Monday, December 26, 2011

New President Interview -- Part 10 Management Style

Q> Student-centered education is frequently mentioned as a way to center the process of learning on the student rather than on those teaching or administering the schools. What place does this theory fit in the way the College operates? *
A> Student-centered learning needs to be focused on making the students active participants in their education. There is a difference between student-centered education at the post-secondary and the education at the elementary and secondary levels. College students need to take more responsibility for their learning than younger students. As students play an active role in the learning process, they should become students who gain critical thinking skills and participate in life-long learning.

Another aspect of student-centered education is administrative. As an administrator I have to balance the needed of all academic and business departments. I want to train the business and administrators to think of the students in their plans and programs. For example if a noisy building project is needed, students and staff should be informed far in advance so that they can make alternative plans if needed. If possible, the project should be done during vacation times or when students will not be affected. If the city decided to repave the street in front of the school with a lot of noisy operations, staff, the students and faculty should be informed. The information would help them cope with the noise and make people feel better and less helpless.

We need to listen to the students’ needs and offer reasonable alternatives. Teachers need to recognize multiple learning styles. However, that does not mean the students are always right. Sometimes the voices of wisdom, reason and experience trump student desires. In the formulation of any administrative decision or rule we must think of the impact on the students and those who teach and administer to the students. The job of a good manager is to pick the best people for the job and then clear the way for them to do a good job. When they are doing a good job, push them to do an excellent job.
Q> I hear some people want higher education to be more on a business model. They point to proprietary schools that make money. How does the profit motive fit into the College’s education goals?
A> The business model is fine for the financial and business operations. We should be managing our money as well as the best businesses. We should pay our bills on time and not waste time with getting budgeted items through the system. I have always been bothered by the amount of time a bill takes to be paid and the wasted staff time to check on the progress of an invoice.

The College is not in the business of making a profit. We will not cut a department just because they have too few students. College students should be able to pursue their academic interests. We need to teach philosophy and anthropology because they are worthwhile academic disciplines not because they will directly lead to a job placement. On one hand businesses complain when graduates are not prepared and on the other they demand that students be able to think critically and creatively. Critical thinking, reading and writing can be learned in any major. We don’t want all of our students to be business and education majors. The world needs technically savvy graduates, but also those who can adapt to new challenges. The liberal arts degree prepares students to be well rounded and able to think. The sciences and technology disciplines are also important. They teach students a way of thinking about how the world works. The potential scientist should know how to think critically in many areas because so many aspects of knowledge are intertwined.

For example archeologists need knowledge of the human body to understand human remains and tools. Historians need to understand all aspects of the human endeavor from psychology and sociology to technology. Engineers need to know how tools will be used from a psychological and sociological point of view. When I was a computer programmer I needed knowledge of mathematics, business, politics, and human relations. The most innovative firms are those who have experts who are fluent in multiple disciplines.
Q> The skills of a good teacher or professor are difference from those of an administrator. What are some of the skills you had to modify or adapt from your teaching days?
A> Visibility -- As a professor and a member of a larger group of professionals I did my best to be visible. I wrote papers, talked to people, and attended meetings within the College and within the profession. Professors who want to advance in rank and prestige need to be visible. The president needs to balance visibility and working quietly behind the scenes. There are conflicting opinions as to how to balance visibility. The president is the symbol and official representative of the College to campus groups, the board of trustees, and the community. I have to deliver words of greeting and welcome to many groups. The president sets the tone for all of the College’s work. The members of the College community need to see and know me so that we can work together. Some administrators create a well-oiled machine and stay in the background. The College has administrators with a very public face who walk around and greet and meet people and some work behind closed doors most the day.

Administrators should not stick out like “sore-thumbs.” They should be there when guidance and encouragement are needed. They should never miss an opportunity to say something nice or encouraging. Giving thanks and recognition are always remembered and help when the president needs support.

Collaboration -- The way people collaborate as professors and administrators is different. Professors need to collaborate on research and in administering their departments. They don’t need to collaborate with many people outside of their department unless they are on committees. Librarians are the only faculty who work with all of the academic disciplines. Much of the class preparation and class work is done by themselves. Administrators must work as a team in almost all their projects. One of their skills is assembling a team that will be effective and get the job done. Another skill is keeping the team focused, motivated and on task.

Glory -- Many successful academics seek the individual glory of authored papers and conference participation. People need to be appreciated and recognized. This is an important part of being an administrator. A president does not need to take individual credit for successful projects. A good leader will find ways to share the glory or even make everyone think the project was done without the leader’s help. When I was a camp counselor I mastered the technique of guided decisions. I told the youngsters they cold decide among several options. I already decided what options were available. This worked a lot better that telling them what to do even when the result was exacting the same.

Administrators need to help those involved come up with ideas and make decisions. If two departments have conflicting space needs it is better to give them the parameters and options rather than issuing a rule by fiat from the top. Change is part of the process of making an institution better. The people who have to live with the decisions, should be part of the decision process and the glory of success.

