John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Why Chief Academic Officers Matter (and Now More Than Ever)

February 7, 2017Julie HellerInsights0

Why Chief Academic Officers Matter (and Now More Than Ever)

By John N. Gardner

February 7, 2017

Since January 20, 2017 I have been thinking even more about what kind of leaders we have on campus as compared to our government. In that vein, my wife, Betsy Barefoot and I just attended the annual winter meeting of the chief academic officers of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Spending several days with those outstanding men and women reminded me of how important a role that of CAO is and I want to remind my readers here of why that is the case. We need and will be looking to these leaders in this coming year more than ever. I do this also in the spirit of a book that Betsy and I are the co-authors of, along with Peter Felten, Leo Lambert, and Charles Schroeder, published this past May: The Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most. The Chief Academic Officer is…

  1. The protector of and advocate for the faculty
  2. The chief developer of the institution’s most important resource: its faculty
  3. The primary driver for attainment of the academic mission and core values
  4. The primary guarantor of institutional academic quality
  5. The principal advocate for student success
  6. The leader for integration of academic and student affairs’ roles
  7. The principal convener for innovation in student success
  8. The primary driver for academic continuous quality improvement
  9. The primary shaper of faculty rewards’ systems
  10. The primary leader who keeps the CEO out of trouble
  11. The primary internally focused leader
  12. The primary protector from the corporatization of the institution
  13. The leader who hires the deans and department chairs who hire and lead the faculty
  14. The primary academic change agent
  15. The primary academic resource allocator
  16. The primary custodian of academic freedom

My thoughts on the above should be credible. They were forged during my own stint as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the University of South Carolina’s five Regional Campuses from 1983-96. I’m not sure I always met the test of my 16 points above but I did my best. My current status as a recovering former CAO and now CEO of a higher education related non-profit organization makes me much better at my current job, of that I am positive!


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