U.Va. Program Prepares Tomorrow's Academic Leaders Today

September 16, 2009

September 16, 2009 — Leaders don't just appear out of thin air. They have to start somewhere, said Dr. Sharon L. Hostler, vice provost for faculty development at the University of Virginia.

She initiated a program, "Leadership in Academic Matters," last spring to prepare faculty to become the next generation of department heads, directors, provosts and presidents.

With senior, experienced faculty retiring in increasing numbers, higher education faces a scarcity of institutional leaders, Hostler said.

At the same time, a growing number of women and minorities is changing the face of the faculty. They often encounter a set of challenges, however, that can impede their progress, rather than fostering success and encouraging them to become leaders. National data shows that women and minorities haven't been included in cultural and social networks in the academy, according to Hostler and Maggie J.P. Harden, director of the Institute for Faculty Advancement in the provost's office.

The convergence of these demographics has created an opportunity to build leadership in new ways, one of them being to train leaders more deliberately from within college and university faculties, Hostler said, and in the process enhance the academic community across disciplines and schools.

"One of the reasons new faculty don't make it to promotion and tenure is because of academic isolation," said Hostler, who was the only woman in her University of Vermont medical school class in the early 1960s. She has had several leadership positions over her career, including director of the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center and interim dean of the U.Va. School of Medicine two years ago.

The leadership program, modeled after one Hostler developed for Medical School faculty, is being held at Morven Farm and consists of half-day sessions, mostly once a week, starting Thursday and running over the next 10 weeks.

The program, not restricted to under-represented groups, is geared toward mostly junior faculty who demonstrate leadership characteristics and potential. About 30 participants from across the University were nominated by their deans, department chairs or other administrators to attend this semester. A few are already in top positions, but are relatively new to U.Va.

The program, a combination of lectures and experiential workshops, covers a range of topics relevant to becoming an effective leader: self-awareness, teamwork, negotiation, financial decision-making and conflict management. Also included are sessions on dealing with change, mitigating unconscious biases, talking to media and balancing work and personal life.

Maintaining that balance is particularly important to avoid burnout, said Maggie J.P. Harden, who is an assistant to Hostler and Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for recruitment and retention. Because of their fewer numbers, many minority and female faculty are called upon more often than the majority to serve on committees and can easily find themselves overextended.

Two sessions, in fact, are devoted to the topic. The second workshop focuses on what it takes "to reinvent ourselves as opportunities and resources change … and to remain inspired and committed to our lives' work."

U.Va. experts from the Darden School and Medical School lead most of the meetings, with a few other presenters from other universities and organizations.

The program kicks off with U.Va. psychology professor Jonathan Haidt giving a talk based on his book, "The Happiness Hypothesis."

"He talks about how feeling connected to others is important to happiness," said Melvin Wilson, a psychology professor and associate vice provost, who works with both Hostler and Fraser. Wilson also facilitates some of the workshops.

One of the program's informal aspects is creating social support and networks across disciplines, Wilson said.

"The participants are going to learn from each other and support each other," Harden said.

The Commission for the Future of the University included faculty leadership development as a priority, and the Institute for Faculty Advancement was created in the provost's office in 2008. Directed by Harden, the institute developed the Leadership in Academic Matters program, which was offered for the first time in the spring. The institute offers faculty development programs focused on supporting, inspiring and rewarding excellence at all stages of a faculty member's career. Workshops and programs are based on stated needs, institutional priorities and growth opportunities, as well as national research on best practices.

— By Anne Bromley