Like most science-oriented academics I had no idea what faculty governance meant prior to coming to Gustavus. It took a lot of observation, listening and false starts before I began to feel confident in my voice and act as a leader on campus. By being a Department Co-Chair and serving on the Personnel Committee I had the opportunity to observe and work with a number of faculty role models from across campus. I not only served, but I better learned what it meant to be an effective leader and how effective leadership can be embodied in different styles of leadership. I have learned that active faculty governance in collaboration with non-faculty staff results in an effective and energetic academic community. Our community builds future leaders and fulfilling this common goal depends on open and frequent interactions and acts of leadership by all of us.
In the Biology Department
“…be the change you wish to see in the world.” M. Gandhi
During my sabbatical I was asked and elected to serve as Co-Chair of the Biology department for a three year term with Jon Grinnell; we also served another additional year following this term. Jon and I worked hard to develop a collaborative leadership model. Happily, Jon and I continue to have a productive working relationship four years later. The department started exploring the merits of a co-Chair model in 2002. We thought this approach might work as a way to ameliorate the heavy work load associated with chairing such a diverse, large, and complex department (e.g. n~15 faculty, 260 majors, 50 lab/lecture sections to schedule each semester, aging expensive equipment and facilities, ~7 faculty to review each year, and ~2 new hires to make each year). While the model is not likely to be employed by all other Department members, it was fairly natural for Jon and me to pursue. We taught together each spring, and we respect one another’s views and balance one another’s traits well. While the intent of the co-chair model was to allow more time to engage in the scholarship that can slip away when one serves as Chair, it certainly did not ‘free’ us half-time. The workload was still significant because we met regularly to complete or split up the significant regular workload, to discuss goals and outcomes. It took energy to develop an effective working partnership and negotiate approaches. In general I became responsible for anything related to personnel, hiring, scheduling and curriculum; he managed the budget and student issues. However, we made decisions about all these components or filled in for one another when needed.
Chairs have numerous regular responsibilities, but we also had opportunities to accomplish new work by setting the agenda, providing data and context on issues, facilitating discussions, and ensuring action toward these new final products. We facilitated a curriculum planning retreat to assess our core classes and how to scaffold scientific writing and other skills. We drafted language about the rights and roles of our instructors as a way to clarify their agency and responsibilities, we discussed how to better enhance and retain diverse majors, and how to sustain co-curricular and in-class research experiences. We resurrected a newsletter and other student-departmental links to stay in touch with our alumni and current majors. We restructured FTE to allow for further ‘break-up’ of large enrollment courses. We rewrote the Department’s vision, philosophy and mission statements. We completed duties that were newly assigned during our tenure such as writing Department annual reports and the Department’s strategic plan.
In addition to accomplishments related to the whole department I learned a significant amount about leadership, my Departmental colleagues and the College simply by being Chair. Early on, I attended a conference for new Departmental Chairs on conflict resolution, legal issues and how to better promote the department. However, no conference can really prepare someone for what you learn doing the job. I learned how to better support colleagues, how to evaluate and offer constructive feedback. I learned about college structure, how things are financed and how to advocate to the administration using data and examples of work that resonate with them. I became much more proud of our Department’s accomplishments, our collective and individual dedication to excellence in serving our students and the institution. I have a deeper respect for my colleagues’ work and concerns. We are the second largest major on campus, play important roles for other departments, interact closely with three interdisciplinary programs and general education (we teach ~1/2 of the incoming class each fall), we produce top notch research alone and with students, and our high achieving graduates experience significant and broad success in post-graduate endeavors all of which serve as selling points to prospective students. I learned my role was to do anything I could to provide resources that would facilitate my colleagues’ teaching, research, and service so that our collective outcomes continued.
Being a Chair is a school that reveals one’s strengths and weaknesses and offers opportunities to explore new approaches. I quickly learned what not to do through experiences or outcomes that were less than positive. I grew in the face of change, honed leadership skills that came more naturally and deliberately practiced those that were more foreign. I continue to realize that open and frequent communication is key to building an effective team. I advocate for or compromise for the good of the majority, but I also know that consensus on a final action may not occur. I am willing to have difficult conversations with people with the hope that a better understanding or working relationship may evolve as a result. I also always try to follow through for people in a timely manner. Certain aspects of my leadership style such as balanced diplomacy and understanding more indirect modes of communication continue to challenge my professional development. I tend to be direct; I tend to speak what I perceive to be truth with the hope that others do the same and better understanding results. Regardless, I always am willing to hear and consider others’ viewpoints. I also can be self-reflective regarding my leadership traits and know aspects of my personality are opportunities for continued growth.
While I value my autonomy as an academic, I also am a team player and view committee service as a necessary civic duty. We all must participate in governance because active participation is necessary to maintain the functions and privileges of an institution like Gustavus. I try to be a team player in my Department in several ways, for example by doing the work of a Chair, but also by being an engaged member of my Department, which includes completing all aspects of Department work in an effective, timely and quality way. I also try to be a good department citizen by teaching overloads, regularly teaching core classes despite their large size and challenging populations, by offering ‘my’ favorite upper level courses to term appointments so they can develop their c.vs, or by delaying a sabbatical to help balance the stress associated with three of us eligible for sabbatical at the same time. I will continue to participate in the regular activities of both the Biology department and Environmental Studies. For example, in Biology we are developing an assessment plan and are preparing for our 10 year review this spring. I also continue to serve campus events sponsored by the college, ES and the Arboretum such as Nobel, Earth Day and Linnaeus at 300.
In the faculty and its committees. After a very productive field season, I was grateful for academic privileges and I agreed to stand election to the Personnel Committee even though I was still co-chair. Minor arm twisting by colleagues also figured in the equation. Serving on Personnel was humbling, hard, serious but also a very satisfying job. I learned a tremendous amount about my colleagues and the college by observing classes, interviewing candidates or their departments, critically examining tenure and promotion files or letters, and working with other colleagues on the committee. The mission and productive approach to work of the Personnel Committee resonates with me, and it is a type of service that I envision maintaining long-term at Gustavus. As such, after my term on PC was complete, I decided to serve as a on the Third Year Review Committee; the third year is a crucial formative time for new faculty and the review offers opportunities to better understand the criteria for tenure and how to maintain a path that complements their professional vision.
In other college positions. My experience as Director of the India Program reinforced that many of my leadership objectives are well served in program development more directly related to student learning. With that in mind, I decided to serve as the Coordinator/Director of the HHMI Institute Peer Mentoring Program. I have talked about this program’s relationship to the criterion for teaching and program development, but the position also requires leadership related to college governance. I work with six to 10 faculty each semester to plan and develop a supplemental curriculum for four courses. I hire and supervise 13-17 peer mentors in collaboration with faculty across two departments and one interdisciplinary program. The success of this program relies heavily on faculty participation and how they structure their courses to fit the program objectives, philosophically and logistically. My role is to encourage faculty participation and endorsement because the program results in learning outside the classroom, and gives students and faculty a means of better understanding one another. I am responsible to and for people, curriculum, program assessment and end of the year reports. My role is to build and administer the policy and affairs of this program, in other words to govern in a broad sense. Moreover, our program is novel and effective, and what we have learned could serve as a model for others.