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What the changing leadership means for the University

By Anne Bromley

Leadership is an art, "a performing art," according to Darden School professor Alexander B. Horniman, an expert on organiza- tional behavior and managerial psychology.

Within a year, several high-level academic-administrative posts at the University will need to be filled: Peter W. Low is stepping down as vice president and provost, as are Robert Scott, dean of the Law School, and Melvyn P. Leffler, dean of Arts & Sciences. Jay Lemons is taking a new presidential post and leaving U.Va.'s College at Wise. In addition, two new vice presidential positions are being established under Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Leonard W. Sandridge. And there are a half dozen other new leaders who have recently taken the helm of areas such as the Architecture School, the Division of Information, Technology and Communication, and the Dean of Students office. It's safe to say the University will go through a major transition in leadership.

In a series of articles, Inside UVA will examine some of the unique aspects of academic leadership and speak with some of the University's most distinguished leaders before they step down from those roles.

"A new CEO or president of a private company can make dramatic changes in a short time, but a university is a more stable [environment],≤ said Horniman, a senior fellow at the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics. The structure and function are going to stay in place, because there will always be an educational mission. There is a distinctive academic culture, however, with its own procedures and rituals that successful academic leaders need to work with in order to be effective, he said.

Horniman, who has been on the Darden faculty through six deans, pointed out that "we tend to use the criteria we know -- the curriculum vitae, academic success and performance -- but these things may have little to do with leadership.

"The thought has been that if the person is smart enough, he or she will be a good [academic] leader, that it'll just happen, but that's taking a chance," he said. Private organizations spend much more time and money than universities on managerial development, Horniman said.

Nevertheless, academic leaders have to be good scholars, because "it's important to have creditable leaders," he said. That's what distinguishes them from corporate managers. An academic leader will have to be able to influence the faculty, because they exercise a lot of power in a school's academic functioning -- setting and maintaining the curricula, for example.

Law dean Robert Scott echoed that analysis: any academic leader has to have the respect and approval of the faculty, "kind of like parliament," he said. And he thinks it's not that unusual to find faculty members who are interested in these top positions.

"Almost all of us have ideas on how to make things run better. Putting those ideas to work is a real opportunity," Scott said.

U.Va. has a very strong and successful pool of potential academic leaders from which to draw, and considering internal candidates is something "which I believe you must do," said Scott, who is currently serving on the search committee for the dean of Arts & Sciences.

The time and commitment required to do these jobs well have increased, pointed out several U.Va. leaders, including Scott, retiring Senior Vice President Ernie Ern and Vice President and Provost Peter W. Low.

"Folks are serving shorter terms these days in major administrative jobs because of the intense demands they must face," said Low, who has held the provost post for the lengthy term of seven years and will return to the Law faculty in July. "The result is that turnover is more frequent than it used to be, and periods like the one we are in now (where a number of leadership positions are open) occur from time to time.≤

It's not the first time it's happened, Low pointed out. When he was appointed interim provost in January 1994, the reappointment of the dean of Arts & Sciences was pending and three dean searches -- in Architecture, Engineering and Education -- were under way, and all were filled by the summer's end. "These moments happen in University life, both because of the demands of the positions and because their occupants are typically persons Ćon loan' from their regular academic jobs,≤ Low said. "In time, usually, they wish to return to them. People do not serve as provost or dean for a full career; they are jobs people go in and out of.

"The most important thing I do relates to people -- participating in the selection of deans, the promotion and tenure process, etc.," Low explained. "The challenge is to get the right people into the right jobs."

When looking for candidates to fill the top-level posts at U.Va., Horniman recommended looking for evidence of an individual's desire for and experience in interacting with different constituents of the higher education community -- faculty, students, parents, alumni, managers and employees. Search committees should also pay attention to how candidates motivate people and especially how they support faculty. A good university leader should want to be engaged with these constituents, with higher education issues and philosophies, with plans and strategies for achieving academic goals.

As deans of Arts & Sciences and the Law School, respectively, Leffler and Scott have also devoted an increasing amount of time to fundraising and facilities, while at the same time addressing academic concerns such as new curricular efforts.

"We have been fortunate in our leadership at the University," said President John T. Casteen III at a recent Faculty Senate meeting, "and use our leadership of the past to serve as models for the kind of people we will choose to lead the University in the future."



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