Episode 5 – with Brad Washington 

June 23, 2019


Terri Givens: Hi! This is Terri Givens with the Center for Higher Education Leadership, and welcome to our latest podcast. Today, we are going to be talking about our new course, Higher Ed Administration 101, and my guest today is Brad Washington. Brad, can you introduce yourself?

Brad Washington: Hi everybody, my name is Brad Washington, and I’ve been in higher ed for probably for the better part of 15 years. I am currently working at Notre Dame de Namur University on the peninsula in the south bay, in the San Francisco Bay area. 

Givens: Great! I have asked Brad to join us today because he is actually helping us to develop our course. One of the things that we’re trying to do at the Center for Higher Education Leadership is help particularly new administrators get started. But this course could be for anybody. 

We’re going to talk a little bit about the different modules in the course, and why we’re doing this. As I said, we’re doing this because as I know from my own personal experience, we don’t often get a lot of onboarding when we become new administrators. When I became a center director, when I became a Vice Provost and so on. There are of course places you can go, Harvard and others, to do these week long courses, but we really want to do something that’s ongoing. 

Our first course is going to be a six week course, we hope to get people interacting and talking about the issues they’re facing. One of the first modules will be about the transition from faculty to administrator, and from my perspective this is really critical because we’re all trained as subject matter specialists, but not as administrators. Anyway, Brad, what are your thoughts on the first module?

Washington: Sure, I think that’s it in a nutshell. One of the quotes, I’m going to steal your quote, she said “making the transition from professor to administrator is like drinking from a firehose”, and I think that really does unfortunately encapsulate that experience, and what I think is important about the course in general, but the first module in particular that it gives you a space to feel grounded and comfortable in the uncomfortable, and really having fellow participants and having a curriculum and a course geared towards the end that you begin to have the opportunity to collaborate, to explore, and really delve into what it could mean moving forward to you as growth potential as well as a reflection announcement of what you’re feeling at the moment, how to really navigate those parameters. 

Givens: I’m going to grasp onto what you just said, which is a collaboration. That’s one thing I felt was really lacking, particularly when I got into the Provost office although I had other Vice Provosts around me, sometimes you just feel like you’re on your own, and it’s nice to have people who you can talk to, we will of course have discussions. The course is going to run for 6 weeks, starting July 8th. We’ll have ongoing places where you can discuss issues within the course, but we’ll have a weekly two hour discussion section. We’re kind of doing this in a classroom style, where you have the materials to look at and can do discussion during the week, but then we’ll have a live discussion on Wednesdays from 11am-1pm Pacific time. 

I think that opportunity to collaborate and connect with other leaders is really one of the critical pieces of what we do as CHEL overall, because we also have a community page on our website where you can go and talk to other leaders once you’re a subscriber. 

Let’s go onto the next module we’re going to be talking about, which is Strategic Planning. Brad, thoughts about that one?

Washington: Need it! I think it’s one of those places where, one of the points you made in module one, is that it can be a lonely space thinking about what it means to be an administrator at a higher ed level. I have been fortunate of understanding and being comfortable and leaning upon seeing leadership people who have in a position longer, people who are all eyes across campus, again from administrators, faculty, frankly even student leadership, that can really have pivotal discussions, investment, knowledge, to help navigate how you think about your space and having to push things along for the betterment of the institution. 

This module, just in a topic in and of itself, is really trying to demystify the idea that you are on an island by yourself. My own personal experience has been very fortunate surrounded by leadership that really are deeply invested in caring about the institutions in which I’ve served, and really feeling okay with leaning on them for their betterment and experience. It’s really kind of about those nuts and bolts for strategic planning, as it is to having the freedom to ask the questions you need to be answered, that don’t all come from your knowledge as a new administrator. 

Givens: Speaking of that, that brings me to the issue of data, which brings us to our next module which is on organizational stability with institutional research. I found that institutional research was some key component that I knew so little about when I first became an administrator, and yet it’s so critical to our functioning these days because accreditors are expecting a lot from institutional research. They want data, they want them working on assessment. I would mention one of the things we will look at as we’re doing this is the assessment guide we created for the center that you can download from our website.

Brad, I’m curious what your thoughts are on the institutional research component. 

Washington: It’s kind of one of those things for me where I get into my own kind of narrow lens because there are so many rabbit holes to go down with institutional research, and how you look at data. It’s always a comparison of what’s relevant in the moment, also trying to balance what needs to be thought about for the future and the idea that the future sometimes is either unknown, or not the one that you imagined. That’s kind of the beauty and kind of the fear around research in general I think. 

That stability piece is almost an oxymoron in some ways depending on what’s your scope or what has become one’s own definition of what organization stability should be. To quote another colleague I’ve grown to learn from, is how to maintain your own stability and preparation in when knowing that you have to be comfortable with things as they are constantly evolving like a living organism, institutional research really is the embodiment of that.  

Givens: Absolutely, it really helps you keep on top of how the institution is growing and changing. I certainly learned that when I was a Provost at Menlo College and started looking at our data over the course of the years to see that we had gone from being, for example, a majority white institution in the first decade of the 2000’s, to a majority minority institution by the time I got there in 2015. Just in the course of 10 years had changed dramatically. 

