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    AACTE Leadership Academy Nurtures Professional Deans, Chairs

    Today the development of leaders in our society is at a critical junction—too important to leave to chance. While the corporate world laments that its leadership development has progressed only from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, I fear that many colleges and universities are still in the Dark Ages. In the educator preparation field, though, the AACTE Leadership Academy—for which I’ve been privileged to serve as a faculty member—helps illuminate the way for department chairs and deans to enter the Building Age of academic leadership.

    Held each June, the AACTE Leadership Academy addresses the why, what, and how of becoming a successful administrator in schools, colleges, and departments of education. In a nutshell, it attempts to answer three basic questions: (1) Why become an academic leader? (2) What do department chairs and deans do? (3) How can you become an effective academic leader?

    Over the 5-day academy, which this year ran June 28–July 2, more than 80 department chairs and deans from 60 universities and colleges worked together to build their leadership capacity. Through reflection, self-assessment, group processes, and critical discussions, participants addressed a spectrum of topics from team building to visioning, developing faculty, promoting public relations, working with external constituencies, advancing academic programs, dealing with conflict, building leadership skills, and managing their career paths. The beautiful Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza gave our work a special setting, and we also benefited from the generous support of sponsors Edthena and ATLAS.

    The time of “amateur administration” must end—where professors play musical chairs, stepping occasionally into the role of department chair or dean. Too much is at stake in this time of change and challenge in the field of education to let leadership be left to chance or taking turns. In fact, the department chair position is the most critical role in the university, and the most unique management position in America. Consider the facts: 80% of university decisions are made at the department level; of the 50,000 chairs in America, one in five turns over every year; and while it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach competence (projected as 8 years for chairs and deans and already established as 7 years for faculty to get tenure), only 3% of chairs receive training in leadership.

    Becoming an academic leader takes time, training, commitment, and expertise. This year’s AACTE Leadership Academy provided dozens of our committed colleagues the time and training to begin developing their own expertise.


    Walter H. Gmelch is former dean and currently professor of Leadership Studies at the University of San Francisco.


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    Walter H. Gmelch

    University of San Francisco

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