organizational leadership

The blogger “Female Science Professor” has posted an interesting article about her path to leadership positions. She notes, “although the ‘path’ concept might be relevant to the future (as an image of some potential future directions to take), it doesn’t work so well as a metaphor for the past because ‘path’ implies that I was on a particular trajectory, with a particular destination. More accurate descriptions for me would be that I parachuted into my current position (after a bit of a push), or that I wandered around bushwhacking in a dense and somewhat unfriendly forest before accidentally stumbling into the administrative sector.” My initial adventure into administration was also unplanned — the dean suggested that I become the interim chairperson of a department when I sought to transfer to his college — but my path to become a dean quickly came into focus in my first year as chairperson, as I discovered that I loved administrative challenges. I can still say that 11 months into my first year as a dean, and hope that it continues!

Tonight I’m attending a ceremony to honor University of Wisconsin-Parkside alumni, tomorrow I’ll attend a lunch between the two UW-P Commencement ceremonies, and on Sunday I’ll attend an awards ceremony for the local Phi Delta Kappa chapter. A couple of weeks ago I was the keynote speaker for an Optimist Club scholarship dinner. Spring banquet season is here!

I am co-editing an anthology, the Minority Dean Survival Guide. Below is the general description; please send me a note for more information if you would like to participate or know someone who should receive the call for submissions!

The Minority Dean Survival Guide is a multidisciplinary volume that takes a no holds barred approach to academic life from the perspective of a senior administrator.  Although the roles of president and provost are critical for running a university, no university thrives without a competent set of college deans who indeed are responsible for leading academic enterprises, some of which are the size of small to mid-size universities, but each of which are vital no matter what the size. Similar to becoming a professor, being a first-time dean comes with little to no training.  Most deans enter into these roles subsequent to being department head, associate dean, or a program director.  Neither of these roles adequately prepares new deans for what they will experience as dean.  In this book the contributors candidly uncover the privileges, perils, and politics of being a minority dean in a simple, easy to read, and compelling writing style.  This approach provides an interesting pastiche, since there are clearly dimensions of the job that are common among all deans.  There are also particular elements of being a minority dean that distinguish these persons from all other deans across the academy. That is what readers will discover in this volume, as they are invited to engage the experiences of current and former minority deans, each of whom, due to the politics that will be discussed in the introduction, will use a pseudonym.  This collection brings together cross-disciplinary deans from a range of institutions that vary by size, region, demographics, and focus.  Each will provide their own advice and personal narratives, and will discuss their leadership styles, successes, failures, and recommended rules for survival.

There are two name plates on the door to my office suite. One reads, “Walter R. Jacobs, Dean.” The other: “Vivian Williams, Dean’s Assistant.” When I started the job last July it never occurred to me to NOT list Vivian on the door, but as I visit other Deans’ offices (at UW-Parkside and elsewhere) I’m learning that this is not always the case. For me, the Dean’s Assistant is an integral part of the Office of the Dean team, as Vivian met weekly with the Associate Dean and me. Her experiences and input were highly valued, and her contributions went far beyond her official office manager duties. I will miss that, as Vivian has left UW-Parkside to start her own business. A part-time person will be joining us next week while we search for a full-time replacement. Hopefully the full-time person will be able to start on July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, and the weekly meeting tradition will resume. (I also meet individually with the Associate Dean at least once a week, and have lots of individual interactions with the Dean’s Assistant during the week.) I hope that I can find another Dean’s Assistant with Vivian’s incredible skills!

Today on the Sociological Images blog Lisa Wade posted information about a recent research study on professors’ work habits, finding that professors usually worked 51 hours during the week plus an additional 10 hours on the weekend. I’ll have to keep these data handy when answering questions about work habits of the faculty!

