Debunk the 'dark side' myth: How to recruit faculty for leadership positions

Cultivate the leadership talent within your institution

There's a frequent "us versus them" phenomenon that goes on between faculty and administrators—faculty members pursue their own priorities, conduct research when they're not teaching, and generally stay out of departmental leadership. 

At some colleges, faculty members even refer to those among them that take on leadership roles as "going over to the dark side."

But that's not how it should be, says Brent Ruben, the executive director of the Rutgers University Center for Organizational Development and Leadership and director of the university's leadership academy.

"We have to start seeing academic leadership as part of the career trajectory for some people not just a side venture," Ruben urges.

Faculty pipelines cultivate the type of administrative talent that institutions need. Without them, schools often end up turning to external hires for department chairs, deans, provosts, and other leaders.

But faculty members are often reluctant to pursue leadership roles. "[Colleges] have to change the narrative about leadership and negative perceptions of administrative roles," Audrey Williams June writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Rutgers tackles this through the Rutgers Leadership Academy, a two-year program for midcareer faculty and staff who have been identified as potential leaders. Generally, deans and senior administrators identify and recommend faculty members for leadership training, but anyone in the university can nominate a candidate.

During the two-year program, the faculty members take 18 classes online and in-person, which teach them to:

  • Navigate the challenges facing higher education;
  • Take on formal and informal leadership roles;
  • Answer to multiple stakeholders;
  • Deal with school accreditation; and
  • Make important decisions.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) has a similar program, called the Center for Faculty Excellence. David Kiel, the former senior leadership consultant for the program, emphasizes the importance of having faculty members take on leadership roles.

"Faculty... have a unique perspective that needs to be represented wherever people are making decisions about the university," Kiel says. "We want [them] to be leaders so that [they] can promote core academic values."

UNC Chapel Hill's program also offers participants a $5,000 stipend and release from one course they teach in order to ensure that they'll have enough time to complete the program. The program also includes offsite travel for leadership training.

Ingrid S. Fulmer, a Rutgers faculty member who joined the leadership program, says the experience has been eye opening. "It's been such an interesting opportunity to see how complex this place is to manage," she says, adding that "hearing leaders talk about how they got to where they are now, it shows you that you could do it too" (June, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/15).

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