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Path to the presidency – American Council on Education grants to develop academic management skills

by Paul Ruffins

Let’s say you want to be a college president some day. You’ve
already survived the trials associated with earning a doctorate and
winning tenure. You’ve even risen to a middle-management position on
campus. Now what?

Those who have succeeded in landing the coveted senior executive
suite jobs in higher education often tell those with similar
aspirations that there is no single route to the presidency.

However, one byway — designed to furnish middle management
academicians with up-close exposure to senior executive jobs while
helping them to hone the leadership and management skills required to
head a postsecondary institution — is the American Council on
Education (ACE) Fellows program.

“Of the 1,200 fellows who have been through our program since 1965,
225 are college presidents and 700 are vice presidents or deans,” says
Dr. Marlene Ross, director of the program.

Since its inception, 205 of the 1,215 ACE Fellows (17 percent) have
been African American. Since 1990, the percentages in each class have
ranged from 18 percent to 32 percent. And according to Ross,
approximately twenty-five African American ACE Fellows have gone on to
become presidents. She does not know how many have gone on to become
vice presidents or deans.

Past African American ACE fellows who have gone on to become
college presidents include Dr. Bernard Franklyn of St. Augustine’s
College; Dr. Henry Tisdale of Claflin College; Dr. Julius Nimmons of
the University of the District of Columbia; Dr. Walter Massey of
Morehouse College; and Dr. Irving McPhail, Community College of
Baltimore.

“I was an ACE Fellow, and the experience taught me a lot about the
larger picture facing American higher education,” says Dr. James
Renick, chancellor of the University of Michigan at Dearborn. “It was
also a great chance to build a network of a lot of other educators,
both Black and White. Overall, the ACE fellowship has been very helpful
to my career.”

Despite these successes, however, ACE found that there was still a
dearth of Black participants in the fellowship program. As a result,
the program now offers — thanks to a three-year, $878,000 grant by the
Bush and the William and Flora Hewlett foundations — funding for
administrators and/or faculty members from private historically Black
colleges and universities (HBCUs) so that those institutions might have
a better chance of taking advantage of this unique opportunity.

Under the standard ACE Fellowship, the nominating institution pays
the fellow’s salary and benefits while he or she is away. But too
often, private HBCUs find that they can’t afford to pay the salary of a
key administrator while she or he is off getting additional training.

The three-year Bush/Hewlett grant makes participation in the
program more affordable for HBCUs by covering the full cost of
participation, Up to three fellowships — which will include salary,
benefits, and travel expenses — will be awarded annually to HBCU
participants.

The program’s primary goal is to help colleges and universities
groom leaders who are aware of developments at other institutions and
are comfortable implementing the kind of management, organizational,
and governance changes that face all postsecondary institutions. These
problems are particularly acute at financially strapped HBCUs.

Fellows are given a chance to broaden their experience by spending
time interacting with senior administrators, often the president, of
hosting institutions. The chance to get off campus and see how other
schools operate should be particularly useful to fellows from HBCUs
because so many of their faculty and administrators come from within
the institution.

One reason for the program’s success is that the colleges and
universities themselves nominate the candidates for the fellowship. As
a result, Ross says, “the fellows are people the institution trusts,
who will be in a position to use what they’ve learned when they get
back [to their campuses].”

As part of their experience, fellows are required to prepare and
carry out a learning plan for gaining expertise in a specific topic. In
return, they are expected to take on specific tasks for their host
universities. lift recent years, fellows have tackled such projects as
conducting universitywide space utilization studies, revising faculty
manuals, and developing sexual harassment policies. Among this year’s
fellows, one of the topics that attracted the most interest was
evaluating the educational and marketing potential of distance learning
programs.

The fellowship includes three intensive seminars during the year
and attendance at the ACt, annual meeting. However, what makes the ACE
fellowships stand out from other mid-career programs — such as the one
offered at the Harvard University School of Education — is the
emphasis on fellows having a longer experience away from their own
campuses.

To give nominating institutions more flexibility, the ACE program
makes provisions for fellows whose home campuses will only permit them
to be away for a semester, or even less. The optimal fellowship time,
however, is an academic year, The grant money for private HBCUs is only
available to fellows who intend to spend an entire academic year at a
host campus.

Another significant aspect of the fellowship is “mentoring….
which we define as specific opportunities for the fellows to sit down
with their hosts at least once a week, or every other week, and get a
real chance to get some feedback on their performance from a college
president,” Ross says. “We try to achieve a careful match between
fellows and their host administrators — and some spend quite a lot of
time together.”

“One of the fellowship’s main goals is to address the great
disjuncture between the required to be a successful academic, those
necessary to be an effective administrator,” she notes. “Scholars
generally succeed through research and publishing which, except in the
sciences, are usually quite solitary pursuits.

“On the other hand, being a senior administrator or president is an
intensely social job requiring continual meetings with large numbers of
people, About a third of the way through the program, many fellows tell
us that they had no idea what a senior administrator’s or a president’s
day was actually like,” Ross adds.

“If the experience convinces a fellow that he or she doesn’t want
to become a president, provost, or dean, we still feel that we’ve
helped them and their institution. It is so much better to learn it
through a fellowship than by taking a high profile job and failing at
it or hating it,” she says in conclusion.

In the current class of 1997-98, there are five African Americans
among the thirty-one fellows. One is from an HBCU. In the incoming
class of 1998-99, there are eight African Americans. Three of them are
from HBCUs, but only one is from a private HBCU and will be funded
through the grant from the Bush and Hewlett foundations. That means
that two of the three funded positions may not be filled.

ACE plans to step up its outreach and recruiting efforts through increased advertising and campus visits.

“I think that the real challenge facing the ACE-HBCU fellowship
initiative is to see whether it can attract leaders,” says John
Archabal of the Bush Foundation.

“We funded these fellowships because HBCUs told us that they needed
strong people to come behind the current generation of presidents,
people who had strong management skills and a broad vision of their
institutions role,” he explains. “Now we’re waiting to see how ACE
promotes the program and whether HBCUs take advantage of it.”

For more information about the ACE fellows program, contact ACE at
One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 800, Washington D.C. 20036-1193 or call
202-939-9420, or visit ACE on the web at <http:// www.acenet.edu>.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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