LEADERSHIP and ORGANIZATIONAL TRANSFORMATION:
PUNISHMENT DAYS or ACADEMIC DAYS
Barbara A. Karanian, Ph.D.
Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT)
Abstract - This descriptive short paper presents the
philosophy and planning that served as the foundation for
one day-long conference held to consider change and enhance
the knowledge, skills, and relationships among the faculty
and administration within the college. This is both a look
back at one Academic Day and a look forward to next year’s
session. Workshops illustrated technical, organizational, and
developmental concepts that could successfully facilitate
change at the undergraduate level. While topics included the
evolution of the college’s identity; students of the future;
computers, multi-media and the academic community; our 5
college collaboration; and faculty role, the focus of the
discussion is on the leadership steps toward a successful day.
In the increasingly competitive world of higher education,
the environment changes, which forces colleges and
universities to change. And, as we are forced to change, we
need more leadership. Many colleges are no longer using
only the fundamental methods of assessing the effectiveness
of their programs that they used decades ago, when the
environment of higher education was less competitive.
These colleges are building and promoting challenging
programs that are capable of coping with the fast-moving
environments of higher education by taking a reflective step
back with an Academic Day.
While the lessons learned during this day are relevant to
all college environments, some are particularly useful for
achieving future goals in engineering education. If you are
skeptical of the value of applying psychology and
management principles to your college environment, you
might agree with the concepts considered in Witch Doctors,
(Micklethwait, Wooldridge, 1997). But not all of this stuff
is nonsense. A good day is extremely likely with sound
planning. The following discussion includes six steps that
are the foundation for a successful day.
1) Begin with the College’s Mission or Philosophy
2) Develop a Vision for the Day
3) Trust the Faculty
4) Encourage Risk
5) Invite Dissent
6) Include a Transition and Follow-Up Plan
Begin with the college’s mission or philosophy
This is an excellent starting point for any academic day that
is designed to consider change and enhance the relationships
among the faculty and administration. But what is the
mission statement? Does that change or is it so fundamental
that it can’t change because by doing you have moved away
from the basic building block of the academic institution.
For example, one east coast college successfully petitioned
to change its charter and include graduate programs for the
first time. Their mission statement shifted along with the
addition of the new graduate programs.
Other questions are useful. What are the goals of the
college? How has the college evolved in ways that are or are
not compatible with the mission statement? How will you
consider the competence of the programs? Who emerges as
leaders for the academic day? Structure the day around topics
that are both timely issues and relevant to the mission
statement. Strive for a challenging and competitive
The mission or fundamental values are essential for two
reasons. First, they have everything to do with the
productivity of the day. And, second, you as administrator,
or faculty will have a tremendous impact on creating,
developing, and implementing the day.
The competitive dynamics of the programs determines
whether the college prospers or not. Colleges are similar to
industries that will prosper if they can provide better services
that serve real needs at reasonable costs. The administration
and the faculty are competent if they contribute aggressively
to that outcome(Kotter, 1995).
An academic day can provide a foundation for the
consideration of the major topics that will contribute to
fulfilling the mission statement. Whether agreement or
dissension, perception precedes reality here. In the WIT
case, an Academic Day chair reported, “The latest program
conversion was seen by many as a ‘painful transition’
because it was perceived that the original intent of the
school--the employability of its graduates--was being
overshadowed by a new concept of focusing on where to get
more students, and, therefore how to get more revenues,
rather than on how to train the school’s graduates for the
Develop a vision for the day.
First, you need a focus or unifying theme. Imagine
everything from geography to program structure to
refreshments. Never underestimate the power of a vision.
Inventing themes or a motto for the day will begin to create
a picture in the minds of administrators and faculty. For
example, Long Range Planning suggests one picture while
World Class Engineering suggests another. Consider
whether the academic day belongs on or off campus. While
designing an off campus day may be slightly more costly,
new environments force changes in daily routine. If this is a
first ever Academic Day, remember that beginnings have a
historical way of setting precedents.
Of course, Academic Day leaders must be able to sell the
vision, and that can be difficult. Those in charge can learn
from Heifitz’s(1994) five strategic principles of leadership:
1) identify the adaptive challenge--diagnose the situation and
unbundle the issues;
2) keep the level of distress within a tolerable range for
doing adaptive work;
3)focus attention on ripening issues and not on stress-
reducing distractions--identify which issues can engage
attention, and while directing attention to them counteract
avoidance mechanisms like pretending the problem is
technical or attacking individuals rather than issues;
4) Give the work back to the people but at a rate that they
can stand; and
5) protect voices of leadership without authority (Heifitz,
The WIT example: while we had an off-campus day in the
distant past, the academic day was structured as a day-long on
campus event. With Long Range Planning as the theme,
the specific topics included: The Evolution of the College’s
Identity, Students of the Future, The Learning
Environment, Co-Curricular Activities, Facilities Planning,
Evening and Weekend Programs, Computers, Multi-Media
and the Academic Community, 5 College Collaboration,
Academic Competitiveness, and Faculty Role.
