When you speak with students on college campuses and ask them to reflect upon their experiences often the first thing that comes to mind is their experience, good and bad, with individual instructors in courses that they've taken. What doesn't come to mind? Senior administrative officials, strategic plans or other aspects of an institution that fall outside their day-to-day experiences. So should it surprise us that college and university presidents who have been successful in driving change at their respective institutions all speak about a common critical factor in their efforts? That key factor is engaging faculty early and often. From Steven C. Bahls, President at Augustana College:
College administrators trying to establish their own favored programs too often try to obtain faculty buy-in after the fact. Far more likely to succeed is doing the hard work of creating alignment with the faculty at the front end. Creating such alignment is an iterative process that begins with respectful discussions around shared values.
Or how about a perspective from Donald J. Farish, President, Roger Williams University:
On a college campus, change cannot be imposed from above. Rather, change requires buy-in by the faculty, and buy-in only occurs if there is a mechanism to recognize the work of faculty in adopting the proposed change and if the faculty see the change being proposed as logical and reasonable. On my campus, we wanted to greatly expand the opportunities for students to engage in project-based learning. We identified a few faculty who relished the idea of being on the leading edge of change and worked with them as they created interdisciplinary student teams.
There are a lot of key points to unpack here: (1) recognizing faculty efforts, (2) testing changes for reasonableness with faculty first, (3) voluntary engagement by faculty already embracing the change being contemplated - in this case scaling project-based learning. All that from just four sentences! Chrisopher Howard, President of Robert Morris University, adds another important factor to the conversation:
Faculty and staff often have transformational ideas that have been overlooked or never received the resources needed to reach their potential. A president can generate a lot of goodwill by bringing to full flower ideas and programs that already have grass-roots support.
As a former management consultant, I learned early that while it was important to be able to come up with possible solutions to a problem based on past experiences it was often equally, if not more, important to listen attentively to client middle/senior management and help shine a light on those well-formed ideas that were perhaps lacking the visibility they required in order to drive meaningful, lasting change. Kathleen McCartney, President at Smith College reminds us that leaders shouldn't always feel compelled to lead change from the front:
Presidents need to learn to follow, too. In fact, I am heartened by the fact that I am not the only person leading change. For example, a year into my presidency, 40 faculty members presented me with a proposal for a Design Thinking Initiative. The proposal was endorsed by faculty across the disciplines, from engineering to dance. In this instance, I viewed my role as a supporter of a group that had written a compelling proposal about an important curricular innovation. Shared governance is the key to the kind of continuous learning that distinguishes the best colleges.
Confident, and effective, leaders find change agents already on their campuses and help support their efforts. Faculty are the front lines of any college or university, if you're a college or university leader find ways to help them help you create a better teaching and learning environment for your students. For more institutional leader perspectives visit the link below from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Presidents Share What's Worked

College administrators trying to establish their own favored programs too often try to obtain faculty buy-in after the fact. Far more likely to succeed is doing the hard work of creating alignment with the faculty at the front end. Creating such alignment is an iterative process that begins with respectful discussions around shared values.