organizational leadership

Last week I attended the 2013 annual meeting of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS). It was great to meet up with old friends, meet new people, and generate new possibilities to try back in our home institutions. Two panels in particular gave me hand cramps from writing a long list of ideas:

Advancing the Career Opportunities of Liberal Arts Graduates: Best practices and strategies for working with multiple constituents to articulate liberal arts skills set and value.” This session will foreground the exigency of and outline possible methods of establishing partnerships with multiple constituents in order to enhance student, faculty, administrative, and community understanding of the skill sets acquired in liberal arts degrees, as well as methods by which liberal arts graduates can showcase those skills and their particular talents. The ultimate goal is to engage participants in a discussion of the exigency and possible methods to enable placement of liberal arts graduates into non-profit and for-profit corporations at better rates and with more ease.

Career Preparedness and the Liberal Arts: On-campus partnerships and initiatives.” Significant pressures have been placed on institutions to demonstrate that their students can compete successfully for jobs upon graduation. Liberal arts colleges are especially prone to negative assessments of their students’  career prospects. This panel focuses on ways that deans can work with their faculty, staff, and other campus stakeholders to develop institutional support and structure to promote career preparedness. The panel will address successful partnership strategies with various campus units to improve the role of professional advising; develop a college-wide career curriculum; collaborate with offices of career services; and incorporate internship, coaching, and shadowing programs.

I outlined a plan to enable students to better understand career pathways while building strong social scientific and liberal arts skills through high impact learning practices in curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities. Today I asked my department chairs to discuss the draft, and we will further develop it in collaboration with an external advisory board of community leaders as well as with other units in the university. Possible practices to include: a mentoring program where recent alumni connect with students in person and online, and an internship program built around students’ existing jobs. I’m looking forward to the discussions!

A big component of faculty life for many professors is attending academic conferences. I rarely attended them, as I focused on writing academic articles directly instead of creating conference presentations that would later lead to articles. As a dean, however, it seems that I will be attending quite a few leadership conferences. Last week I was in La Crosse, WI for a meeting of arts and liberal studies deans in the University of Wisconsin system, tomorrow I’m off to Jacksonville, FL for the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences annual meeting, and in two weeks I’ll fly to San Francisco for the Learning Resources Network (LERN) annual conference. Whew!

As I discussed in blog posts on June 10, 2013 and September 10, 2013, I am a big proponent of living-learning communities (LLCs), and was looking forward to working with one here at UW-Parkside. Alas, the Exploration LLC did not receive enough applicants, so it is not running this year. In the meantime, I’ve started work on a new LLC for African American male students, modeled on the Huntley House LLC. The co-proposer and I are designing “Fearn House” to build community and connectedness for African American males and provide opportunities for personal and academic growth in a supportive atmosphere to ensure their success in college and beyond. Students will have the opportunity to explore issues of ethnicity, identity, and leadership, while receiving vital academic support and actively participating in and contributing to campus student life. Participants may be from any college within the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Fearn house is named in honor of Isom Fearn, Jr., the first African American graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. For 32 years Mr. Fearn served as the Director of the Access Opportunity Program at the State University of New York at Geneseo, which provided academically and economically disadvantaged students an opportunity to attend college.


When I became a department chair in 2007 an adjustment was getting used to having some letters from me actually be written by others. A related adjustment as a new dean will be to have speeches prepared by others. First up is tonight’s scholar and donor recognition event. At 7:00 I’ll be prompted to say “Hello, my name is Walt Jacobs, and I am the founding dean for the newly established College of Social Sciences & Professional Studies. What makes a UW-Parkside education so special is our deep connection with the community and the employers that seek high quality talent to sustain and advance the economy and quality of life within our region. It’s my great pleasure to join you this evening to help highlight some of this year’s outstanding scholarship recipients. The following presentation provides a look into just how meaningful and important our efforts to provide engaged learning opportunities are to our students and community.” OK, I can do that!

A big component of a dean’s life is attending meetings. For the most part I enjoy them, especially ones that have an agenda and are efficiently conducted. (I’m writing this post in an extra 30-minute block I have today when a meeting ended early!) Last week, however, for the first time I attended a type of meeting I don’t like so much: a reception for visiting guests where you mingle in a small space with a plate of finger food, having short conversations with folks (mostly people you already know as usually there is a throng around the guests). I was actually supposed to go to two receptions last week, but was excused from the other one due to personnel problems that required an immediate response. Hhhmmm, maybe I should stockpile other personnel issues to be dealt with when other receptions are scheduled?

