organizational leadership

Today I had the initial meeting with the person who will be the interim associate dean for 2013-2014. I wanted to make the meeting short, since he is technically not on contract until next Monday, but we ended up talking for two hours! I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me, as after the second meeting of department heads last month one person gave me a gentle reminder that they were not on contract until the end August, so I should not be holding so many meetings. I think I’ll be fine, as the new associate dean was formerly a department head, but he was not the one who made the comment. I did make a promise to the heads that I would try to not schedule any all-group meetings in August, and it looks like I’ll be able to keep it!

We’ll go into a heavy meeting rotation in September, however, as each department head (some are chairs, other are directors) will usually attend three meetings: a meeting of chairs, directors, and the dean group (CDDG); a council of heads (CoH) meeting that does not include the dean, associate dean, and dean’s assistant; and an individual meeting of the department head with the dean. What happens in each structure? In the CoH the heads will discuss the dean’s requests, create initiatives to present to the dean group, and share best practices; they’ll have a space where they can brainstorm without having to worry about the dean’s reaction before solid proposals can be created. In CDDG meetings the department heads, dean, associate dean, and dean’s assistant will discuss dean group ideas, discuss CoH suggestions, discuss central administration initiatives, and engage other business. In the head-dean meetings departmental concerns and ideas will be addressed, and two-way mentoring will happen. In sum, I want to have lots of spaces for consultation, which includes ideas brought to me in addition to ideas that I have to share. Hopefully the open atmosphere of the two initial CDDG meetings will carry over to all of the other meetings. Bring on September!

In 2008 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion organized by graduate students in sociology at Indiana University, my graduate alma mater. My main contribution to “Building Bridges: Developing a Language for Discussing Race” was to outline my “Quarterback Theory of Diversity in Higher Education.” After returning to the University of Minnesota I shared it with the Chief Diversity Officer, and we mused about writing an article about it. We never got around to that, but I’ll share it here, as the theory popped back into my head as part of a decision process about joining country clubs.

First, for readers not familiar with American football I’ll note that the quarterback is the person who is often the face of the team, and receives the bulk of media attention, be it good, bad, and/or ugly. In higher education faculty of color are the “quaterbacks” of diversity efforts, and will be highly visible. A quarterback will receive attention even if not wanted (and/or warranted), but there are ways to mitigate this attention, on institutional, departmental, and individual levels.

On an institutional level in American football, the league can have rules to protect the quarterback from unnecessary wear and tear, such as a rule to make it illegal to knock down the quarterback if the defender is more than two steps away after the ball is released on a pass attempt. On an institutional level in higher education, tenure-track faculty of color can be explicitly rewarded in promotion and tenure documents for the service they are called upon to do to serve students of color, and/or excused from other types of service.

On a departmental level in American football, the team’s head coach can call for more handoffs to the running back if the quarterback has been overwhelmed by the pass rush. On an departmental level in higher education, the department chair can notice that her assistant professor of color has been asked to join every student advisory group, so she could work with chairs of other departments to find other volunteers to lessen the new professor’s load.

On an individual level in American football, the quaterback can decide that it’s not worth the punishment to try to gain an extra yard in an attempt to run over a defender at the end of a play, and just step out of bounds. Similarly, on an individual level in higher education a faculty member of color can decide that jumping into a new battle would lesson her effectiveness in other activities.

In sum, the Quarterback Theory of Diversity in Higher Education suggests that there are institutional, department, and individual strategies that help faculty of color effectively deal with demands on their time to improve multicultural climates. Maybe I should try to develop this idea more and get it out there in an article….

I’ve been a dean for one month now, and I’m happy to report that there were no big surprises in the first stage of my transition to full-time administration. I am attending a lot more meetings than I did as a department chair, and I have a wider variety of opportunities and challenges to engage, but nothing has been unexpected. Reading a big stack of books, attending multiple training sessions, and speaking with lots of folks about academic leadership was well worth it!

There have been minor surprises in the first month, however. On the positive side, the first month in the student apartment complex was quieter than I expected (and there are many students living around me!). Send vibes that this continues, please! On the negative side, it’s been a bit frustrating adapting to a Microsoft cloud computing campus after several years on a Google cloud computing campus. I’ll write more about that next week…

One of my tasks as a new dean is to work on the brand for the college. (This includes finding ways of motivating folks to think about how we can actively manage the college’s reputation without using “the B word” that many faculty members find distasteful!) A component of the overall U of Wisconsin-Parkside brand that we’ll also probably emphasize in the College of Social Sciences & Professional Studies is close student-faculty contact, with very few classes taught by graduate students. I wonder, though, if we should add graduate students to the brand? Many of these instructors are outstanding! Thinking back to my undergraduate days at Georgia Tech, for example, two of my three most memorable instructors were graduate students. The faculty member was unforgettable, in part, because every English literature course he taught was sure to involve discussions of sexual intrigue and violence…hence his nickname of “Sex and Death Corbin.” I did well in those and other humanities and social science courses without much effort, as I loved those areas for as long as I can remember. The two graduate students, on the other hand, really motivated me and helped me get through courses I didn’t like as much and typically struggled in: chemistry and calculus. Additionally, in an “It’s a Small World” development I reconnected last week with the Calculus graduate instructor after not being in contact since the class ended in 1987. Thanks for creating a great learning environment in which I earned my one and only A in calculus, Martha Abell! (She is now Interim Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Georgia Southern University.)

