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Report from the First Annual Leadership in Higher Education Conference

Leadership and Management

Report from the First Annual Leadership in Higher Education Conference

I’ve just returned from chairing the first Leadership in Higher Education Conference, held October 6-8 in Atlanta. This event grew out of some of the issues and concerns raised in the pages of Academic Leader, as we discovered a need for academic leaders to have a place to come to hear from experts, share ideas, solve problems, and prepare for their next steps in their leadership career.

I was so pleased at the turnout for our first conference! About 275 academic leaders from around the country were in attendance, a number that was just slightly dented by Hurricane Matthew making its way up the East Coast. Even more impressive than the stats, however, was the level of enthusiasm and participation evident in the meeting rooms, hallways, and other gathering spots. From 7:30 a.m. when breakfast began to the evening when the final session or dinner was finished, the venue was filled with academic leaders engaging in interesting, thoughtful conversations about the issues and trends on their own campuses and the challenges they face.

Some of the highlights

  • C.K. Gunsalus, consultant, workshop leader, author, and owner of C.K. Gunsalus & Associates, gave our opening plenary session on “Healing the Dysfunctional Department: Lessons Learned from ‘Broken’ Academic Units.” Gunsalus knows about dysfunctional departments firsthand, not least because she once served as an associate provost in what became known as the “department of yucky problems.” One of the most popular elements of her talk was a scoring rubric she shared that allowed attendees to “score” their department and learn how healthy or dysfunctional it was. I heard people discussing their scores for the remainder of the conference.
  • Rob Jenkins, a 30-year veteran of higher education currently serving as associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College and as senior fellow at the Academy for Academic Leadership (AAL), gave our Friday evening plenary on “The ‘Philosopher Dean’ and the Just Organization.” Based in part on the book he co-authored with AAL founder and president N. Karl Haden, Jenkins talked about the concept of justice as part of a nine-part schema of virtue and how academic leaders can—and must—be sure to run a just department. I will always remember the story of how he helped facilitate one of his faculty members getting to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia in a way that was just and respectful of the impact this would have on his entire department.
  • Jill Schiefelbein, owner of The Dynamic Communicator and former faculty member at Arizona State University, gave a high-energy closing plenary session Saturday on “Communication, Education, and Technology in Higher Education.” Her discussion of the educational reach of modern communications modalities like YouTube as compared to traditional means and measures of academic discourse will stick with me.

We also offered three optional preconference workshops for those who arrived on Thursday afternoon.

  • Board member Lolita Paff of Penn State Berks offered a session on “Infusing Skills Across the Curriculum: Making the Case & Leading the Way.” Her attendees report that this session was a great help as they thought about how academic leaders can help encourage pedagogical techniques that allow our students to develop intellectually.
  • There is little so miserable as working in a department with toxic and mean-spirited faculty members, but board member Bob Cipriano of ATLAS Leadership Training and Southern Connecticut State University had some strategies to share to manage this problem in his workshop, “The Academic Leader’s Role in Fostering a Collegial Environment.”
  • Kenneth Alford, of Brigham Young University, offered a seminar on “Creating an Effective Faculty Mentoring Program,” in which he shared some essential principles and best practices of effective mentoring and how they can be applied at different universities.

These were just the major sessions offered; over a two-day period, we had nearly 90 different sessions from attendees that ranged from highly theoretical to immediately applicable, and which showed a range of information gathered from research and from first-person experience.

A thank you to the board

This conference would not have been possible without the hard work of the Advisory Board, who gave me a great deal of information and perspective in tailoring the conference to the needs of the academic leader. They also made me laugh regularly, which is a tremendously important skill for a board member to possess! Thank you to our 2016 Advisory Board:

  • Jeffrey L. Buller, PhD, dean of the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University
  • Robert Cipriano, EdD, professor emeritus and former department chair, Southern Connecticut State Universtiy
  • Thomas R. McDaniel, PhD, professor of education emeritus, Converse College
  • Lolita A. Paff, PhD, associate professor of business and economics, Penn State Berks
  • Scott Schneider, JD, lead of the higher education practice group at Fisher & Phillips, LLP
  • Karin Van Voorhees, content development manager at Magna Publications 

You will recognize many of these names as contributors to this newsletter, so please take some time to read their articles!

Moving forward

By the time you read this issue, you will have received a survey about your experiences if you attended the conference, and we will be in the process of compiling results and starting discussions about how to better tailor the conference to your needs. I welcome the opportunity to hear from readers of this newsletter, as well, about what your needs are as an academic leader and how we can help you succeed through our written publications or our conference.

I also hope you will consider developing a proposal for a session for our next conference. Our call for proposals will be out shortly, and I look forward to reading a lot of strong submissions. This year’s field of proposals was very strong, and I’m sure next year’s will raise the bar.

Our 2017 Leadership in Higher Education Conference will be October 19-21, 2017, in Baltimore. I am really looking forward to visiting this historic coastal city, but I am looking forward even more eagerly to reuniting with this year’s conference attendees and meeting new academic leaders from around the globe.

Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is the Chair of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference and managing editor of Academic Leader. She is the owner of Hilltop Communications (www.hilltopcommunications.net).

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