Tuesday, 18 October 2011

On Getting Academics to be the Driver of a University's Operations: Random Ponderings

Thoughts of making a university more strategically poised for success invariably draw attention to issues of structure, roles and responsibilities of the players within the university community.  The following questions randomly probe the functions of presidents, deans, academic deans/vice presidents, and academic department chairs. The purpose of the questions is to stimulate the assessment of what obtains in a current situation and what might otherwise happen is the same situation.

What is the role of a university president?  Is it to craft a vision for the constituencies served and to thereafter create a macro environment that would allow the fulfillment of that vision?  Should the major part of a president’s role be more ambassadorial (externally focused) than managerial (internally focused)? Should the role of the president include lobbying for the establishment of national policies that would create the highway on which the university can deliver on it promises?  Should the role of the president also include giving publicity to the vision, capabilities, achievements, and needs of the university?  Should not a dominant characteristic or qualification of a president be the ability to communicate effectively; having great powers of persuasion?

The Office of the University President, NCU - File Photo

What if a college dean had a job description that mimics that of a president of a university, but only that the jurisdiction extends only to the college presided over, but still externally focused?  What if the vision created by the president represents the combination of the individual visions crafted by deans?  Should not the function of deans as heads of colleges and schools be the nuclei of around which all other functions of the university, including that of the president, revolve?  Should not deans wield great clout on a university campus, not excluding financial freedom, internal policy creation, and marketing and recruitment initiatives?  Should not a major part of what deans do be to recruit ideal faculty and students, and to be engaged in accessing funds for the execution of programmes and projects (including building new facilities)?  Should they not lead the charge to adjusting curricula and programme offerings to be more market responsive?  Should not deans be most aggressive in maintaining links with alumni from their colleges/schools/faculties?  Should not deans, like presidents be excellent communicators?

Should the role of the department chair or vice president of academic administration be primarily internally focused - ensuring that internal operational outcomes are achieved in accordance with plans, policies, procedures.  Wouldn't that mean that college deans and department chairs are accountable to the academic dean in terms of their meeting their respective external and internal targets?  Should chairs be charged with responsibility of monitoring the daily operations of the department including scheduling of classes, student related matters, faculty evaluation and other related matters, leaving interface with the dean as per routine college meetings and assemblies? 

Should there be a provost who oversees all non-academic internal functions? And in terms of rank or organizational structure, should it not be the president, the vice president or dean of academic administration, the Provost, college deans, departmental chairs, and then everybody else would make up the support system?

A deliberate effort should be made to provide ongoing training to ensure that everyone performs optimally.