Leadership and Change
Robert M. Diamond Ph.D.
In his introduction to the Education Commission of the States’ 1993 report, Making Quality Count in Undergraduate Education, Roy Romer, then governor of Colorado, made the following observation: "For all its rich history, there are too many signs that higher education has not taken its responsibility to maintain a strong commitment to undergraduate learning: to be accountable for products that are relevant, effective, and of demonstrable quality, and to research and public service seriously" (Romer, 1993 p.2.). And today, these same concerns are being reported in various national studies and reports.
What has gone wrong? If for so long, so many have seen the need for significant changes, why haven’t they occurred? Why are the same problems that were identified decades ago still in existence? Why has support for higher education diminished and trust between higher education and the communities we serve deteriorated when colleges and universities play such an important role in the long-term health of our society.
Change, Politic, Process, and Professional Development
Change is a political process. To be successful as an academic leader you must be willing to take risks, modify your behavior, and to ask hard questions. You need a clear vision, an understanding of how to get where you want to go, and a sense of the political process that will develop the community ownership necessary for you to reach your goals. Unfortunately, in every major initiative that grew out of these national reports, one or more of the elements required for successful and lasting change has been missing. If the plan was well designed, the resources for implementation were inadequate. If the need was clearly understood, those in leadership roles did not follow a well-designed process for implementation. If the resources needed for implementation existed, faculty or key support groups were left out of the planning process and, as a result, resisted any attempt to change their behaviors. Key steps have constantly been neglected, important data and information have either been overlooked or never collected in the first place. Everyone involved, at every level, must not only buy into the goals of the initiative but they must have the knowledge and skills to do their part. All too often, individuals in key roles, have been either unable or unwilling to play their part in the change process.
As leaders we often lose sight of the fact that in successful innovation, the process of change itself is often as important as the quality of the final product. If an innovation is to last there must be ownership. And, for ownership to develop there must be participation. Developing ownership is one of the key elements in every successful change model. Keep in mind, that in every major initiative you undertake as an academic leader you will, if you are successful, have impact in ways that may surprise you. Your own role and the role of others may change, job descriptions may need to be rewritten and the criteria used to hire new employees modified. New and more flexible budget systems may need to be developed and the priories of the development office adjusted to support new initiatives.
As an academic leader you will not only require the many skills and the knowledge needed in any leadership role in any profession but also in those areas unique to higher education. These include an understanding of the culture and history of your institution, its organization, and the impact these factors can have on the change process, the barriers to change in higher educational settings, an understanding of assessment, the research on learning, student development, and teaching, and the process and the criteria that can be used for rewarding faculty, staff, and operational units at your institution. In addition,you will need to be familiar with those models for change that have proven to be successful when used in academic settings and the up-to-date on the work underway in various national initiatives addressing such areas as college-high school articulation, faculty rewards and scholarship, service learning and the use of technology. Although you may not require the in-depth knowledge needed by those working in a specific area, you will require enough background to understand the problems they face, and what their capabilities are. For only then will you be able to ask the right questions, make the right decisions, and be an effective leader of successful and lasting academic change.
Copyright. 2006. The National Academy for Academic Leadership