As I write this article, it has been almost exactly six months to the day that I started as dean of the new College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota.
Picture this scene: I stand in front of a packed meeting hall at the University of Minnesota, filled with several hundred faculty members, staff, and students. I am here for the public forum required of all final candidates for dean. I am nervous and excited.
I have two objectives in mind: first, to let people know who I really am. Setting aside academic credentials and professional accomplishments, I want everyone to understand my values, perspectives and sense of humor.
My other objective is to make sure that the people whom I will be working with daily are really prepared to roll up their sleeves and join me in doing the “heavy lifting” that will be required to build a brand new college. I want to be sure that underneath all the rhetoric from the president and the provost about “strategic positioning” and “embracing change,” there is the organizational will.
What I discovered by the end of the visit was that I was seen and I saw… yet I still wondered how all this came to be?
Start of a journey
Last year I was VP for academic affairs and dean of Teachers College, Columbia University NY, considering the pos-sibility of a college presidency. Then I received a phone call from the University of Minnesota asking whether I’d be interested in becoming the dean of a newly created college, as part of the exceptional vision of University President Robert Bruininks.
The college I was being asked to consider leading, the College of Education and Human Development, would become the second largest at the university by several measures. I knew that the University of Minnesota was also among the largest public institutions of higher education in the country, so this new college was no small matter.
Admittedly, my career has provided many incredible leadership opportunities. Yet it was compelling to consider join-ing the University of Minnesota to co-create—with my new faculty, staff and student colleagues—our new college and to work collaboratively in a highly ranked public, land-grant research university, and in a community and state that places a very high value on education.
In truth, I came because I was captured by the incredible possibilities, resulting from a president’s vision to be one of the top three public research universities in the world. I would be leading a college unique in its combination of multiple disciplines that has the potential to create enormous and lasting beneficial change in the lives of children, youth, families, organizations and communities.
And I came because suddenly I knew that this was to be my walk of faith. Everything I had experienced and accomplished in my professional life had prepared me for this responsibility, in this position, at this place—and most importantly, with these people, at this time.
Why start a new college?
The purpose of creating this new college could have been based merely on financial reasons, and they certainly entered into it. But to be academically responsible, there had to be sound pedagogical reasons as well.
This new college combines all the programs found in traditional undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation departments with those in social work, family social science, educational psychology, developmental education, kinesiology, educational policy, child development, and work and human resource development.
Can you see the power of bringing all these disciplinary perspectives and talents together as one focused, integrated and coordinated system?
After my partner and I drove the many miles and hours with our two dogs and cat in tow, I soon entered my new community. I understood that what we were facing would be challenging, but immensely rewarding. It was my task—my primary mission—to bring my new community along with me.
I knew I would need to find a way to spread my belief in the power of faith to first identify and then to address pockets of fear, model authenticity and utilize all of my skills in deep listening, negotiation and conflict resolution, to free us to co-create a culture of creativity, courage and safety. I would need to be mindful that while I had embraced change and risk, not everyone in this community would be ready to make that leap with me right away.
As the first in many ways, I am forever mindful to do my absolute best to make sure I am not the last.
Managing deliberate change
As was so accurately and thoughtfully expressed by one of our colleagues in an earlier issue of WIHE, leaders have to be careful about the type, timing and degrees of change our institutions undertake. I am trying to modulate the changes that are inevitably occurring, moving at a pace that will allow all of us to travel in the same direction together, always remembering that change, if carefully managed, must also honor the need for continuity.
I understand that part of my work is to help manage expectations—my own, those of the college, the university and our community partners.
Managing and celebrating change and embracing hope, while also recognizing the need to acknowledge tradition and accept any reluctance to change—all of this sounds like an impossible balancing act.
And they elicit corresponding emotions that themselves can serve as signals to pay close attention to a variety of opinions, to accept and normalize the realities of ambiguity and complexity and to use the resulting knowledge to do the hard work of consensus building.
Resistance—great and small—can show up in many ways and is always with us as leaders. We must understand it as creative tension and acknowledge its role, so that we will be able to use it during change.
One of the keys to manage conflicting perspectives in the face of change is to work toward establishing common goals. That is why it was a top priority to share my vision for our college. I call it M3, or M to the third power:
- Multidisciplinarity. This is a dynamic, continuously self-examining and evolving process that actively engages and includes us all and from which will be created new ways of seeing and enacting. This new college must aim to prepare students for understanding and addressing real world issues, issues which are not conveniently and clearly categorized, but are messy and overlapping.
- Multiculturalism. Multiculturalism here refers to the reality of many cultures—the divergent and similar ways in which we process information, generate new ideas and form opinions as well as the acknowledgement of our many identities: race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, intellectual and emotional and physical abilities, religion and spirituality, and socio-economic class and political and ideological perspectives. Our new college must work toward demonstrating the highest degree of multicultural competency—the embodiment of an “us and we” rather than “we and them.”
- Model for engagement. If done well, multidisciplinarity and multiculturalism together lay the foundation for this third “M.” We must strive to become a model for cultivating generations of leaders best prepared for and committed to mutually effective, replicable and sustainable local, national and global engagement. This model requires us to work collaboratively with our communities, aligning resources in ways that best meet their needs.
What is the mission?
With this vision as a foundation, we then—as a community—crafted our reason for being—our mission statement. We started with three draft mission statements that had been developed a year earlier by task forces preparing for the re-structuring of all the units brought together to create the new college. I took those three statements and ended up proposing five of my own.
I brought them to my nine department chairs at our very first meeting. I asked them to synthesize, amend or expand upon these five pieces and then bring it all together into one statement. The draft mission then went out to our faculty and staff for additional comments.
The final result was unveiled at our inaugural college-wide assembly:
The College of Education and Human Development is a world leader in discovering, creating, sharing, and applying principles and practices of multiculturalism and multidisciplinary scholarship to advance teaching and learning and to enhance the psychological, physical, and social development of children, youth, and adults across the life-span in families, organizations, and communities.
Over the past six months, my faculty, staff and student colleagues and I have worked mindfully to establish organizing and mobilizing strategies to live into and up to our existence-defining mission. Together we have also taken our inspirational vision and designed a tool that will enable continuous assessment of our performance, holding us all accountable for the effectiveness of our college.
Developing policies and guidelines that outline both our internal operations and our boundary-spanning relations (with the other colleges across the university’s five campuses and our neighboring and far reaching communities), while critically important, feels like a never ending process. And we are doing all of this while teaching, learning, researching and engaging in service partnerships with nonprofit, corporate and governmental agencies.
‘Making the road by walking’
I imagine some of you are thinking that these six months have been the result of a new leader’s “honeymoon” period; maybe new deans of new colleges get more time!
I would agree, if we had not created safe spaces for resistance to be expressed and heard, ensured that all had an opportunity to contribute to our organizational birth and to begin to imagine using their talents to continue the necessary “parenting.” And if we had not surfaced a collectively created focus to which we know we must steadfastly hold.
If none of that had happened, then perhaps the major forward thinking and highly productive outcomes to date would not have happened or, at best, be highly fragile and tentative.
But this new college did do all of that. While everyone would readily acknowledge that the road for our journey through deep ambiguity and revolutionary change has been bumpy, paved with feelings of loss, anger, fear and creativity, relief and joy, for all of us it continues to be a path of faith.
Invoking the words of our late colleagues Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, we are truly making this road by walking. On behalf of my very courageous pioneering colleagues, we invite you to share your stories with us and please, stay tuned!
Dr. Bailey is the founding dean of the new College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. She also serves as assistant to the president and holds the Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org