Academic Exchange Quarterly Summer 2012 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 16, Issue 2

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Leadership on Committees in Higher Education

Marilyn Koeller , National University, CA

Marilyn Koeller PhD, Associate Professor, SOE-TED, National University, Costa Mesa, Ca.


Leadership on committees in higher education focuses on the criteria of leadership needed to promote the effectiveness of these committees.    Leadership skills such as delegation, team building, trust building, and using confrontation as a part of credibility, trustworthiness, character, competence, integrity, and empowerment will be examined. The qualities of leadership serve the needs of the university to promote effective shared governance and increase the satisfaction of learning by students.


Leadership essential to the effective operation of several committees at a university will be discussed.  Faculty policies (National University, 2009) outlining characteristics needed to serve on various committees will be analyzed in relation to leadership skills as discussed in books and articles.  A match between these skills will be integrated into the qualities needed for effective leadership.  The leadership skill of Hiring the Best will be discussed in relation to the Search and Screen Committee at this university. Delegation as a skill will be the focus of how it can be used with the Academic Affairs Committee that analyzes new programs and courses. Other leadership skills such as Team Building will be matched to the School Personnel Committee, Conflict Resolution to the University Personnel Committee, Building Trust with the Committee on Nominations and Elections, and Credibility, Trustworthiness, Competence, and Integrity in relation to the Senate whose senators represent the faculty at large.  Effective leadership on these committees increases the opportunities for shared governance to affect the education of students.  Many universities have no systematic approach for either identifying or developing leadership skills (Spendlove, 2007).  This article is an attempt to identify skills that could be associated with various university committees.

Hiring the Best—The Role of the Search and Screen Committees

The most important prerequisite to leadership on committees is to hire the best faculty. “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you" (Reed , 2011).

It is important to not only look at teaching, scholarship, and service, but also how often the potential faculty member has changed jobs.  Changing jobs should show evidence of upward progress in their profession and not changing because of problems in a current position.  It is also very important to check references of those applying (Spendlove, 2007).    

Hiring the wrong person can have a real effect on the quality of education students receive.  Students that have bad experiences will tell 10 people who in turn will tell many others.  Also, having a poor fit in a position can have an impact on the moral of the department.  This is especially true if the faculty position has very specific objectives that are not being met. This leads to performance issues. (Hamm, 2011). When a person is not meeting expectations,   time must be spent trying to correct those problems.  Other faculty will then be put in a position of assisting and mentoring those not meeting expectations.

The U.S. Department of Labor calculates that it costs one-third of a new hire’s annual salary to replace them.  These figures including money spent on recruitment, selection and training plus costs due to decreased productivity as other employees fill in to take up the slack (Kouzes & Posner, 2010).

These numbers do not reflect the intangible damages a bad hire can have, such as loss of students and low employee morale in their unit or department.  It is very important therefore that a Search and Screen committee review National Faculty Policies, 2009 (6.2, p. 16) for specific details. 

“There are several key components that are important to the interview process: develop interview questions that match the job description for the position, conduct consistent objectives for the interview, develop an objective process for making recommendations, and be sure to document everything in the process” (Hamm, 2011, p. 102).

Delegation as Used in the School Academic Affairs Committees

“The School Academic Affairs Committee is responsible for approving new programs and modifications to existing programs within a School. Members must be elected to the School Academic Affairs Committee” (National Faculty Policies, 2009, 2.13, p. 7). 

Since members of the committee are elected and may have skills in different subject areas in the various departments, it is important to know how to delegate responsibilities (Covey, 2005).  The important components of delegation on this committee include: guiding members through the approval process and having all members review comments regarding the syllabi, learning goals, and signature assignments in each program and all courses.  Times and dates of the process for approval need to be clarified with each member. For new members, it is important to model and teach each member (Covey, 2005) how to use CurricUNET.  CurricUNET is not an intuitive process to follow, so can be intimidating to use correctly.

