President's Message: Leadership in an Educational Environment


For as long as I can remember, there have been those who hold up the business world as an example of how our colleges should be run. The current emphasis on productivity, thinly disguised as accountability, is just the latest example. I submit that leadership in an educational environment is fundamentally different.

Any leader must have a good sense of the direction the organization needs to take, be it the academic senate, the college, or a business. As faculty leaders, we need a clear vision of what we would like to achieve on our watch. Unlike business, our bottom line is not monetary but rather the need to assure that our students achieve their full potential. Not that money isn't important-we need adequate resources to serve students well-it's just that the almighty dollar doesn't (or at least shouldn't) drive our decisions.

I know, your first reaction is that I'm dreaming. Our day-to-day experiences are so tied up with issues of resources that it seems this is all that matters to our leaders. That's my point exactly. In fact, in my visits to our colleges, it is clear that those who PUT STUDENTS FIRST-and have a strong organization built around that goal-are the most successful.

Whereas the business environment is competitive, education flourishes best in a climate of trust and collaboration-hence the term "collegiality." As educational leaders, that spirit must be one of our primary, if unstated, goals. By the way, one of those "leadership directions" I mentioned earlier, for my term in office, has been this very goal of building trust. I'm convinced the investment has paid many dividends. (Oops! I slipped into a business metaphor!)

Consider the three benefits of education to society: 1) the acquisition of skills and abilities that lead to earning a livable wage by the individual and provide a needed worker for the economy; 2) the personal and cultural enrichment of the individual that adds both to the enjoyment of life and to the advancement of civilization; and 3) the production of an educated citizenry that makes good decisions politically and participates vigorously in the community. Even the casual observer can detect that today's productivity movement focuses on #1.

So we must go beyond having a sense of direction rooted in serving students and beyond devoting ourselves to building a collegial environment. We must reclaim the high ground in defining what "success" in education really is. Accountable? Yes, I'm accountable. I'm accountable to my students every day to assure their learning. I'm accountable to my colleagues to deliver the curriculum we have designed to the standards we have set. And it is we who must hold ourselves accountable. If we don't, that external business model will surely be what we will face.

It isn't as if we don't know how to hold ourselves accountable. The mechanisms of program review, curriculum approval, and peer review have been part of our lexicon for many years. These are the underpinnings of that "strong organization" which I mentioned earlier as being built around the goal of serving students. Colleges with strong organizations use these reviews to create institutional plans that then drive budget decisions.

So simple; just two measures. Does the college have effective reviews of programs, curriculum, and peers based on the goal of student learning? Does the college use these reviews in a meaningful way to create plans that drive the allocation of resources? We even have the mechanism to assure the role of faculty: collegial consultation with the academic senate.

Thus I call on the educational leaders at our colleges-yes, that's you, too-to set a firm course for your achievements for the coming year, to maintain student learning as the touchstone of all you do, and to redouble your efforts to assure true accountability by being vigorous participants in review of your programs, courses, and peers and in the planning and budgeting process built on those reviews. Don't settle for anything less. You will profit greatly, as will your students. (There I go again, using those business terms!)