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us versus them

Which way? Of course – “Us”!

I just got out of a faculty meeting.    It turns out that we have an “Us” vs “Them” department head in one of our academic programs – a university department head who generates intense loyalty on the part of his own faculty, but who creates much ill will with faculty and administrators across the college and the campus.

On the one hand, the faculty in his department have the following to say:

  • “How can we possibly move forward without him as our department head?”
  • “He is the reason why I come to work each day.”
  • “He makes this a safe place to work.”
  • “He is our irreplaceable leader.”
  • “Please ask him to not quit.”

What do you think?   Is this a healthy relationship between faculty and department head?    It all depends who you ask.

On the other hand, our “Us” vs. “Them” department head was generally viewed unfavorably across the college and across the campus.   Why?    Here are some examples:

  • He led an effort to “declare war” on other department’s faculty when they gave academic advice to “our students”.
  • He “declared war” on the college administrators when they allowed other departments to schedule student events that conflicted with events in “his” program.
  • He has led a relentless campaign to convince the world that his faculty were underpaid and overworked.     This is a consistent theme with anyone who will listen.   As a result he actively encouraged his faculty to ‘boycott’ college and university activities that weren’t part of the annual faculty contract.  (FYI – his faculty are among the highest paid on campus and are at or above benchmark standards for similar schools.)
  • He has let it be known that he sabotaged the search for a faculty hire in his department because the Dean, in his opinion, had not allocated sufficient funds for the position.
  • He will tell anyone that will listen “The Dean cannot fire me because no one else in my department will take the department head job – too much work and not enough pay.”

From where I sit, this is an unfortunate situation.   Here we have a very talented individual who achieves department level success through “Us vs. Them”.   Frankly, it is quite interesting to see how this approach can be effective in building team cohesion and loyalty.    From a higher level perspective,  I can assure you that this is destructive behavior for both the faculty and the department as a whole.     More on this later ……    Your thoughts?

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

 

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The Magical Department Head!

Is your university or college searching for a new department head?  Following is a series of phone interview questions used in a recent department head search.    I hope that you find these interview questions to be useful.

Question One:  What generated your interest in the department head position at our university?

Question Two:  Key dimensions of the department head position include nurturing undergraduate student learning, supporting faculty development, and developing external relations. Give examples of your leadership experience in each area and indicate how you would prioritize these three areas as the department head.

Question Three: Describe your experience supporting interdisciplinary collaboration across departments and across colleges.

Question Four: Describe your leadership style. What have been your most significant leadership successes and challenges?

Question Five:  The successful candidate for this position must continue their scholarship to remain academically qualified. How might you stay active in publishing scholarly research while serving as department head?

FINAL QUESTION
What can we share with you about the department, the college, or our university that would be useful in evaluating your interest in the position?

FOLLOW-UP
If we go further, can we contact your references? Can we contact other people in addition to your references?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe 

 

 

 

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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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