When asked questions about my vision for the college, I always answer, “it’s not so much about my vision for the college, the more important question is about OUR vision for the college.” I have several structures in place for collaboration and collective decision-making, such as a lots of meetings with department heads. I’m in the process of starting a student advisory board (more on that in a post after the first meeting later this month), and recently started the UnBox committee. As you may have guessed from the title (or if you remember a post about “The Unpossible”), the charge of the UnBox committee is to brainstorm new and unusual practices. I selected folks who are new to the college or who have reputations for coloring outside of the lines. I have reps from the faculty, non-intructional professional staff, administrative staff, and students (a first year student as well as an upper-division student). The first meeting was mostly about brainstorming ways to get one of my ideas off the ground (the Social Sciences Kaleidoscope; I’ll elaborate on this in another future post), but in future meetings I’m sure that they’ll generate some new possibilities for the college to consider. I’m looking forward to those gatherings!

According to the second annual “Innovation Imperative: Enhancing Higher Education Outcomes” study, “Americans strongly attest to the value of internships in preparing students: nearly 9-in-10 Americans believe students with work experience from an internship or paid employment related to their field will have more successful careers in the long-term.” Here at UW-Parkside there are a number of internships in all four colleges. I’ll have to start working on establishing more social science internships to complement the strong program we have in Criminal Justice!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a department chair is mentoring junior faculty members. At the U of Minnesota I set up regular meetings with a group of tenure-track faculty and one contract assistant professor. The structure of each meeting: a check in about research projects in progress, discussion of a topic I thought may be of interest, open discussion, and then a check out about action items. My new college is small enough for me to be able do the same here at UW-Parkside, and yesterday was the inaugural meeting for three new tenure-track assistant professors and one lecturer in his first post-graduate school academic appointment. The associate dean also attended and shared great advice. For some of the future meetings we’ll invite the other junior faculty members in the college. My topic of discussion was an advice for new assistant professors article from Please let me know if you come across additional articles that I can share!

The fall semester is finally here, as yesterday was the first day of classes at UW-P! I love first days of the semesters, as they feature unique energy created by the students’ excitement about new classes, twinged with just a little bit of fear and anxiety. It was fun walking around “the bridge,” a skyway that connects many of the buildings on campus. I missed an opportunity to connect with students, however, when one person in a group of three complimented me on my suit. I thanked her, but kept walking, as my natural inclination is to chat only when (a) I know the person; or (b) I’m intentionally out to make connections, as was the case later in the day yesterday when I went over to the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. I’ll need to get into the habit of making time to chat in a wider range of situations…

The song “The Unpossible” by Kaleidoscope Jukebox begins with a discussion of the limitations of the word “impossible”:

Our language…you might say our language lacks a word.
We have the word impossible, but we need to differentiate between two sorts of things.
The impossible is that which by definition can never be done.
We need another word: unpossible.
That which can’t be done just yet.

This song popped into my head today while thinking of times over my first two months as a dean when I’ve been told “we can’t do that here.” Luckily, there have only been two occurrences where that could not be overcome. The first time was when I requested as my email address to match the wrjacobs@x construction I’ve had for the past 20 years. After six years with I requested at the U of Minnesota and was initially denied, but an administrative assistant eventually tracked down someone who could do it, so I thought that the same thing could happen at UW-Parkside given an initial “our system can’t generate that” response, but no dice. The second instance was a request to let my administrative assistant use my designated dean’s parking space since I’d be parking at an on-campus apartment building. The “we can’t do that here” response was driven by fear of a precedent being set. Umm, I don’t really see future deans lining up to live in the student apartment complex and asking for others to use their reserved parking spaces, but whatevs.

In my meetings with department heads post I outlined consultative structures that I hope will facilitate the generation of ideas about alternative ways of business. Proposals will probably focus on practical problems, and rightfully so! I think that I’ll form another advisory group, one composed of faculty, staff, and students who are specifically interested in brainstorming unpossible ideas. I’ll call this the UnBox committee. Stay tuned for more details!