Letter to a New President

One of the unfortunate legacies of nearly two decades of UMW’s inconsistent leadership has been the creation of program silos moving in different directions. Many faculty like that. They like being able to do their own thing, and many of these things are worth doing, but that doesn’t mean these things are consistent with each other.  There is a widespread practice of people (faculty, departments, colleges, etc.) working to solve their own problems with no regard for how those solutions impact other programs.

Many of our faculty have never experienced strong leadership. By strong leadership, I mean leadership with a plan for our future, clearly articulated to faculty, who generally buy in to it. At present, there is little sense of institutional identity among faculty, who see themselves as economists, biologists and anthropologists but not as members of the university community. In part that is because we lack a clear sense of what the institution is or what it is trying to become. We had that sense some decades ago, but we’ve lost it. We are three colleges, but how they relate to each other is unclear, and the role of the arts & sciences in the whole is also unclear. The only message we (in the arts & sciences) have received in recent years is “keep doing what you’re doing”–which helps explain the silos.

We need senior leaders who convey hope, not hopelessness. I’m tired of hearing “Well, sure, but we can’t do that. We don’t have the budget.” If you believe something is important, FIND THE BUDGET. Otherwise, it’s not important.

Good leaders motivate/encourage their staff to do their best work, to work beyond what they are capable of on their own. By that measure, UMW has lacked good leadership.  As a faculty member, I haven’t had any substantive feedback about any of my professional duties from my department chair, dean or any leader in years. No one has said I’m doing a good job or a bad job in any aspect of my professional life.  One reason expressed has been “why evaluate if there’s no budget for pay increases?”  That seems shortsighted at best. See above re: strong leadership.  Formal evaluation is secondary.  It’s communication and feedback which are of primary importance.

In recent years, I have regularly heard faculty across the disciplines/colleges say things like:

I’m not responsible for admissions, retention, completion, advising or anything outside my unit, or even some things within.

The term for these professional activities is “appreciated, but not valued”. The administration wants faculty to do these things; indeed, they are necessary for the success of the institution. Doing these things well can take significant thought, effort, and time. But faculty do not receive any significant credit or reward for doing so. These things are “counted” towards salary increases and promotion in the same way as attendance at department meetings is counted.  As a consequence, lacking a strong sense of identity as a member of the institutional community, many faculty simply go through the motions.

Faculty feel underappreciated and exploited.  I expect staff feel that way too.  Appreciation doesn’t require salary increases; indeed, salary increases alone are probably insufficient. Why has there been no public recognition of excellent teachers, excellent scholars, extraordinary service?

There are many faculty who are interested in making the institution better, making things right. They have been tolerated, but ignored. They have not been given the authority or support to make (much) positive change.  Many are discouraged, but most are still open to the possibility of something better. You could start with them.


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One Response to Letter to a New President

  1. Robert Rycroft says:

    I can’t disagree with anything you wrote, but I wonder if your specific examples would be the same as mine. Sine Pedablogy is probably not on President Paino’s Newsify list yet, will you send him the link?

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