Leadership in an academic setting combines different facets that must be constantly negotiated: educational endeavors; management and operation of facilities and budget; mentoring and supervision of faculty, staff and students; community outreach; and the articulation and implementation of vision or strategic plan. The cornerstone for successful leadership in all aforementioned areas relies on trust. When stepping into a new environment, a new leader must take the time to learn the local culture, while simultaneously looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes.
My leadership style combines dialogue with delegation. Conversations allow for all in a room to have equal voice in sharing concerns and ideas; one person can never have all the great ideas every time, but together the success rate dramatically increases. These exchanges allow the leader, in this case the chair of a department, to construct a multi-faceted perspective of their new or current situation. As often as possible I try to create both social and academic situations where every one in the room participates in the dialogue. On a regular basis I also make sure to visit for a few minutes with every faculty in their offices and classrooms. Students also know they can always come talk with me in the office.
By joining faculty and staff in dialogue I am better prepared to delegate the many tasks pertaining to running a department. I find it important that each member of faculty has a leadership role within the governance of the department, especially in the assignment of committee work. By distributing committee work as evenly as possible, an atmosphere of shared responsibility instill a more engaged participation in the matters of the unit. Instead of always meeting with the faculty as a whole (I like to keep these as once-a-month events), I schedule meetings with individuals and smaller groups to put me on par with their investigations and decisions, without the need to micromanage them all. This is one example on how this delegation system takes place.
I also seek dialogue and delegation from “above”. On a monthly basis I meet with the dean, where I both seek council and propose the implementation of department plans. This initiative has resulted in great benefits for my department. Not only can the dean count on me to work diligently for both my department and the college, but they also understand the needs an evolving department has. It is the responsibility of the department chair to educate the broader university community on what we do.
One other layer of delegation and dialogue that must take place occurs at the staff level. A successful department employs dedicated staff who believe in and respects their unit’s mission. I have been fortunate to inherited two wonderful members of the staff at TWU, a department secretary and a gallery curator, and hope to increase staffing in the coming year (I was able to double the number of staff at my previous appointment at Oakland University).
Alongside trust, through delegation and dialogue, I exercise transparency in department dealings. Everything that comes through the department is presented to the faculty and staff, as clearly as possible, with as much information as I have at a given time. There are no reasons to keep secrets from colleagues. I share all matters of the department, and hope to demystify the position, because chairing can be quite intimidating to a lot of colleagues who otherwise might actually do well in this role. At OU I shared all expenditures in the form of a budget report that detailed every penny spent the previous year (which was a bone of contention from previous administration). This process helped shed some light into the complexities of the departmental finances and disband any misperception that certain areas were being favored over others. Everyone seemed to gain some understanding on the complexity, fluidity and at times absurdity of university budgeting and accounting. At TWU I share the documents I send outside the department with everyone, and often compose presentations during our meetings that visualize the data I have analyzed. These have included assessment reports I composed based on collected data to the university’s Assessment Committee, my study on classroom/facilities usage (which has led to the creation of a new Digital Craft studio this semester at an underused space), and my analysis of faculty teaching distributions in terms of area and ranks (which has focused a new faculty assistant professor search in interdisciplinary art, technology and design,), all of which will hopefully impact our curricular conversations and teaching loads considerations in the coming months.
Of course it goes without saying that any leader must also exercise autonomy, to assert their vision and carry out their plan. A department chair often has a better understanding of the proverbial big picture, often from the college and university perspectives. While building trust through dialogue and delegation, with transparency, I make it clear that some decisions may have to eventually be made that will not please every one: being fair is not the same as being symmetrical in every category; distinct areas in a given department have their own needs (what may be allocated to print-making will not be exactly the same for art history, for example), and in a few instances the chair must make the final call without consulting everybody (I try to avoid these as much as possible, and also work hard to avoid reaching out to my colleagues outside the regular business hours and weekends). I also allow room for everyone to vent their concerns and frustrations, which naturally arise. At the end of the day, we all have a common goal: to engender the best educational and creative environment for our students, ourselves, and our community. I aim to provide attention and care to all areas of the departmental unit, because with the balance of all its part we can arrive, together, at our goals.