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to teach as a graduate student in sociology at Indiana University. Some of my best classroom performances were in my first two years of graduate student teaching, as I was able to devote most of my waking hours to preparing for classes, whereas in the third year of graduate school teaching and in all of my years on the faculty at the U of Minnesota I also had research and service obligations that prevented an exclusive focus on teaching. Of course, advanced graduate students and faculty learn to balance the demands of teaching, research, and service, but I think that undergrad students can be well served in classes staffed by motivated young graduate students, who are typically mentored by award-winning faculty in a class on pedagogical strategies and/or in individual meetings. Let’s add these graduate students to university brands!

Yesterday I posted a note about scheduling time for reading. I need to also remember to make time for another favorite activity: going to the movies. Before joining the ranks of administration I would go see a movie at least twice a month, and usually weekly during the summer. Now I’m lucky If I can go more than two or three times a semester! Earlier this month I saw Pacific Rim; it was entertaining, but not as fun as the Sweded trailer. I’ll try to go see The Conjuring this weekend. Yesterday I asked folks to wish me luck in creating a schedule to do daily reading; please also send me good vibes about being able to occasionally get out to the movies!

I knew that the new job as a dean would be very time consuming, but one thing I did not anticipate was that my Instapaper account would be overflowing by the end of each week. (As explained on wikipedia, “Instapaper is a web service that saves articles for later reading on web browsers, Apple iOS and Android devices, and Amazon Kindle. After registering a free account, the service saves articles that users select with its ‘Read Later’ bookmarklet and presents them in a minimal, readable text layout.”) In the past I was able to read saved articles every two or three days, and did not have a specific plan for continuing that after the transistion to UW-P. That was a mistake, as I’ve been finding myself working on all sorts of tasks at all hours of the day. Starting today I’ll try to get into the habit of reading my saved articles on my iPad right after I have dinner. Wish me luck!

If you are a reader who is not a dean but you are thinking about becoming one, a question I’d pose is this: “do you like meetings?” If not, you may want to drop a deanship from the list of possibilities, as we attend a ton of them. I have to admit that I not only like meetings, I love them! Well, the ones that are productive anyway, which is usually the case for the vast majority, luckily. There is a certain energy generated by connecting with others to explore ideas and check off items from to-do lists!

Today I have my first “Chairs, Directors, and Dean Group” (CDDG) meeting, where the dean’s assistant and I will meet with all of the department and program heads. When an associate dean is selected s/he will be present at these meetings too. At today’s initial meeting I’ll also strongly suggest the formation of a “Council of Heads” (CoH), where the heads will meet monthly without the deans. While a department chair at the University of Minnesota I attended monthly meetings with the deans, and monthly meetings with just the other chairs, so I’ll try to replicate that structure here at UW-P. Both types of meetings can be valuable, as in the CoH meetings the heads can discuss requests from the dean group, create initiatives to present to the dean group, and share best practices about unit administration, and in CDDG meetings we will discuss dean group ideas, engage initiatives from central administration, and discuss CoH suggestions. I’ll also meet at least once a month with each head to hear unit concerns and ideas, and engage in two-way mentoring: I’ll learn as much from them as they do from me!

Interestingly, one type of meeting format that I do not like much is the retreat. I don’t know exactly why…maybe because too much is usually crammed into them, and the temptation is to try to solve everything in one shot vs. beginning an on-going conversation? So today’s initial CDDG gathering is a 3-hour mini-retreat where we have some action items to decide immediately, but it also includes many other kickoff processes that we’ll engage over the academic year. The meeting is on campus, which also decreases the chances of it being viewed as a special activity. I’ll probably have to do a “real” retreat sometime in the future, but I’m confident that the mini-retreat will kickstart productive CDDG meetings.

Speaking of kickstarting, one topic on today’s agenda is the possibility of launching a kickstarter campaign to fund an idea. Stay tuned for more 411!

This week I am attending a seminar for new deans, conducted by the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences. 48 new deans and associate deans are learning practical strategies from experienced leaders. I’m looking forward to implementing new ideas when I return to Parkside!

Today I was called into the Human Resources (HR) office to receive training about “Manager Self Service.” I was informed that “supervisors will learn how to enter their own leave electronically as well as learn how to approve leave and/or timesheets for employees (this does not include students) they supervise.” This seems like a very worthwhile activity, and the hour over in HR for the training was well organized. I never did anything like this while a department chair at the University of Minnesota, however, either for myself or for folks I supervised. At a leadership seminar a few years ago one of the presenters noted something like this: “if you move from a flagship institution to some other type of institution you may find that you’ll have to sweat the small stuff that is not monitored very closely at elite levels.” UW-P recently switched to an online time reporting/monitoring system, so this new duty should not be too onerous. Also, perhaps, institutions tagged “elite” can avoid some types of problems by more closely “sweating the small stuff”? Hhhmmm.

I have loved parades ever since participating in marching band in high school. While I saw only a handful while I was in college at Ga. Tech, I attended many parades while living in Bloomington, IN (graduate school) and Minneapolis, MN (previous academic appointment). I was excited to hear that the Racine, WI 4th of July parade is big, and the third oldest in the nation. I looked forward to watching as a spectator, but received an email on Monday: “Chancellor’s Cabinet and Deans: Understanding you all need your R&R to remain sharp, we still extend an opportunity to join us for the Fourth of July Parade in Racine. Of course, all staff and faculty are encouraged to join us as well. You might be surprised how fun it can be! Regrets only to X.” As the new kid on the block I could not turn down such an invitation for an event on my fourth day on the job! I’m glad I went, though, as it was fun. I’ll be marching again with the UW-P contingent next year…