Cultivating Faculty Leaders
James Aylor has been part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science for close to 50 years. As an undergraduate and graduate student, faculty member and department chair, and dean for the last seven years, Aylor has seen the quality of its facilities, programs, and faculty undergo a remarkable transformation. Thanks to these changes, U.Va. now attracts some of the best engineering students in the nation.
Aylor understands that the key to maintaining that trajectory into the future depends on cultivating the school’s best young faculty. That’s why, at a time when the University’s resources are limited, he places a priority on faculty development.
In particular, Aylor looks for ways to support new faculty. An important consideration when he hires young faculty is whether their expertise meshes with faculty in other departments or schools. “It’s not simply a matter of encouraging collaborative research, although this is very important,” he said. “I also want to make sure that new faculty members have a network of mentors, both in the school and across the University.”
Equally important in Aylor’s view is creating clear expectations for faculty performance. The school is instituting a more transparent faculty evaluation process, while finding ways to recognize activities that cross disciplinary boundaries. Aylor is also working to give faculty members more flexibility in how they allocate their time, enabling people to contribute to the school’s mission of education, research, and service in various ways. “A little additional flexibility—with associated accountability—could remove barriers to greater productivity and innovation,” he said.
Aylor takes special pride in cultivating new leadership within the school. He recently appointed two younger faculty members—John Lach, an electrical and computer engineering associate professor; and Kevin Skadron, a computer science professor—department chairs. “I believe if you have good people who aspire to leadership roles, you should do what you can to fulfill their aspirations,” he said.