Compromise -- Administrators have to compromise in ways that will serve the best interests of the College. Academics are often rewarded for strong arguments and debate in professional discourses. Students and faculty can argue the minutiae of an academic problem. If they sit on the fence their academic view can be perceived as lacking a spine. In administration extreme positions are viewed as a negative. The extreme positions do not take into account significant minority positions. The College has diverse stakeholders including students, faculty, staff, and community. The administration must sometimes take a middle ground decision to accommodate diverse interests.

On matters of safely, security and ethical behavior there can be no compromise. One must balance interests so that the course of action is principled and ethical with diverse opinions taken into account. Sometime different ethical systems are in conflict. In Jewish law the principle of “saving a life” could push aside other laws. In the ethics of lawyers, “saving a life” is not a defense for violating the rules.

Personal Privacy -- The personal life of professors at some institutions is private. Many professors separate their home and professional lives. I believe that teachers are leaders and mentors for their students. They have to model behavior they want to the students to learn. Some aspects of personal life are none of the students’ or College’s business, but if they behave toward their students, colleagues or the College in ways that are harmful to the persons or institution, they need to be disciplined or terminated. If the outside behavior brings unwelcome attention to the College, the activity must be stopped. The administrators have higher standards because they are not only employees at will of the College; they are also supposed to be setting the example for the faculty. What may be a mild indiscretion for a professor may be grounds for termination of an administrator. If the board decides one’s actions are not appropriate for the good of the College, the administrator may be terminated faster than any tenured professor.

Setting schedules -- Many people outsiders think academic work allows a flexible schedule. Professors can decide when they teach, do preparation, and perform research. Professors typically do not have a 9 -5 schedule. Administrators have schedules that are more connected to normal business hours. Since the College has courses that meet as early as 8 am and end as late as 9:30 PM, someone has to be on duty all of those hours. We need administrative and other staff on duty at all times. One can work 9 – 5 and then have an evening meeting or event. Administrators have more scheduled meetings than professors, but professors have scheduled classes. I just had to learn how to keep track of my schedule in a different way than when I was a professor. I have to schedule thinking and planning time.

Reporting hierarchy -- The reporting structure for faculty and administrators is different. Professors in some aspects do not view themselves as having an immediate supervisor. They report to a departmental head who reports to the provost. They are required to submit syllabi and some reports, but in many aspects of their day-to-day activities they report to no one. Some may think they are intellectual entrepreneurs. They try to stay out of the way of the deans and chair-people except when they need more resources. The administration has a clearly defined reporting structure. Since they are not tenured, they try to please their supervisors. If they fail the board may send them walking.

Dress code -- I always wear a tie when I’m “on duty.” I learned a long time ago to dress the part or dress the part you want to be. When I was a professor I always wore a tie and depending on the weather a jacket. Administrators are expected to wear business attire and act in ways that show they are beyond the “hippy days.” Professors dress more casually, even though I wish they wouldn’t. Since we have a large student age range, I would never want a professor’s clothing to label him/her as a student or non-professional. I saw one teacher wearing a plain T-shirt and torn pants and told him privately that was not acceptable. He grumbled, but I view this as a matter of public image. We don’t have a formal dress code, but I have appointed committee for investigating the best way to approach this subject. Even student workers should not dress in a manner inappropriate to the kinds of tasks they perform. Professors may be individualistic or idiosyncratic in their dress or actions, but administrators must act at a more formal level.

Work of teaching -- Academics may focus on their teaching, work or research. Even in a business setting business people talk about their jobs or work. It is a common way for people to get to know one another. Professors after telling some about their work may solicit a comment such as, “What do you think of this project or idea?” Professors and teachers in general may talk about their students. They may compare notes about the best, the worst, and those with the best stories. This is the way they learn to cope with difficult situations. They learn that problems or excellence are not unique. I even wrote articles based on some of the more interesting questions or people I encountered.

The faculty goals are more personal than the goals of the administration. Faculty like to be the center of attention in and out of the classroom. Administrators are expected to support the educational process. Their goal is to help the faculty be better faculty, not promote themselves. If they focus too much on their accomplishments they are not viewed as successful administrators.

The reward system for faculty and administrators is different. Faculty are rewarded by the recognition of their peers and success of their students. Their rewards are individual. Administrators are rewarded by communal and board recognition. Their reward is based on how well the College as a whole is succeeding. Their rewards are communal.

Q> Thank you very much.

*Part ten of an imaginary interview with the recently appointed president of the College. Note this is just for your information and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.

Part of this article was inspired by, “!0 Bad Habits” by Robert J. Sternberg that was posted December 21, 2011 on the web site ( Other parts were inspired from conversations with Professor Harvey Abramovitz of Purdue University.

1 comment:

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