Cluster Leadership Pilot

At the last town hall meeting, President Birx said that one of his priorities is to pilot new leadership models in a couple of the Integrated Clusters. Since that time, three clusters (Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Development, Justice and Security, and the cluster I am a guide for, Arts and Technologies) have volunteered to pilot new leadership models starting this summer. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the clusters were developed and the impact of those decisions on potential leadership models. These are a few of my thoughts.

When we first started to think about what the clusters would look like, we were asked to decide which cluster our individual programs would fit into. Because there were no criteria for making this decision, programs were placed into clusters for a variety of reasons. As a result, the clusters look very different from each other. For example, Justice and Security is a small cluster with only two programs in it, Criminal Justice and Spanish. Criminal Justice is the sole program in the Criminal Justice department while Spanish is one of four programs in the Languages and Linguistics department. There are six full-time faculty members in Criminal Justice and two full-time faculty members in Languages and Linguistics who are associated with Spanish. On the other hand, Arts and Technologies is a big cluster, with thirteen undergraduate programs and eight graduate programs in it. These programs have more than forty full-time faculty members coming from six different departments associated with them.

The challenges arising from combining two programs from two departments into a cluster are likely to be quite different than those that arise from combining 21 programs (more than any other cluster) from six departments into a cluster. Getting eight faculty members (a pretty standard department size) to work together is likely to be quite different than getting more than forty faculty members to work together. As a result, the leadership models and processes for the two clusters are likely to be quite different.

The deans proposed that pilot clusters work over the summer to do the following tasks:

  • Review Forum Materials to Date
  • Brainstorm Team Members & Availability
  • Create ID-Specific Leadership Team Design Options
  • Decide Team Organization for Transition Year
  • Create IC-Specific Transition Plan
  • Deliver Cluster Transition Workshops

In the Arts and Technologies cluster, we decided that we will approach the pilot program in a different way. For example, we have already decided on our transition leadership team. The chairs of the departments involved in our cluster will be working as such a team through the summer but mostly starting in the fall to figure out a way to work together. Instead of using the summer to imagine what the future will look like, this leadership team will be building the future as they are going through the work of a typical academic year. So as the chairs are working on their department schedules, for example, they will begin to work together to figure out how best to accomplish this task in a shared way. As they are dealing with promotion and tenure issues or spending their budgets or making decisions about curricular changes, they will share and discuss and try to figure out ways to work together. The goal will be to have most of the boundaries between the departments torn down by the end of the academic year. It isn’t clear to me exactly how this will work but I trust that the department chairs will begin to figure this out in a way that works for our large and varied cluster. I’m excited that we have decided to pilot a new leadership model but I also know that it will be difficult and messy work.

While we’re on this topic, it occurs to me that the disparities in cluster size and program composition also must have an impact on the University level leadership model. For example, if the University decides that we will have some sort of cluster council to make decisions about cross-cluster issues, it doesn’t really make sense to me that there would be one representative on that council per cluster. I don’t know exactly what we should put in place but we should take these cluster variations into account as we move forward. I would make the same comment regarding budgets. Again, I don’t know how we determine what the budget allocations will be per cluster but we clearly can’t distribute resources equally to each cluster.

As I said, I don’t know exactly how this work will move forward. But I think it’s exciting that we in the Arts and Technologies cluster are being given the opportunity to determine how we are organized and how we will work together. That is a rare thing and I’m glad we’re taking advantage of it.

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