Tips (from Palm Springs) on University leadership and governance

“How many faculty members does it take to change a light bulb?” is a joke that would have gone over well at the senior university administrators meeting held yesterday in … Palm Springs, California.

It gets even better in this must read report by Scott Carlson, for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Faculty members, with their reputations for recalcitrance, are often seen as barriers to change. In the session, a scholar of higher education from Harvard University discussed the traits and motivations of the latest generation of faculty members.”

The conference seems to have uncovered lots of nuggets. Here is an analysis of faculty’s psychological profiles by “an expert” in academic careers.

“The oldest professors—those born as late as 1945, who are called “traditionalists”—have attitudes about their careers that are very different from the youngest academics’, like the Millennials’. Traditionalists tend to be loyal to employers, for example, while Gen-Xers are skeptical. Baby boomers are seeking titles and recognition for their work, while Millennial employees are primarily interested in meaningful work.”

Sounds like a Consumer Report car and truck rating. Are faculty members so “bi-dimensional”, and where the heck do I fit in all of this?

On the interesting side, Mr. Dell’Omo, president of Robert Morris University (where is that?) whose scholarly work is in labor relations, offered a few key pieces of advice for the presidents in the room:

  • Be brutally honest about the challenges, but don’t paint a situation as hopeless—and never over-promise.
  • Encourage faculty members to interact with the business-affairs staff and decision makers on the board of trustees—not just at board meetings, but also in informal situations.
  • When sacrifices pay off with new or renewed resources, be sure to share those resources with those who gave up something for the organization. “Conspiracy theorists will say, You’re just using the crisis to pull things from us that you felt you couldn’t do” in good times, he said.

Some good advice, but all of a sudden, I have an idea!

Did anybody ever think of organizing a conference (yes a warm place, please) where “experts” among faculty members can analyze the various traits of administrators, opine on the best ways to handle them, and most importantly, propose optimal strategies for extracting goodies out of them?

This is a conference I will say yes to… especially if it is held in Palm Springs.

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