Most liberal arts colleges are in a significant transitional time insofar as faculty leadership is concerned: long-time faculty leaders are being replaced by a newer and usually younger cohort of faculty who often have not had the opportunity to develop leadership competencies. This can be particularly problematic in this challenging time when institutional goals and faculty priorities must be brought into alignment, whether at the departmental level or at the institutional level of governance.
Four years ago the Great Lakes Colleges Association, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, developed the GLCA Academic Leadership and Innovation (GALI) Institute, a program designed to engage faculty in understanding the sometimes conflicting, often misunderstood, and nearly invariably complex factors that must be considered in decision making and problem solving in liberal arts institutions. Chief academic officers send faculty teams (three to five people, typically early to mid-career) to go through a sequence of workshop activities designed to help them gain insight into (a) the multiplicity of external factors influencing our institutions; (b) the process involved in developing plans for, and successfully implementing, a mission-driven institution; and (c) principles of constructive negotiation and decision making at the level of faculty governance committees and department meetings. In addition, each team brings an institutional challenge, typically identified by the faculty team in consultation with their chief academic officer, to which the team applies what they have learned to develop a solution, in consultation with their faculty peers, to take back home. This program helps foster skills of academic leadership and constructive problem solving that will allow the rising generation of faculty leaders to engage in governance more effectively.
The specific elements of a GALI Institute workshop include:
Issue Identification: An analysis of the often competing expectations of various college constituencies, both internal and external (including faculty, students, parents, alumni, trustees, donors, local community officials). Including role playing, discussion focuses on the effect of such expectations on institutional decisions concerning academic and student affairs, admissions and financial aid, athletics, facilities, or college relations with a local community.
Design a College, and Make it Work: Project teams design an ideal liberal arts college in terms of mission, core values, and programs of study, as well as such practical considerations as the number of students, endowment size, and tuition. Each team confronts the challenges involved in fulfilling mission and values when they make resource allocation decisions in a budgeting exercise. What choices and tradeoffs will the leadership team make in terms of such things as faculty-student ratio, tuition and discount rate, faculty and staff salary, or intercollegiate athletics? How will the team respond to financial challenges (e.g. a decline in endowment value or shortfall in the entering class)? The exercise encourages participants to consider strategies to sustain and strengthen essential qualities of liberal arts education in the context of available resources.
Negotiation and Leadership within the Academy. From the premise that negotiation skills are essential for effective leadership, the exercise employs a case approach focusing on instances in which faculty members in leadership roles (such as department chair) seek to identify common interests and foster agreements among different parties in dispute.
Strategies for Addressing an Institutional Challenge. Prior to the workshop each institutional team, working with their chief academic officer, identifies a particular challenge facing their home institution; at intervals throughout the workshop team members meet to identify strategies through which faculty leadership – both formal and informal – can help to address the challenge they have identified. Each team presents its action plan and receives feedback from other workshop participants to culminate the workshop.
In addition to its substantive content, one of the most important benefits of this program is the opportunity it provides participants to meet and develop contacts with faculty members of other liberal arts colleges. These exchanges allow faculty members to gain greater understanding of both common elements and differences among their home institutions.
The GALI Institute also includes two other key components:
1. An award program, called the GLCA Academic Innovation Fund, which provides funding on a competitive basis for groups of faculty to work across the threshold of a campus or department on projects that have the potential to strengthen curriculum and enhance teaching and learning within particular fields of study.
2. Cadencing Activities that periodically convene participants in past workshops as well as recipients of Academic Innovation Fund grants to provide updates and continue the momentum of collaborative faculty activity.