Professional Development for Chairs Goes Virtual in Spring 2021

​“Resilient Leadership” was the theme of three 2021 Workshops for Department and Division Chairs held this spring. These workshops were generously supported by Academic Search and offered, for the first time, in a virtual format. In all, 176 participants—mostly incoming and new chairs representing 63 CIC member institutions from 29 U.S. states as well as Canada and Pakistan—completed the program.

During the workshops, experienced CAOs and deans led sessions on the “nuts and bolts” topics of budgeting and using data for decision-making as well as on leadership strategies for becoming an effective departmental advocate, modeling respect for diverse viewpoints, and motivating peers to work collaboratively to achieve departmental and institutional goals. CIC’s workshop leaders crafted sessions that were both practical and inspirational. For example, Mark Braun, former Gustavus Adolphus College (MN) provost, provided guidance on how to read and understand budgets, as well as on how to use a budget “as a planning tool and a roadmap” that can promote the “culture of stewardship” independent college and university leaders aspire to create. And while it is important for chairs to handle routine tasks, such as course scheduling, in a timely way, Yolanda Page, Dillard University (LA) vice president for academic affairs, advised that for “the well-being of the students, the unit, and the institution,” chairs should also “take the long view and work toward a legacy.”

In other sessions, chairs had the opportunity to compare notes about their job descriptions and new unwritten leadership responsibilities that emerged during the pandemic and to have their legal questions answered by attorney Kathleen Reinhart. Participants watched two preventive law videos on best practices for hiring and performance evaluation in advance of the workshops, and Rinehart held special office hours following the workshops for those with complicated legal questions.

Participants also were able to exchange ideas in breakout sessions focused on case-study exercises. Some of the scenarios were designed specifically to give chairs practice in handling difficult conversations. They role-played with partners how they would discuss problematic behavior with a colleague or deliver negative feedback on a colleague’s performance. For chairs who acknowledged being conflict adverse, presenters shared helpful tips about ways to prepare for, document, and follow-up on difficult conversations. A key reminder was the importance of looking at the issue from the point of view of the person on the receiving end, since he or she would most likely feel as uncomfortable hearing the message as the chair who was delivering it.

Michelle Glaros, R. Z. Biedenharn Chair of Communication at Centenary College of Louisiana, awarded the workshop she attended “five stars.” She praised it as “an excellent investment of her time and attention” and expressed appreciation for “the smart, engaging, and diverse workshop leaders” who made participants “feel connected to a supportive community and capable of rising to the challenges of a difficult job.” Jonathan M. Sears, associate dean of Menno Simons College at Canadian Mennonite University, likewise felt “affirmed” by the workshop experience. He described the variety of the sessions as “tremendously rich” and said they helped him identify “significant areas for his own professional development” and also gave him ideas about new practices that would benefit the university he serves.

All three of the virtual workshops generated candid discussions and thoughtful questions. From the perspective of the presenters, this year’s group of participants showed exceptional dedication to professional development after an academic year made even more demanding than usual by the pandemic. As Kathleen Rinehart summed it up, it was inspiring to work with participants who brought such a high “level of engagement, energy, and creativity to the workshop sessions” and whose frontline roles position them strategically “to enrich CIC campuses with the leadership lessons learned.”

In Spring 2022, the Workshops for Department and Division Chairs will return to their in-person format.