     Engagement, as specified by the AACSB, is ultimately assessed through faculty engagement whereby

“Engagement should be addressed as a portfolio, and is embedded in the interaction between participants, including academic and professionally qualified faculty, who are engaged in scholarship and teaching. Furthermore, engagement should be addressed across multiple dimensions of quality—students, faculty, curriculum, pedagogy, etc.—and consistent with the mission of the school.”

I hope that my thoughts help.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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wateriswideconroyPat Conroy has always been one of my favorite authors.   The Great Santini, the Lords of Discipline, Beach Music, Prince of Tides and My Losing Season have all made their impact on my life.   Yet, it is his first novel, The Water is Wide, that I often find myself rereading as I travel through my academic life.   Now the Water is Wide is largely an autobiographical recollection on Conroy’s teaching experiences as a young man on Yamacraw Island, South Carolina.  I recently came across the following lines, which struck home:

My pre-Yamacraw theory of teaching held several sacred tenets, among these being that the teacher must always maintain an air of insanity, or of eccentricity out of control, if he is to catch and hold the attention of his students. The teacher must always be on the attack, looking for new ideas, changing worn out tactics, and never, ever falling into patterns that lead to student ennui.

This past semester has been one of my best teaching semesters – ever.   Even though I am a full time administrator, I believe I have improved my teaching by staying focused on the important things – the lessons that will endure long after the class is over.   Solving large-scale, complex problems is the ‘name of the game’ in my class.   I begin by showing my students that their repertoire up to this point is not ready to deal with the complexities of organizational problem solving.   All semester, I challenge, we practice, I challenge again.   We learn – together.

Conroy writes more about teaching in his other novels.   Following are some more thoughts from Conroy that come from his time at the Citadel in the Lords of Discipline:

Great teachers had great personalities and that the greatest teachers had outrageous personalities. I did not like decorum or rectitude in a classroom; I preferred a highly oxygenated atmosphere, a climate of intemperance, rhetoric, and feverish melodrama. And I wanted my teachers to make me smart. A great teacher is my adversary, my conqueror, commissioned to chastise me. He leaves me tame and grateful for the new language he has purloined from other kings whose granaries are filled and whose libraries are famous. He tells me that teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. Bad teachers do not touch me; the great ones never leave me. They ride with me during all my days, and I pass on to others what they have imparted to me. I exchange their handy gifts with strangers on trains, and I pretend the gifts are mine. I steal from the great teachers. And the truly wonderful thing about them is they would applaud my theft, laugh at the thought of it, realizing they had taught me their larcenous skills well.

Here Conroy extends his theory to encourage us to learn from our past teachers.   He asks us to recall the times when great teachers moved us – made a difference.   To those in academia, don’t ever stop learning.   Don’t be afraid to be bold in the classroom.   Make your classroom memorable!   Make it spirited!  Make it yours!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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