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19 Jun Posted by in Academics, Business | Comments Off on Leadership

One hopes that the challenges in identifying and motivating college and university leaders are fairly common knowledge. It is becoming measurably harder to find people to serve in capacities like department chair, normally the stepping stones for a smaller number of recruits to find their ways into higher levels of administration. The result is a need to try to keep the few interested people on for multiple terms, if they prove at least adequate, and the definite trend to increase administrative compensation more rapidly than compensation for the faculty at large — a problem faculty leaders identify but which is actually hard to remedy in current context. And the result, further, is a tendency toward more demographic homogeneity in leadership ranks — particularly, those coming up through the faculty — than is desirable.

Like many other institutions, George Mason recently decided to move at least halting from hand-wringing to a bit of positive activity. We welcome efforts by many associations to provide leadership training and shadowing opportunities, but particularly in a strained budget climate there is growing need for homegrown programs as well. So we — particularly, our HR group, our President and Senior Vice President and me as Provost — have had recurrent conversations about how to get into academic leadership and what it involves, including a session on leading during financial crises. The result has been modestly encouraging. More people from the administrative side of the house than from the faculty have attended, which is understandable but gives me some concern when it comes to identifying future department heads and the like. But there have been some clear faculty responses, though unevenly distributed across disciplines and units (my sense is that finding future leadership in the sciences is particularly challenging).

We have probably not managed to dive deeply into administrative and policy issues, but the participation of senior officials and their recounting of experiences seems to provoke some interest. I find myself alternating between enjoying some modest attempts at advice and recognizing that I don’t know much about formal leadership training. We are planning some more formal opportunities, including shadowing, guided by our HR professionals.  And several deans, working on their own, have won increasing success in identifying and talking with faculty who’d like to step up in the future. Whether we’re doing enough, on the academic side, remains to be seen.