Leading Edge Leadership
Jerry S. Owens
Lakewood Community College
This article was presented as a luncheon address at the October 1990 meeting of the National Council on Community Services and Continuing Education in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The article appeared in a different version in the MLE, IV(1) alumni bulletin, December 1990, which is a publication of the Institute for the Management of Lifelong Education, Harvard University.
This invitation provides a great opportunity to speak to people who are interested, concerned, and involved with adult learning, continuing education, and community services, as you are. I do have a sincere respect for continuing education administrators and faculty because I think that you are, in fact, at the leading edge of education. When I came to Minnesota in 1985 and perused the institution I said, "Where is the entrepreneurship? Where is the creativity? Where is the leading edge of leadership of our institution?" It certainly was in continuing education. I believe this "leading edge of leadership" from continuing education can be attributed to a sort of collective personality shared by many continuing education administrators and faculty. Perhaps many of you have observed this personality in your own families. It resembles that gregarious child who is always pulling and tugging and moving forward. And sometimes that creates a dilemma as well as excitement within the family. I suspect that is what many of you do in your departments at our community colleges and universities. You create for us a wonderful presence of energy within our institutions. Oftentimes we, as presidents, may not know exactly how to handle that, what to do with it, or how to really appreciate it. Sometimes if you don't feel valued and appreciated, it may simply be because we don't know how to say it to you properly. A concern for us is simply trying to achieve a balance among our institutional family members. Every institution has some "family members" who are less assertive or less creative. A real challenge in the role of president is finding this balance, building on strengths, compensating for deficiencies, and showing appreciation equally to all segments of the institution. I have to watch my own behavior very carefully in my institution so that I don't overshadow the appreciation due continuing education in favor of some of the activities in other areas.
Continuing education/community services personnel are remarkably flexible. This personality trait is particularly important in terms of the dynamic nature of community colleges. We must have people within our institutions who are willing to make changes and make those changes quickly. You have been on the leading edge of our community colleges in terms of responsiveness to business and industry, to community groups, to the changes in our society. Whether we say that to you or not, know that we certainly do often look to you to be the ones to lead us in terms of institutional flexibility. You are also the entrepreneurs of our institutions. You are the ones who get together and think up great ideas, innovative ideas, ideas that have a different edge, ideas that need testing and proving and that may eventually surface as new programs in the academic arena. A president looking for entrepreneurship need only turn to the community services/continuing education personnel.
Perhaps of all of the segments of our community colleges, continuing education has been the most inclusive; and this is a particularly important time for "inclusion" for many of those who come to us. You have worked with many different populations. You respond to many different needs. Your view is not a singular or myopic one; rather, you are better able to appreciate diversity--from disabled people, to the elderly, to children, to adults with energy and enthusiasm still wanting to learn, to the many different cultural groups within our society. You have been responsive, perhaps, more than any other segment of our college to this diversity, to the nontraditional as well as the traditional populations that we serve.
Yours is an enabling personality. You have within your means, within your programs/your curriculum, the ability to enable people to grow and develop--oftentimes at their own pace, sometimes with risk, but certainly the ability to help them grow and discover new things about themselves and new ways of dealing with the issues in their lives. And so you often empower people (perhaps without calling it that) to become better, to grow, and to change. I'm not sure that all of the segments at our institutions enable people in the way that you do. You are collaborative. You are willing to develop partnerships without fear, to go into new territory and break new ground, to form partnerships even when there are territorial boundaries that present barriers. You're willing to reach out and try new things with other people, to combine the best resources that you have with others to create new products. You must do that because, much of the time, your survival depends on the resources you generate.
