Learning to lead

Professor of English Paula M. Krebs has learned a lot about higher education leadership in the past year, by “following the triumphs and setbacks” of an institution that differs markedly from Wheaton—the University of Massachusetts.

Professor Paula KrebsIn an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Krebs reflects on the knowledge and experience she gained as an American Council on Education (ACE) fellow at UMass, and how she hopes to bring her new understanding back to Wheaton this fall.

ACE fellowships are intended to help prepare faculty members and administrators for positions of significant responsibility in higher ed. Fellows spend an academic year observing how decision making and leadership work at other institutions. Krebs chose the five-campus UMass system as the site for her ACE fellowship in 2010-2011.

In her essay, “Back to the Private Realm,” Krebs writes: “I wanted to learn about the public system, about the ways that states do and don’t see their obligations to higher education…. State universities are expected to be engines of economic development, work-force training, and research that can go into patents and revenue. That’s very different from the small liberal-arts college’s obligations, which run to the individual rather than the civic.”

Now Krebs is asking herself, “What useful stuff can I take back to my college from a year out in the larger world of higher education?” She learned, among other things, that strong leaders learn from their mistakes, and that less effective leaders tend to shy away from taking responsibility when things don’t go well. She also had opportunities to observe how politics—institutional, statewide and national—play out at a large public university.

“I’m coming back a different citizen of my small campus,” she writes. “I’ll never be able to see it again as self-contained. I’ll always be looking outside for new ideas, investigating what other folks have tried….

“And, because I’ve been in a public system, I’ll never again be able to see my own college separately from its location, whether that be town, state, or region. I’m coming back with a new interest in the ways we interact with and give to our community and a new desire to build on that.”