I have posted several entries about the Social Sciences Kaleidoscope (SSK), a web portal for social media channels students maintain to discuss what they are learning and researching in the social sciences. A call went out in the fall 2013 semester for students to participate in the spring 2014 semester, and two student projects were selected; each student is receiving a $400 stipend for participating. A new University of Wisconsin-Parkside website is being developed that will have a dedicated SSK page, but the students are already working on their projects, which can be directly accessed. Jenn Zentmyer is using a Tumblr to examine her experiences in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) certificate program, and Manvinder Singh is using a Facebook page to engage the public in facts he is learning in his Victimology class as a Criminal Justice Major. Check out their pages!

Dean Paula Krebs recently posted an interesting article about academic administration in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Meet the New Boss…” She discusses very real differences in supervision of tenure-line faculty, department chairs, and deans. Check it out!

UW-Parkside just launched a new website that includes many rewritten pages. My college’s mission and vision statements, for example, are now pretty generic: the vision statement is “an education centered on diversity, social justice and personal fulfillment that gives students the knowledge and skills to address some of the most pressing issues in society today,” and the mission statement is “whether it’s international studies or improving the local community; the University of Wisconsin-Parkside College of Social Sciences & Professional Studies will give you the opportunities to go as far as your ambition will take you. We are the newest college on the Parkside campus, and our programs include International Studies, Teacher Preparation (IPED), Criminal Justice, Philosophy, History, Geography, Political Science, Law, Sociology and Anthropology.” To be honest, I can’t remember what the old statements were…and I have no inkling about the many other vision and statements of units I’ve been in over the last 21 years as a graduate student, professor, and administrator. If anyone can state her/his institution’s current vision or mission statement without looking it up I’ll give you a check for $1000.

So one of my tasks in creating a strategic plan for the college is to come up with more memorable vision and mission statements, but is that really even possible? Perhaps my energy would be better served in creating something else, like a “DNA statement” that succinctly describes the core elements of the college, the essential building blocks that animate everything we do. I know, vision and mission statements are supposed to do that but they are so often uninspiring, and have too many components (like two separate statements!). In a future post I’ll have to post a note about possibilities for something more pithy. If the current vision and mission statements spark any thoughts please share them in order to kick off the brainstorming…

Earlier today I taped a segment for a local radio show, “Education Matters.” I was a bit nervous going in, as the purpose was to discuss the new Institute of Professional Educator Development (IPED), and the experts in the institute do a much better job of explaining things than I ever could; I see my job as to provide resources for them and then get out of the way! Alas, the host wanted to talk to the dean of the college that houses the institute. In the end, though, all was fine, as we discussed a wide range of issues, including my educational journey from high school to UW-Parkside. It was fun!

The last time I made a media appearance was as a department chair at the University of Minnesota. In 2008 I was on a panel discussion of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on the “Crossroads” TV program (KSTC channel 45 in Minneapolis-St. Paul). I went on “Crossroads” again in 2010 for a panel discussion on African Americans in sports. Although you’d think it would be harder to go on TV than the radio given TV’s hot lights and the pressure to conform to visual standards, I thought it was easier to prepare for the “Crossroads” appearances since I was part of a group and could just answer questions off the cuff. For the radio show I was the only guest, and I had to make sure that I provided proper information about IPED. In the end I think I did OK, but if I’m contacted again I might have to insist on a faculty member being a better choice!

Today an Inside Higher Education report caught my eye: “Wayne State Defends Dean Who Sparked Professor Resignation.” The article discusses how some Wayne State U. faculty members are resisting the dean’s institutional change efforts, even though that is what he was hired to do. I’m definitely interested in these types of stories, as I’m in the same boat as a founding dean who was hired to establish a new college out of existing components with a number of long-serving faculty members. The Wayne State U. provost noted, “a great deal of what we see going on here is that some older, more established faculty frankly don’t want to see change.” That has not been the case so far here at UW-Parkside, as I’ve had great working relationships with department heads and faculty members in the establishment of new policies and procedures. We are beginning to tackle a university-wide budget shortfall that might necessitate really tough decisions, however, so I hope that we are able to keep working together productively. Please send us good vibes!