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The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader: Building Inclusive Learning Environments in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Edna Chun and Alvin Evans’ work on the department chair and diversity fills a gap in the literature on academic leadership. They argue that the academic chair is the pivot for diversity in higher education, particularly as increasing numbers of minoritized students enter the academy. Student diversity contrasts with the overwhelming white maleness of academic administrators, including 90 percent of chairs. Nevertheless, chairs are poised to enhance both the student experience of diversity and diverse faculty diversity development.
The authors used an online survey and interviewed chairs across the nation to assess the current level of progress in diversity, to address barriers to diversity, to understand environmental factors that can promote or impede diversity, and to articulate strategies for developing diversity. They were particularly interested in talking with minoritized chairs and in the impact of diversity on student learning. By diversity, they mean race and ethnicity as well as gender and sexual orientation. Chun and Evans recognize that department chairs face many limitations in doing diversity work. Changing upper administrations, maintaining harmony in departments, and other issues take up much chair attention.
The work begins with an overview of inequality in America, arguing that the role of higher education is to address this social landscape. They examine the challenges in higher education itself, from the impact of MOOCs to globalization and how department and institutional politics can block chairs’ diversity efforts. Serving students is key: Since minoritized students are at-risk for non-completion, campus climate, including diverse faculty and curriculum, can make a difference in those students’ lives. They also argue, in chapter 6, that interactional diversity is an essential dimension among high-impact college experiences for all student growth.
Chairs, who occupy a double role as administrator and faculty, span boundaries and are potential bridge-builders. As both buffers and connections between faculty and administration, skilled chairs have the capacity to reflect on and transform these boundaries to mobilize the various stakeholders towards action. Chairs report to deans (analyzed in chapter 4), and trust in that that relationship is crucial for developing diversity, though the “revolving door” of administration in some institutions poses problems.
The discussion of issues that minoritized chairs face and the voices of these persons is an important contribution of this book. These chairs are always proving their competence and may be taken less seriously than their white counterparts. A minority chair may be the only departmental voice for diversity. In terms of sexual orientation, some chairs are limited by institutions’ unwillingness to appoint or policies against appointment of LGBTQI chairs. Like minority faculty, minority chairs face lower student evaluations (see chapter 5), may be isolated and vulnerable, and are under great stress.
Another key contribution is strategies, offered by chairs and the authors. Each chapter ends with strategies a chair may implement to address diversity. The final chapters offer suggestions for developing diversity plans, including helpful examples, and additional strategies for overcoming limitations. The description of higher education today, the voices of the chairs, and the multiple strategies offered create a rich study, insightful and practical, for aiding chairs to become leaders for a diverse academy in a global context.
Leadership for Change in Teacher Education: Voices of Canadian Deans of Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book contains fourteen essays written by deans of teacher education programs in Canada who are leading change initiatives in the midst of turbulent times in North-American post-secondary education. The book examines reforms in programs designed to prepare effective teachers of the future and address the challenges that deans face in leading these initiatives.
A number of the essays emphasize the need for attention to diversity in teacher preparation programs. Although one essay describes diversity in language acquisition programs (25-30), more frequently authors emphasize the need to add Indigenous perspectives to curricula. One chapter examines a program designed to increase the numbers of Indigenous teachers and the awareness of Indigenous culture among non-Native students in teacher training programs, but also raises more fundamental questions about the ways that hegemonic discourses about ethnicity and gender are reproduced in education systems at large (7-12). Another chapter discusses the way that teacher education reforms need to come to grips with white privilege and racism: “Beyond ‘content’ we ask students to ask ‘what is knowledge, how is it privileged, and who does it benefit and why?’” (75). On a different front, one dean grapples with the need to add instructional technology amidst financial constraints (43-48), though another chapter promotes advances in technology use: “relational technology” for building effective bonds between teachers and learners; “cultural technology” which help students overcome the “ethnocentric monoculturalism” of education in the West; and “assessment technologies” that measure student engagement, learning attitudes, and learning strategies (55-60).
Other essays focus on the dean’s role in leading effective change. One chapter describes deans as middle managers who walk a tightrope between university executives on the one hand and faculty on the other, in a context where key external constituents doubt that faculty can be trusted to change on their own initiative (61-66). Lack of good decanal leadership negatively affects faculty productivity and damages organization culture, while rapid turnover at this level is associated with increased faculty cynicism about change (31-32). Several authors note the importance of collaborative, democratic decision-making in building a common vision for reform.
Some of the strategies described include restructuring departments and committees to maximize faculty participation in decision-making; appointing a faculty steering committee in order to foster widespread engagement; and maximizing faculty choice and autonomy by choosing to change an area that faculty either identify as needing reform or is widely perceived as non-threatening. One author stresses the need to establish a good case for change and the timing of the change (88), while another emphasizes collaborative scanning of the environment (34), a practice identified elsewhere as a crucial factor in building an agile organizational culture. The dean of a faith-based teacher education program advises deans to nurture the quality of their inner life during seasons of change by practicing mindfulness, humility, stillness and attentiveness, and a reorienting gratitude that focuses on abundance versus scarcity (37-42).
According to these deans, greater attention to diversity in curricula, relationship-centered pedagogies, and participative, collaborative faculty-led decision-making are the mainstays of successful innovation in teacher education programs. My own experience in leading a large-scale change initiative in a seminary suggests that these same ingredients can be successfully applied in other educational contexts.