Sad to say, as a president, I'm often dismayed with the fact that most of us are not able to provide more resources for community services and continuing education. I don't think that we're remiss in knowing what's needed. I think we are simply remiss in not finding ways in which to share the resources of our institutions. We have discovered that oftentimes, even when we don't provide the resources, you will find them on your own. That's not an excuse, however. I think that we really need to be more conscious of the fact that you are forced to make your own way much more so than any other segment of the institution. And you do it so well. It is like the child who doesn't need much help; we often forget about the fact that you still deserve that help. And so, as institutions, we may look at your collective personality and sometimes misjudge the strength, the ability to grow, and the ability to change. We continue to put a lot on your shoulders because you have always shown the resilient personality that can take it.
Your new public policy agenda reflects the changes in community services and continuing education and your new directions. These are valuable to us as presidents, since they articulate ways for us to be responsive, ways in which we can help you to continue to find your niche in our institutions, ways in which we can help you further your policy agenda nationally.
NCCSCE has been aggressive; and, like you, it has had to be aggressive in establishing a national policy, in ensuring the survival of your segment of our campuses. You've been aggressive in saying what your agenda is and will be. Within that policy agenda, there is an understanding of social trends and issues that will shape the future of our nation's education and training needs. I think in that document you provide a tremendous service for your institutions.
As we continue looking at strategic planning for our community colleges in a very unsure, uncertain society, we're going to be even more dependent upon you. With the strengths of your collective personalities you are filling a very important niche in our institutions. You are helping us to forecast the future. You, more so than most other groups, look at the demographics of our communities. You consider the societal changes that are occurring to plan programs. Your input is critical to the strategic planning process of our institutions. We need your input! We need the background information and the expertise that you have about societal, economic, political, and technological factors. You certainly do have the tools that are needed to actively shape the institution and choose the direction in which it is going. If you have not been actively involved in the strategic planning process, then you should be! You should see yourselves as shapers of the institutional mission/strategic plan.
Nationally, community colleges, more so than any other educational institutions, are being forced to think about institutional effectiveness. Perhaps we have been the least accountable. Our accrediting bodies throughout the nation are talking about institutional effectiveness as an integral part of our reaccreditation process. I find myself attending more and more conferences and seminars, both in the U.S. and Canada, that deal with institutional effectiveness, outcomes, and what the institution is providing to its constituents. We are asking, "What is the 'value added' to our community college students?"
Who knows better than community services and continuing education what the consumer wants, how to satisfy the consumer, and how to evaluate what you have given that consumer. You personify a "service" orientation. In the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs it was reported that 45-85% of people who are unhappy with the services they receive never complain. I suspect that many of our students fall into that category, particularly those who are enrolled in degree programs. Many leave us without our ever knowing what was wrong.
On the other hand, continuing education--which runs many conferences, courses, and seminars--tends to evaluate constantly. It is seldom that a client or customer leaves you without your knowing why. You can render a great service to the institutions you serve by helping them to understand how to better measure what they are doing for students. Our commitment to institutional effectiveness is going to mean more measurements, but I'm not sure that we have, in the other parts of our colleges, the background knowledge and experience to measure that effectiveness. Certainly some measurements would be different, but I am convinced that there are more similarities than differences when looking at the outcomes. We must survey people, taking the time to ask them if they have gotten what they want. Effectiveness of service may be another way of saying institutional effectiveness, and you understand that.
Continuing education should also address several major goals within our institutions. One is helping to improve access for users of our services. As I mentioned earlier, your departments may be positioned to deal most effectively with the diverse people and cultures we serve. Perhaps as we begin to look at continued access and improvement of access for all people, there are some stories to be told, some lessons you have learned that can be shared within our institutions. There are three other important areas in which you can help the institution overall in a collaborative way. These are improving accountability, improving program quality and responsiveness, and improving planning and coordination.
Community services and student services at Rio Hondo Community College were written about recently in one of your Catalyst issues, describing the importance of collaboration and partnership between community services and student services. Rio Hondo is a model of what can be done with evening programs. Many of our colleges are failing to provide the student support services that students need. Some of our institutions believe that support services end at 5 p.m. when the traditional administration and support services close down for the day. We take the money of those students who come to us in the evening and we provide courses, but often our campuses are devoid of support services during evening hours. I think our approach has been very narrow in looking at simply providing courses and leaving the students to fend for themselves. You are very familiar with evening programs. You know very well the many reasons why students can't come between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to take the courses and avail themselves of support services. I think you have a rare opportunity in working with student services to help them understand the need for providing a broad and comprehensive array of courses and services at nontraditional times.
