NCPRE-based Confronting Challenges in Academic Units Consortium surveys professional development for academic leaders, calls for action


Written by

"Despite the need for focused, role-specific leadership development at the department level to nourish vibrant units, efforts to provide it continue to be scattered and ad hoc." (page 3)

The Confronting Challenges in Academic Units Consortium presents a new resource, Academic Leadership Development (available here). This white paper surveys professional development programs for those new to leadership positions in academia. Increased participation in quality programs addressing the topics outlined in the white paper would strengthen colleges and universities as well as benefitting their participants.

The white paper provides a roadmap for institutions considering how to support, extend, and promote departmental leadership development. It discusses essential topics and resources including:

  • Effective financial and compliance oversight
    C.K. Gunsalus
    C.K. Gunsalus
  • Using administrative data effectively for decision-making
  • Managing conflict and coping with difficult conversations
  • Navigating changed relationships with former (and future) peers and colleagues
  • Identifying, approaching and maintaining relationships with unit supporters

The Consortium was formed by experienced university leaders convened by the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics (NCPRE), located in the Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The Consortium works with academic units that have lost their way or are having issues getting the job done, whether from governance problems, internal factions or schisms, dwindling interest from students, an internal climate problem with bullying or harassment, or other serious challenges to effective functioning.

The benefits to professional development in the context of a challenged unit can be far reaching. The initial benefit is a return to having a productive, cohesive unit with a positive atmosphere.  A unit head that develops these skills becomes a more effective leader from there, at any level, and has the opportunity to mentor and support others. Professional development opportunities like those outlined in the white paper are used and useful where they exist, but most academic leaders take up their new positions with little or no exposure to them.

“Providing support for academic leaders to prevent problems and have access to strategies for addressing them when they do arise is the heart of the Consortium’s mission,” says Sarah Mangelsdorf, Chair of the CCAU Executive Committee and Provost at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Through its programs and resources, the Consortium provides the tools for leaders to map out and then implement ways to improve for academic units facing challenges in effectively carrying out their missions.  The Consortium holds annual invitational conferences in Chicago to provide dedicated time and space with expert support for assessing and mapping paths to renewed unit vibrancy.

"Key to restoring unit functioning and vibrancy is confident, skilled leadership—and that takes thoughtful development programs as well as specific resources and tools,” says Ruth Watkins, Outgoing Chair of the CCAU Executive Committee and President, University of Utah.

“The CCAU provides support for unit heads thinking about how to resolve problems in their departments, deans who preside over struggling departments, and provosts who see multiple issues across campus,” says C. K. Gunsalus, Director, NCPRE.

For more information on the Consortium, its next conference, or the white paper, please visit the CCAU website.

Share this story

This story was published October 8, 2018.