Northern Illinois University

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

May 11, 2009

First group of NIU professors graduates
from Faculty Leadership Initiative

Faculty Leadership Initiative group

DeKalb, Ill. — Wanted: opportunities for tenured faculty at Northern Illinois University to develop abilities necessary for academic leadership.

Solution: the Faculty Leadership Initiative, which launched Oct. 31, 2008, with 14 faculty members from five colleges.

Participants contemplated not only the qualities of effective leaders but the bigger questions: Who am I? Am I ready? How to balance work and family? How to balance scholarship and service? How and why are decisions made? How to anticipate expectations?

“I have learned that there is no skill set that will make us effective leaders on any given day,” said participant Ronnie Wooten, a professor in the School of Music. “It’s challenged me to look at what I do, what my colleagues do and what people in leadership positions around me do.”

“It gave me a chance to get out of my silo,” said Matt Streb, professor in the Department of Political Science, “and build relationships with people from around the university.”

“I always suspected that leading faculty was a lot like herding cats,” added Laura Vazquez, professor in the Department of Communication, “and now I’m sure.”

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, the initiative came in response to requests from presidential commissions and as a direct outcome of strategic planning activities related to “Diversity and Excellence.”

The initiative is a professional development opportunity to help senior faculty gain the necessary insight and skills for academic leadership and shared governance but does not guarantee participants academic leadership positions.

Facilitated by Lois Self, retired chair of NIU’s Department of Communication, and Murali Krishnamurthi, director of Faculty Development, the initiative featured discussions, readings and assignments, monthly programs by campus leaders and invited presenters from outside NIU.

Nancy Apperson, coordinator of NIU’s Employee Assistance Program, and Mimi Wolverton, retired professor of higher education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, made the first presentations last fall.

Since then, participants have learned about organizational contexts, conflict management, communication in leadership, due process with faculty, celebrating diversity and team- and consensus-building.

December’s meeting included “Perspectives on University Leadership,” a panel discussion with Harold Kafer, Chris McCord, Mary Pritchard and Lemuel Watson. That same session also featured Joe Grush’s “What I Know Now That I Wish I Could Have Known Then.”

Friday’s final session featured “Leadership, Career Choices and Balance” philosophies from NIU retirees Jim Lockard, Clark Neher and Lynne Waldeland. It also brought graduation: Certificates of participation were distributed.

During an around-the-room period of reflection from the participants, most commented that they gained a good understanding of the definition of leadership.

Many expressed a greater sense of confidence and excitement about their leadership potential. Others noted a stronger admiration and respect for the job of a leader. Three already have accepted leadership positions, one as a departmental representative on the college council, another on the University Council and another as an acting director for a university program.

Lisa Yamagata-Lynch, a professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, said the institute put administration on her radar.

“I’m originally from Japan. I come from a culture where the community comes before anything else,” she told the group. “(Leaders) are in a position where they can influence and encourage people to work in a community, and that’s what attracts me to leadership.”

Wooten said he learned “the difference between a manager and a leader” and offered a list of seeming opposites that leaders must embody simultaneously: Reflective and visionary. Strong and vulnerable. Independent and collaborative. Empathy and sympathy. Consensus and de-consensus.

Robert Beatty, professor in the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems, found affirmation of many of his beliefs along with good advice. Leadership is “an ongoing portfolio of building experience,” Beatty said. “I’ve added to my portfolio tremendously.”

Communication professor Janice Hamlet quoted Eleanor Roosevelt – “You must do the thing you thought you could not do” – to categorize her interest in pursuing an administrative position. “I am so ready to cross over,” Hamlet said.

Kate Mantzke, a professor in the Department of Accountancy and the mother of two daughters ages 6 and 4, told the group she stands on “the other side of the fence.” Mantzke said she’s not prepared to miss these years in her children’s lives to meet the demands of leadership.

Meanwhile, she added, “I’m totally digging teaching. I’m reluctant to give that up right away.”

Provost Ray Alden, who nodded frequently during the comments, confirmed many of the conclusions he heard from the faculty.

Balance of personal, professional and administrative lives “is very important,” Alden said. Future leaders must plan for that time early on to avoid regrets, he said, whether it concerns missing out on priceless family times or in slowing down career-building research and artistry.

The provost also shared bits of wisdom from his many years in academic leadership.

Leaders take risks, Alden said, but those risks must be reasonable and ethical. Leaders empower others to take risks and to practice innovation that fosters an institution rooted in intellect and creativity. Leaders admit their mistakes and then move on.

“You can’t please everyone, but once you have the consensus built, you need to take decisive actions to achieve that vision,” Alden said. “It has to be something you believe in. Once you believe in it, others tend to become more enthusiastic and believe in it. You have to have passion.”

Participants all thanked Alden, Self and Krishnamurthi for the opportunity – “Sometime we don’t look for leadership when it’s right in front of our faces, and we miss it,” Wooten said – and are eager for a second year that would include shadowing of NIU administrators.

Other first-year participants:

  • Luis Garcia, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Carla Goar, Department of Sociology 
  • Abhijit Gupta, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Rosita Lopez, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • William Pitney, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Diana Swanson, Department of English and Women’s Studies Program
  • Zhuan Ye, Department of Mathematical Sciences

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