Sunday, April 10, 2011

New President Interview -- Part 5

Innovation, Excellence, Passion for Learning

Part five of an imaginary interview with the newly appointed president of the College.   Note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental. 

Q>  What is the role of innovation with the College?

A> At one time in IT (information technology) or MIS (management information services) the conventional knowledge was, “if it’s not broken, don’t fixed it.”  This type of thinking kept systems running.  Administration counted up time as good and down time as bad.  This kind of thinking led to a certain amount of stagnation and complacency. Innovation and improvements were done only when a business case could be made. Maintenance became more important than thinking of new and better ways of doing business.

Innovation can best take place in an atmosphere of taking chances.  People need the freedom to try ideas.  Sometimes the ideas fail and sometime they don’t.  In a learning institution we have to nurture new ideas in both our instruction and administration.  I told my students that the class is for learning; it is better to make a mistake in class and have me correct it than to make a mistake in front of your boss or a customer.  We must teach students to constantly explore and find answers where none existed before.  Likewise in the administrative area of the College we must encourage new ideas to save money, time, or effort.  We must use information technologies to enable faculty and staff better serve our students and institution.  We must overcome some of the poor learning habits that students encountered in their previous schools.

Schools and IT departments run best when they follow standards and well tested methodologies.  Consistency helps people do their jobs without thinking of new ways of accomplishing the tasks. The doubters think that following rules is the antithesis of innovation.   Rules and standards have a place within the organization.  When I was teaching about computer programming, I preached, don’t break a rule of programming until you thoroughly understand it.  Rules are written to maintain order.  We could not have a library catalog or any data base without following strict rules.  One could not sign in or send e-mail without following the rules and spelling the names and passwords correctly.

In order to have innovation, we must define it rather broadly and nurture a culture where innovation and learning thrive.  We have to instill in all our people the idea that innovation leads to excellence.  Innovations include all efforts to do a better job, lower costs, improve the physical plant, or make the mundane more palatable. In a culture of innovation and learning we need to recognize our faculty and staff who demonstrate it.  Innovation can be minor, affecting a small place in time or major, affecting the whole way we do business. Not all innovative ideas will be implemented.  Great inventors had many ideas that never left the talking phase.  By catching, examining, and nurturing the minor innovations, we can train everyone to be better innovators.  I will try to find people who think out of the box and recognize them as well as their teachers or supervisors. 

As I mentioned before I plan to encourage everyone to be part of professional organizations and share what they learn from publications, listservs, conferences and meetings.  We will publicize to the community these activities.  If one can’t be the innovator, they can learn from others who do innovate.  Innovation is part learning and part sharing.  That does not mean one can be reckless with time, people or materials. We change the organization to think and create new ideas within a framework of standards.

Showcasing achievements and innovation, no matter how small, is aimed at changing the institutional culture to one where more people see themselves as innovators and strivers for excellence.  Encouraging people to improve their domain is a step to organizational improvement and better team cohesion.  This is part of the educational and administrative process.

Q>  You entered the presidency directly from a librarian position rather than passing through the typical intermediate administrative positions. What makes you think you're ready?

A> I bring a scholar's passion, a student's eagerness to learn, positive energy, knowledge of many disciplines, and a deep sense of calling to this work. I love the constituency of the College, its students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. Although I'm not an alumnus, my years working for the College and in other institutions of higher education, give me an understanding of the College's DNA and higher education. I've studied it, I appreciate it, and I embrace it.

For someone to be effective as a college President one must draw on years of personal and institutional experience and create a passion to make people and systems work better. I will take graduate courses to fill in the knowledge that I am missing. My love of education and community will, hopefully, add real value to the students’ experience. 

Q>  Your mother was a reading teacher.  Did she instill your great love of books and learning?

A>  My mother did not become a reading teacher until I graduated college.  I cannot attribute my love of reading to her position.  When I was in elementary school I remember buying books from a school book club.  I was excited about the ability purchase and own my books.  By the time I was in sixth grade I had more than 300 books in my collection. However, I don’t remember visiting any book stores.    My father frequently bought books and took us to the public library to check out books and records. 

My father was a business owner.  He taught us that his bosses were his customers.  His sense of service to his customers was one big influence on my theory of management.  In 8th and 9th grade I helped in the school library.  I learned how to help students find the books they needed. You might say that public service and love of learning were imprinted on me from my earliest years.

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