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I got a real eye opener this summer.   At the request of the president, our university has assembled a strategic planning committee.   What surprised me was the composition of the committee.    What percentage of the university strategic planning committee was devoted to academics?   What percentage of the university strategic planning committee was composed of individuals with a Ph.D.?   The answers:

% of individuals on university planning committee in tenure-track position:  19.2%

% of individuals on university planning committee with a Ph.D.:  28.5%

% of individuals on university planning committee with a Ph.D. but not a full-time administrator:  14.2%

If academics don’t define the strategic direction of the university, then what does?

finance & budget

information technology

student services

athletics

institutional research

human resources

Earlier I had posted a story about how Dwight Eisenhower had been informed by a senior faculty member at Columbia University that “the university is the faculty”.    I guess I had always believed this.   Now, based on my observations I would say:

14.2% of the university is the faculty

How are things at your university?   What percentage of the strategic planning at the university level involves tenure-track faculty in non-administrative roles?   If you do some investigation, I think you will find that it is much lower than you would expect.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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emperor clothesI had a recent conversation with a faculty member who is encouraging me to apply for the associate dean position.  His thought is that I would be a good candidate because I would be able to speak ‘truth to power’.   He went so far to tell me that I would be willing to tell the emperor (i.e. Dean)  when he forgot to put his clothes on in the morning.

How does one speak ‘truth to power’ in an academic environment?  Here are my thoughts:

1) ‘Truth to power’ moments are best handled in a one-on-one, closed door environment.  In my 20+ years of working in an academic environment, I have yet to encounter a leader who wants to be ‘challenged’ in a group environment.  The typical response to a “group challenge” is to isolate and marginalize the offending party.

2) It must be made 100% clear to the leader, that you will support and follow their decision – once it has been made.  Once the decision has been made, you’ve either got to get on board or get off the ship.

3) When problems are presented to the academic leader, it is important to take a data oriented, process oriented approach.  What data suggests a problem?  Is the current process for dealing with such an issue broken?  How can the process be improved?   What will the data show when the problem has been fixed?

These are just a few thoughts – yours?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Three Legged Stool

Three Legged Stool

About ten years ago, I was engaged in a curriculum discussion with a professor of marketing about the true core of the business curriculum.  This learned professor stated that, in his opinion, there were three foundations to business:

  1. sales and marketing,
  2. finance and accounting, and
  3. business operations.

Over the years I have found this “foundation” to be solid and instructive when considering the core business curriculum.

As I contemplate the “foundation” of the dean’s office, I am left with a very similar three legged stool.  Here is the proposed stool and the rational for this foundation:

  1. Communication.  The dean’s office must communicate effectively with its constituents – department heads, upper level university administrators, faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends.  On one level this is ‘marketing’ – defining and maintaining the brand of the college.  On another level this is plain old ‘respect’.  Constituents deserve the respect of being kept in the loop.  Communication by email is not sufficient.  Listening is a very important skill.
  2. Data. The dean’s office should take a data driven approach to its decision making.  Data in the form of budgets, alumni giving, enrollments, FTE’s, assessment results, survey results, etc. should be collected, analyzed and distributed.   Data should be a foundation for decision making.  This parallels the accounting function within the business environment.
  3. Process. The dean’s office should be process driven.  Most faculty handbooks clearly define processes for promotion & tenure, annual evaluations, faculty hiring, curriculum assessment, curriculum change, etc. .  These processes should be clearly documented and the outcomes clear.

Where is “management”?  Where is “leadership and vision” in this equation?  In my opinion, the effective leader will stay true to the mission and strategic direction of the institution and develop the ‘plan of action’ based on this mission.  Leadership requires adopting the the circumstances and charting a clear course that is shared by all.

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