Archive for the ‘change management’ Category

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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Pier Pressure-LHow can university professors be motivated? Faculty are typically driven by promotion and tenure guidelines which largely emphasize research and scholarship. Yet, each department, college and university has a diverse set of goals that are not encompassed by promotion and tenure.

I am reminded of a story from my first years of teaching. Our department head, a wise academic veteran, was frustrated at the course grade distributions that were inching higher each year. He solved the problem quickly and effectively with little fan-fair. He simply printed a copy of the grade distributions for each faculty member, course by course, and placed the print-out in the faculty mail room. Of course, no one wanted to be known as the “easy teacher” and faculty adjusted their grades down accordingly. Brilliant!

What is at work here? Recently, a colleague of mine said that the only real motivator in higher education is peer pressure.  There is some truth in this.   Faculty care very much about what their peers think. Don’t get me wrong, this certainly doesn’t mean that faculty won’t disagree and won’t protect ‘their turf’.  I am suggesting that cultural norms within an academic department play an extremely important role in the life of a faculty member.  In an era with few pay raises, academic leaders should first work to discover the values/norms within their department, college and university before considering change.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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