Approvals of the Academic Affairs Committee are then forwarded to the Undergraduate and Graduate Councils.  The use of Delegation in these committees follow the same criteria as that of the Academic Affairs Committee.  Responsibilities of the Undergraduate Council and the Graduate Council from the faculty policies are listed below:

“The Undergraduate Council shall be responsible for providing oversight and making recommendations to the Provost on matters pertaining to undergraduate courses, curricula, instructional programs, and degrees of the University. Responsibilities include periodic evaluation of the general education program and other existing or proposed undergraduate programs through program review mechanisms. The Undergraduate Council shall be responsible for maintaining open, two-way communications with the undergraduate faculty” (National Faculty Policies, 2009, 2.11, p. 6).

“The Graduate Council shall be responsible for providing oversight and making recommendations to the Provost on matters pertaining to graduate courses, curricula, instructional programs, and degrees of the University. Responsibilities include periodic evaluation of existing or proposed graduate programs through program review mechanisms and a process by which graduate programs are proposed. The Graduate Council shall be responsible for maintaining open, two-way communications with the graduate Faculty” (National Faculty Policies, 2009, 2.12, p. 7).

Team Building in Relation to Personnel Committees

“The University Faculty Personnel Committee’s (UFPC) primary responsibility is to ensure equity in the evaluation of Faculty members across different Schools and Departments. The UFPC is comprised of full-time Faculty at the rank of Professor or Associate Professor. The Committee will:

A.    Review Faculty dossiers and sabbatical requests, and the recommendations of the Department Chairs, School Personnel Committees, and Deans regarding all promotion, reappointment, and sabbatical requests, and provide a separate recommendation to the Provost that strives for balance and equity across National University.

B.    Recommend, to the Provost, a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award based upon a review of materials submitted by full-time Faculty who have been nominated for this award by students, other Faculty, or administrators.

Meet all specified timelines as indicated in the Guidelines for Faculty Assessment at National University, which is published annually by the Provost” (National Faculty Policies, 2009, 2.14, p. 7).

“The purpose of the School Personnel Committee (SPC) is to ensure that colleagues within their School give Faculty members the fairest, fullest and most comprehensive assessment of their professional work. Each School within National University will elect the members of the SPC. The SPC will make recommendations concerning reappointment, promotion, merit, and sabbatical requests. Department Chairs may not serve as members of this committee. A Faculty member may not serve on the SPC and UFPC at the same time” (National Faculty Policies, 2009, 2.15, p. 8).

For members on these committees to function as a team, it is important for members to agree on setting goals on what they want to achieve, develop a plan to match those goals, support each other in the process, and take ownership of the plan for action (Covey, 2005).  The main value and focus was to provide fairness to fellow faculty members (Bakken & Simpson, 2011).

As a result of this team building process, it was determined that it was of foremost importance to develop and use a rubric to evaluate the teaching, scholarship, and service for each level of faculty.  This rubric was patterned after the criteria outlined in an in service sponsored by the Senate and the Provost’s office for guiding faculty in the process of developing dossiers for Reappointment, Promotion, and Retention.   Based on those criteria, a chart was developed as a way of using a rubric to objectively judge each level of faculty based on Teaching, Scholarship and Service.

Conflict Resolution in Relation to the University Faculty Personnel Committee

Members elected to serve on the University Faculty Personnel Committee come from different schools within the university and often have different ideas on what constitutes the various expectations in analyzing faculty members’ teaching, scholarship, and service.  This can cause conflict within the committee.  When resolving conflict, members would benefit from training in various conflict resolution strategies (Kouzes & Posner, 2010) Having a rubric on which everyone can agree eliminates some conflict, but there are always members on personnel committees that can be so assertive and strong willed to the point of defusing any discussion by other members (Walker & Sorkin, 2007; Spendlove, 2007). 

Building Trust in Committee on Nominations and Elections

This committee will work to insure a fair, accurate and timely nomination and election process.

“This committee will review on an annual basis the nominating and balloting procedures and recommend any changes to be brought to the attention of appropriate authorities. Administrative support for this committee and the Chair of the committee in preparing, reproducing, mailing, receiving, and counting ballots will be forthcoming from the Provost’s office. The committee will also keep track of the membership of each elected committee including election date, length of term, and number of terms of each committee member. This Committee will elect the Chair of the Committee by July 30 of each year” (National Faculty Policy, 2009,2.16, p. 8).