In the realm of academic affairs I ask you to consider the need for hiring additional faculty, internationalizing the curriculum, and faculty development. These are areas in which you have worked for many years. My observation is that, as a group, you don't have the barriers to open employment that the traditional curriculum often presents. And so I would encourage you to serve on search committees at your institution. I think you bring a fresh perspective of what the employee should be like; not just the credentials, not just the Ph.D. in the academic discipline, not just the ability to write an article in a journal or write a book, but something that's much more broad in terms of teaching, caring, giving, and commitment. Perhaps these are fresh ideas for some search committees. You may need to be aggressive in stating your desire to serve on these committees, because often there is a feeling that hiring faculty, particularly full-time faculty, is the prerogative of the academic area. I simply don't believe that is true. I believe that continuing education staff bring a special perspective and expertise to the group that is new and different and that is needed if we are going to hire faculty members with a different charge than in the past.
I believe you will also be more inclusive. You are inclusive with the faculty that you hire presently from business and industry and from various walks of life. Looking at the skill level rather than just at the credentials, you bring ideas to us that are unique and fresh in the ivory tower of community colleges, and that are much needed. So I would encourage you to look for opportunities within your institution. Please approach your president about serving on search committees because it is a tremendous task that we face in community colleges across the nation to find a different type of faculty for the future. We simply can't use the old traditional patterns.
Collaboration is rarely easy within an institution, and you may have experienced particular resistance or difficulty in your efforts to be collaborative. You may not have considered this interpretation, but I suspect a little bit of this resistance is a result of professional jealousy. You may present something of a threat: you with your flexible, inclusive, responsive personality; you who are described as change agents, enablers, and collaborators. Consider how threatening all these things might be to a very staid institution. Even though our community colleges are relatively young and supposedly responsive on the outside, we still have the core of the very traditional college. And so I suspect, on some of our campuses, you pose a threat similar to that gregarious child who is tugging and pulling and leading the way. What must the other siblings think in comparison? And so the onus has to be on you, unfortunately, to think of ways to work with and to collaborate with the other members of the institutional family and help them to feel less threatened. I'm not sure they will ever be as entrepreneurial as you; they may never be as flexible as you; but certainly, you can help them to become stronger individuals within a community college that is responsive and is changing in terms of society. Community colleges have a tremendous challenge ahead. Too often your continuing education and community service efforts and initiatives are relegated to a peripheral position in the college operation, away from the center of activity. I think that, as presidents, we need to bring you clooser into the mainstream institutional life. You are not a "side-business" or a corporate subsidiary that operates outside the institution. We must draw you in because we need you! Presidents may not always know how to do this. We may worry too much about the other constituent groups in our community colleges. Perhaps we also hope that you will be sensitive to our situations, to the pressures we face in trying to work with many different groups--much like trying to please all of the siblings in the institutional family. We need your help and understanding in this dilemma. If we neglect to say thank you for certain of your contributions, I hope you will understand that the appreciation is there. Please continue to be inclusive and integral parts of your institutions because you can make our colleges much better places.
The tough task is looking at institutional effectiveness and determining how we can be responsive to legislators and to the students who are our customers. We do need to consider them as customers. You can help us to discover what institutional effectiveness means and what the variables are that will make our community colleges effective. We must deliver educational products to our students in a comprehensive manner so that they can walk away having gained much more than when they came to our colleges. You have, perhaps, the best knowledge of this customer service approach; we hope that you will use it. We hope that you will work together, aggressively, and that you will encourage others within our community colleges to be aggressive. You are our future. You are the body that we will depend on most to help us determine future directions. We count on you. We hope you will join us.