These are the kinds of things we can talk about, but that also brings up the issue of diversity, which is the topic of our latest newsletter. Innovation and diversity, I’m really glad we’re putting those two pieces together because that’s kind of been one of my motivating factors in terms of really digging into the ed tech space. I really do think it’s important for us to understand within the whole idea of student success, the role of diversity and innovation. I know Brad you have a lot of experience on this front. 

Washington: Right, and I’ve been privileged to have at least have been a part of those conversations. That privilege comes with said that none of those conversations have been easy, and sometimes the burden, if I can use that word, has been unequal. The hopeful piece in this, and the strength of this module in particular, will come from conversations among the participants, but that with the idea of diversity and seeing how it’s beginning to evolve and grow in terms of designating high level administrator positions within the cabinet of the President or Provost cabinet, it really is an eye towards the critical need to understand. Also I think what has become more and more a mantra I’ve heard around friends and colleagues that actually hold those positions is, “well our conclusions are this needs to be ubiquitous, not just one particular office. It is that kind of a push and pull in those institution or industry of higher education has been so entrenched in modes of thinking and who education is for originally, and breaking down those barriers and having that be a shared governance, shared responsibility across campus. I think it’s kind of where we’re hoping to go. 

Givens: I agree completely on that front. We can see the latest research shows despite the fact that we have a lot of new positions being created around diversity that we haven’t seen the needle move very much. We really need to have that discussion about everybody taking responsibility for diversity.

Our final module is collaboration and exploration. One of the things I know we’re going to be bringing up on a weekly basis is some of the things that are happening in the news, we don’t need to discuss the admissions scandal, I think that’s pretty straight forward, but as we go through the course we’re planning on monitoring what’s going on in higher ed, some of the issues that are being raised. They’ll be lots of ways for us to explore the latest issues and topics for our concerned folks, through our discussions, bringing in the latest tidbits of news. I think that final week is going to be a nice time to bring up questions that people have about previous things. 

I forgot to mention we’re also talking about fiscal structures, I skipped module 4, but budgeting and things like that. My experience as a Provost is the middle of the summer is when these big budgeting issues come up. For some it’s the end of the fiscal year, for others it’s just a time when you’re dealing with cash flow issues if you’re a small private, or you’re watching what’s happening with the legislature if you’re public. We’ll have plenty to talk about around fiscal structures and what’s going on around higher ed more generally, such as which school is the latest to announce it’s closing and things like that. 

Washington: I think just overall with the amount of topics in general that we can share, for better or for worse, I think there will always be something, even while this course is going on. One of the benefits of the live discussion components is there will be in addition to the resources we will put for it, there will be new and breaking issues and events that are absolutely relevant to the course, and the course content, that will continue to really enrich discussions and what we’re trying to do moving forward. 

Givens: I agree. I think there’s a wealth of topics, unfortunately. This is just the beginning for our center, we’re just getting going. We’re excited to see the new subscribers who are coming onboard. There’s so much more that we could be doing. I’m really grateful to Brad for helping us with this first online course. We’re going to be doing many more, especially short courses, just one day courses, a couple hours at a time webinars where we can dig into some of these other issues. For example, we probably won’t have much time to talk about development and fundraising, which I know is a big topic for everybody these days, whether you’re in a public or a private school. We can dig more into the ed tech space, and innovation. I know for Brad, things like the international students is a big topic, and where that’s going. 

Washington: It’s kind of a topic of welcoming while still kind of maintaining the sense of humanity and how we work with and navigate our landscape in higher ed around the students that we serve. I’ll just stop there. 

Givens: I know we could get into another long discussion! We do have a really good article by Miriam Feldblum in our latest newsletter about the immigration issue and the organization she’s created, or is working with around the President’s alliance on immigration policy. I’ll just mention that we could have a long, long discussion about what’s going on with immigration and international students, and language issues. That brings me to another point of admissions more broadly, that’s something we could definitely be doing another course on and what’s going on around that. It’s a topic that impacts institutions in so many different ways. Who’s coming into colleges, how they’re being financed. The whole issue of financial aid is something I’ve written on in my column in Inside Higher Ed. Actually, I just did a column in Inside Higher Ed on the ed tech issues that administrators face. 

Lots and lots to work on and talk about. Any final thoughts Brad?

Washington: I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing that first engagement from the members of CHEL, and hopefully again as a bridge to that continuation. One of the things I’ve really admired as this launched is that it’s not built for a one-off thing, like you’ve done your thing and move forward, it’s meant to be an ecosystem of a continuing community. That’s one of the things that’s really exciting about it, and starting with a course that has these types of topics is a really ideal space to begin. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out. 

Givens: Absolutely, me too. This is going to be fun and not a whole lot of burden. I think we will be able to put a lot of information into a space of six weeks, and as long as we get really good engagement from folks, I think it will be really positive.

Thanks a lot, and I appreciate your time. This is the Center for Higher Education Leadership, check us out at www.higheredconnects.com for our newsletter and that’s where you can subscribe. Our main website is www.higheredleads.com. We look forward to having you join us! 

Thanks Brad.

Washington: Thank you!

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