The day began with breakfast refreshments and a brief address
by the Academic Day chairs, included lunch between
morning and afternoon sessions, and concluded with a
wine/beverage social hour.
Overall, the vision for the day will be dependent on the
particular college, engineering programs, and the major
concerns of your particular campus.
Trust the Faculty.
The academic wing of the college is its heart. This is where
the college exists. Measure the pulse and you will find all
the concepts that drive a college.
Administrators have heard this for years, yet many act as
if they don’t believe it. “Do we have to go to this thing...
is this Academic Day something I have to participate in...”
is a faculty demand that will hardly be whispered when
everyone is involved. This type of commitment requires real
delegating--pushing responsibilities down the ladder and
relying on the energy and talent of the faculty and staff.
Your college atmosphere evokes energy that originates from
the academic wing.
One college’s academic day had a very impressive
outcome that was a direct result of trust. With the arrival of
a new president, plans were made to purge one state
college’s entire science department. With the voices of
faculty from the engineering and management department’s
at an academic retreat, the decision was postponed pending a
two year grant funded assessment.
When planning for the future there is always risk.
Encourage everyone to think about all different possibilities.
In the WIT example, an Academic Day chair reminded the
faculty that, “We had no idea that our enrollment would
jump nearly 100%.” The need for the faculty in this was
case to think about existing programs, new programs, and
two particular majors.
Taking the chance of an Academic Day means creating
opportunities for change and readily accepting the probability
of mistakes. College administrators personally set the pace
here. Creating and pushing in new directions requires a
willingness to experiment. Belief that a mistake jeopardizes
a chance for tenure or promotion is the quickest way to lose
committed facilitators of your project.
Realistically stick to the philosophy that the day is a
team effort where everyone is encouraged to try something
new and make a difference. In the WIT example, topic ideas
for the conference emerged from faculty teams. We were
repeatedly encouraged to make some suggestions. Some
topics were more controversial and sensitive than others.
But since the senior most individual was consulted on the
topic area and invited to present their views, resistance was
minimized and cooperation enhanced.
This is also true for the people that lead the particular
sessions. Dissent is desirable. Experts agree that leaders
attract those that are willing to question, make demands, and
argue back. The people in authority positions that say ‘they
let the group work things out’ and they ‘hire those smarter’
because they are ‘not smart enough’ to make the decision
themselves(Schein, 1988) have the most productive working
In the WIT example, a heated discussion concerning the
theory and practice of faculty role in the ‘Role of Faculty’
was a wide ranging discussion that provided an opportunity
for important discussion. Topics covered: salary, teaching
and lab facilities, how to attract and keep highly qualified
faculty, and how to convey faculty needs to the
Administration. This particular discussion had a dramatic
effect on some participants. One faculty participant reported
months later that the discussion had made an unexpected
impact on him when he said, “I guess that I was wrong, it
was productive to consider the issues. I had refused to think
it could be more than complaining and stirring things up.
Think about ‘inviting dissent ‘ along scale of possible
polar responses. On one end is paranoia and suspicion -- on
the other end is whining and complaining. “Since whining
is looking back, you want to invite constructive comments
that move the college forward, and say, this is what we can
do,” suggested one successful WIT sesssion chair.
Include a Transition and Follow-Up Plan.
The Academic Day will be most successful when it doesn’t
stand alone as an isolated moment in reflection. Returning
to the mission statement and the goals of the college is a
useful first step to the follow-up plan. Another step
includes a summarizing report that utilizes facilitator and
member’s notes and evaluative comments. You need to
have someone taking notes at every session. The WIT
example: documentation of the major issues and questions
that evolved from the Day was distributed to the entire
Most important, you have to actually do something for
the day. Whether the concern is facilities, activity period
block scheduling, or elements of a new major, one change
needs to implemented as a result of the day. This is the key
Administration and faculty face a rigorous and frustrating
leadership challenge after Academic Day. Effective
leadership here means simple and elegant responses to
complex issues. Leaders zero in on four or five major
themes and questions that have emerged. Then they tailor a
transition plan to meet the needs of the setting. An entire
college can benefit from the shaking up that Academic Day
leadership can provide.
Heifitz. R. Leadership without Easy Answers. Harvard
University Press, 1994.
Kotter, J. The New Rules: How To Succeed in Today’s
Corporate World. New York Free Press, 1995.
Micklethwait, J. and Wooldridge, A. “Management Theory
or Management Madness.” Psychology Today, March,
Schein, E. Organizational Culture and Leadership.
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1988.