The criteria for building trust include: “Behave predictably and consistently, communicate clearly, treat promises seriously, be forthright and candid” (Kouzes & Posner, 2010, pp. 84-85). In addition, “establish and maintain integrity, communicate a vision and values, consider all employees as equal partners, focus on shared goals, and do what is right” (Hamm, 2011, p. 45).

The important criteria in building trust for the Committee on Nominations and Elections is to consider all faculty members as equal partners and focus on shared goals in formulating a process by which the nomination and election process is fair and efficient (Covey & Merrill, 2006).  It is important that communication goes out to all faculty notifying them of the openings on each committee for the coming year.  In addition all nominations need to be analyzed for eligibility.

Recently, an issue arose on who was eligible to vote as a Graduate Level 1 or 2 faculty (National Faculty Policies, 2009, p. 7) which has prompted a more accurate accounting of who has submitted the paperwork for each Graduate Level.  This is a correction that needed to be made to build trust in the process.

Members sign in as they come to vote.  All votes are counted twice by two different schools. The votes are counted by two members of a school with the process open to others (usually nominees) to make sure there is an accurate count. Ballots are then stored in a safe place to keep an accurate audit trail.  If there is a challenge, the ballots can then be recounted. 


Senators’ Leadership Skills of Credibility, Trustworthiness, Competence, and Integrity

“Each school in each region that has Full-time Faculty shall elect one (1) Senator and one (1) Alternate Senator from the Full-time Faculty in each region (Regions are currently San Diego, Northern and Southern). Each school that has Associate Faculty shall elect one (1) Senator from the Associate Faculty in that school” (National Faculty Policies, 2009, 2.9, p. 6).

Of all the committees serving the faculty, the Senate members need to exemplify all the qualities of good leadership to effectively represent the faculty they serve (Covey, 2005). Competition is a contest between individuals, groups, animals, etc. for territory, a niche, or a location of resources. It arises whenever at least two parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared. Examples of credibility, trustworthiness, competence, integrity, and being of good character will be discussed.

Credibility with their peers as a Senator often involves challenging current processes when brought up by the colleagues they represent, however these situations need to be presented in a way to solve a problem and not just serve as a complaint (Eddy & VanDerLinden, 2006).   The goal should be to not only solve a problem, but to better inspire a shared vision on what should be done and enable others to act in a more credible manner (Covey, 2005).  “Only credible leaders earn commitment, and only commitment builds great organizations. (Kouzes & Posner, 2010, p. 16).

Trustworthiness relates to a Senator when faculty members think their Senator is reliable and can be counted on to come through for them, while maintaining confidentiality in sharing information with the Senate.  “Tell the truth, match your actions with your words, and match those words with the truth…” (Hamm, 2011, p. 36).

Competence in choosing Senators is based on the faculty knowing their Senators have the “skill and abilities to follow through on  promises, but also that ….have the self-confidence to admit that …don’t know something but are capable of learning” (Kouzes & Posner, 2010, p. 20).

Integrity involves Senators that “want to know what is working and what is not.  They keep an open mind for serendipity to bring to them the fresh knowledge they need” (Bennis & Goldsmith, 2003, p.3).  The ongoing improvement in a university can be tied to the satisfaction  faculty members have in their working environment.  Senators who are credible, trustworthy, and competent are able to facilitate that perception (Eddy & VanDerLinden, 2006).   .


Various leadership skills have been discussed in relation to the National University committees.  The leadership skill of Hiring the Best was discussed in relation to the Search and Screen Committee. Delegation as a skill was the focus of how it could be used with the Academic Affairs Committee that analyzes new programs and courses. Other leadership skills such as Team Building were matched to the School Personnel Committee, Conflict Resolution to the University Personnel Committee, Building Trust with the Committee on Nominations and Elections, and Credibility, Trustworthiness, Competence, and Integrity in relation to the Senate whose senators represent the faculty at large. Effective leadership may insure professional accreditation in the future in the area of working in a satisfactory working environment with effective shared governance (Boyatzis, 2011; Walker, & Sorkin, 2007).


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