Empowering Department Chairs to Lead and Implement Change | Trinity University

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Empowering Department Chairs to Lead and Implement Change

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Ruben talking to students

Grant supports institutional improvement projects at Trinity

by Margaret Miller

Across the country, academic department chairs often feel underprepared for their roles, which include work such as mentoring new faculty, establishing a healthy work environment, overseeing personnel and budgets, and promoting student learning. With a grant of $275,000 from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations that extends through May 2022, Trinity seeks to empower department chairs to develop their leadership capacity while addressing institutional needs. The Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan calls for the University to “develop a new generation of faculty, staff, student, and alumni leaders,” and this grant will help move Trinity in that direction while implementing instructional best practices in experiential learning and guided mentorship.

The funds will support 10 department chairs who will direct a project that will affect institutional change of their own design, each with a measurable outcome. Examples might include:

  • fostering student-faculty research collaborations and create opportunities for faculty to make their scholarship more visible on campus;
  • adopting inclusive pedagogical strategies to more effectively teach students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds;
  • undergoing an external review that results in the revision of major requirements in line with the Pathways curriculum.

Throughout the duration of their projects, chairs will attend professional development workshops about project management, discuss their progress with their peers, and receive support and guidance from an external executive coach. 

“In consulting with several department chairs in the proposal development process, the only constant was variation,” says Lisa Jasinski, special assistant to the vice president for Academic Affairs. “Each saw a unique, worthy challenge within their department. We framed this project to give chairs the resources and support they need to address the most pressing local concerns.”

This initiative addresses a longstanding gap in American colleges. A 2016 study by the University Council for Educational Administration found that 67 percent of newly appointed department chairs received limited training; 40 percent received less than four hours of training. By giving chairs an opportunity to address significant needs at Trinity while developing their capacities to lead, the University will pilot an innovative approach to academic leadership development. Another long term benefit of this initiative is strengthening the  pipeline of campus leaders to fill future senior leadership vacancies.

In February 2020, the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs will solicit proposals from the first cohort of department chairs. The participating chairs will achieve their projects over a 12 to 18 month period, engaging their colleagues in working toward a solution and building leadership skills of delegation, communication, and mutual ownership. They may also partner with one another or with interdisciplinary program directors to work on collaborative ventures. In addition to the gains of the projects themselves, chairs will also create deliverables and concept papers that other universities can use to replicate these efforts. 

Deneese L. Jones, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs, will draw on her three-decade career in education to bring insight and positional authority to ensure the project’s success. Jones is a former American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow and a graduate of the Harvard Institute for Educational Management.

“Since arriving at Trinity four years ago, I have worked hard to help improve the process for orienting and developing chairs,” Jones says. “This grant will help us expand this work while contributing to a national conversation about preparing academic leaders.”