The Academic Leadership Book

Academic Leadership

A Book Proposal


Here the author introduces the subject in the context of his 47 years as a member of some of the best university research faculty anywhere. He draws upon his experiences to write about the most important aspects of academic leadership professor who has worked with more than 9 provosts, 12 deans/department heads in 47 years as an academic and a full professor for the last 34 years. He is co-founder of the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy and has developed and taught leadership courses in New Orleans and around the world. The primary thesis of this book is that the markers for successful leadership are well known and resides with those who are being led: Their successes, innovations, work products, and morale. The markers for who can be a successful leader in academe are less known. Some believe leaders are born that way; that they must find the right people to lead. The traits of a good leader are not definitively established. There is no established theory of academic leadership that provides sufficient guidance to produce effective leaders. What this book provides is a summary of where we are in our efforts to establish a framework for understanding, studying, and affecting academic leadership. The summary provided here is then applied to three cases studies of leaders who share what they learned in their good or bad experiences that can contribute to our views and approaches to hiring, supervising, and promoting academic leaders.

Chapter 1.  Leadership

This chapter discusses the surprisingly long history of the concept of leadership. Leadership is the critical factor rarely discussed in the context of university life. It is, however, discussed in fields of business, law, social work, psychology, sociology, disaster research, and related areas. Each field views leadership in slightly different ways but the consequences for selection and coaching of deans follows a similar pattern. Leadership is required of all fields, including those that study and teach about it. Most would call the general field of studying leadership is leadership studies. This chapter provides an overview of the meaning, applications, and standards of leadership that provide a framework for examining the four fundamental questions addressed throughout the book: (1) What are the characteristics of great academic leadership? (2) What are the markers for effective leadership among those who are lead? (3) Are great leaders born that way or what accounts for their greatness in the academic context? (4) How can great academic leaders be selected, coached, retained, and rewarded?


Chapter 2. Academic Unit Leadership

This chapter describes why there is no other working environment quite like the academic one. Academic environments encourage the free-flow of ideas, concepts, theories as a way of teaching students and approaching research and scholarship – conceptualizing, collaborating, studying, reporting, applying a particular approach to a particular problem. Few environments other than the academy are so dependent upon the free flow of ideas. This is where leadership is essential: Creating a safe place, co-creating the vision of the academic unit, and enabling faculty and staff to create the plan to reach the vision. Subsections of this chapter include the importance of leadership at the level of President of the university and relations with faculty that are supportive but do not get in between the faculty and their immediate supervisor. The leadership of the Provost of the university is most critical to faculty because their boss reports directly or indirectly to the Provost. The Provost, is leader of the academic side of the university and who must compete with other aspects of the university, including the athletics. The Provost provides the connections between the university mission and the day to day university activities of teaching students and graduating them.

The dean of a school or college, similar to some large departments, serve as the supervisor of regular faculty. They are also expected to develop and maintain a budget, sign off on the recruitment and retention of faculty, as well as apply considerable influence on who stays and who goes. All this in consultation with the dean’s supervisor, the Provost. As the Provost is the spokesperson for the academics of the university, deans and department chairs/heads is the spokesperson for their unit. They are expected to collaborate with the faculty regarding a strategic plan that is linked, in turn, with the University’s strategic plan. Deans typically provide an annual review of each faculty member and follow some procedure agreed to by the faculty. Moreover, the dean is a colleague who is granted tenure by following the same procedure for other faculty members gaining tenure.  Most often the dean represents the provost in making decision about individuals such as candidates for faculty positions. The ultimate decision is made the provost. In disputes between the faculty and dean are settled by the Provost.


Chapter 3. School of Social Work Leadership

This chapter focuses only one type of academic unit: Schools or colleges who offer a Master of Social Work degree. We cite what research literature is available that address the four central questions of the book. We supplement these published works with excepts from conversations with current and former deans about the special challenges and rewards of being a dean. These interviews will lead to the selection of three case studies. One will be a successful dean, another will be an unsuccessful dean, and another a new dean who seems to be on the right track.


Chapter 4. Case Study One[1]

The chapter starts with a timeline of the dean’s significant experiences and lessons learned from a long and successful career as the Dean of Social Work at a Midwestern state university. The next section of the chapter describes this former dean’s more challenging aspects of the job, including seeking donors to the School. This is followed by the next section: Lessons learned that are worthy of repeating and address the four seminal questions of the book. The final section provides words of advice to those who wish to be deans and those who have just become one.


Chapter 5. Case Study Two

A social work professor writes about his experiences as a dean and the mistakes and missteps he made along the way. Similar to case study one, in the previous chapter, a timeline is presented to clarify the career demarcations to better understand the context. This is followed by a section in which the former dean notes the best and worst aspects of the job. Lessons learned are discussed next, followed by this former dean’s words of advice to potential or new deans. This author also has important advice to faculty about how they must always act in the best interest of the school as an entity and as a place.


Chapter 6. Case Study Three

A new social work dean who appears to be on the right track is also a good case study. This chapter is written by a new dean about the decision to seek and then learn on the job about being a dean.


Chapter 6: Good Academic Leadership: A Tentative Model for its Predicting and Study

This final chapter includes a summary of the lessons provided throughout the book. It also contains the systematic and thorough answers to the four seminal questions of this book. Much of the chapter is devoted to describing a tentative, predictive model of academic leadership; a proposed set of standards of practice for deans in working with faculty at the most productive level.

[1] This and the other two case examples are based on real deans and schools. Our intent is not to harm anyone but to prevent harm experienced by faculty in all three of the case examples.