The Office of the Provost hosted a training workshop for administrators last week, offering sessions in leadership skills and giving them the chance to interact with administrators they otherwise would not.
“All of them are terrific academics who can lead their departments intellectually, but they may not have a great deal of administrative knowledge,” Justin Pearlman, the Provost’s chief of staff, said. “We want to make sure they don’t feel like they’re forced to learn on the job.”
That was one of the criticisms that faculty had leveraged against former School of Engineering and Applied Sciences dean Feniosky Peña-Mora during his tenure and that eventually led to his resignation in July. Provost John Coatsworth said at the dean search town hall in October that the workshop, the first event organized by the recently established Academic Leadership Institute, would be one way to prevent the next SEAS dean from facing the same structural challenges.
“We want to make sure we can do everything we can to ease the transition,” he said at the town hall.
In an email, Coatsworth said that, in the past, deans have been provided with insufficient training and often left on their own to learn the best administrative strategies.
The opportunity is long overdue, said Holger Klein, chair of the department of art history and archaeology.
“When I got the invitation, I thought, ‘Well, it’s about time that such a program is offered in an academic context,’” Klein said. He added that he has come across many similar opportunites in the art world, but not in other areas of academia.
The workshop was split into five sessions, covering topics like management and faculty diversity.
Raimondo Betti, chair of the civil engineering and engineering mechanics department, said that the mentoring advice was helpful for him, but called the workshop on leadership less helpful because “the ideas were too abstract.”
“As chairs and deans, we deal with concrete problems,” he said.
Other attendees said that the event provided a rare opportunity for administrators to network.
“One of the highlights for me was meeting the other chairs,” computer science professor Julia Hirschberg said. “At Columbia, you don’t often get to see chairs in other schools.”
“It was a chance to interact with other people in similar positions and discuss how they solved their problems during the informal breakouts at lunch and during conversations,” Gillian Metzger, vice dean of the Law School, said.
However, some said there were ways the program could be improved.
“The limitations of time did not really allow for an active acquisition of specific skills,” Klein, the art history department chair, said. “In the future, it would be desirable if the institute could make more room for in-depth workshops to allow participants to spend more time on individual topics.”
Other attendees suggested follow-up events, such as receptions and reunions.
“It might be helpful to have an online chat area where we can exchange ideas or to have a follow-up meeting six months later on what we each picked up from last week and how we implemented them in our own schools,” said Bill Grueskin, the Journalism School dean of academic affairs.
Medical Center Vice Dean of Academic Affairs Anne Taylor, who led a session on evaluating and mentoring faculty and published a book on faculty mentoring in 2008, said that the institute is a step in the right direction.
“The principles of good leadership and management transcend what discipline you’re in,” she said. “If you have strong leaders, the organization runs better as a whole.”
Next semester, Pearlman plans to hold other events to bring together leaders from the Medical and Morningside campuses and establish an emerging leaders program for younger faculty members.