The Dean of 2020 – Part 2

David J. Schleich, PhD


Conceptual Competencies for the Naturopathic Academic Manager – Part 2

Last month we began a discussion of the competencies which our Deans will need as we close in on the end of the decade in a higher education and healthcare landscape unlike what they encountered in the past half-century.

The Dean of 2020 will want to be very familiar with the many possible organizational models in which our naturopathic programs will exist in the future. To zero in on this reality of the emerging post-secondary and post-graduate health studies and medical career entry market, the Dean can benefit by studying ethics and jurisprudence – as these relate to higher education – by reviewing government policy related to employment standards. They can also benefit by being intimately familiar with medical ethics ideas and principles impacting on teaching and learning, particularly as these translate into a doctor/patient relationship that will be increasingly influenced by technology and by pressures of commodification and health market competition.

The Dean may want to tie all of these into a disciplined, ongoing review of best human resources practices.  As well, understanding how to attract and guide effective non-profit Boards to support ethical, compliant policies and practices in the changing higher education sector is another key competency for our Deans. (Carver, 1997; Piland, 1994; Andrews, 1994) Non-profit Boards have an enormous policy impact on the operational detail of human resource deployment and management, on advancement, and on the degree of deference paid to government policy related to employment standards and institutional development. Learning organizations depend on a foundation of clear, integrated policy in order for practices to be helpful in achieving the college’s mission.

Learning organizations are, though, as Senge (1990) and De Pree (1989) point out, dependent on participation as the basis for that learning. Thus, skills such as consensus and team-building acumen are important competencies for the effective Dean. The development of staff is intentional in naturopathic programs that seek to thrive. That development, however, needs to be aligned with the larger institution’s mission and goals, which in turn are synchronized with available resources. Thus, the Dean will want to know a great deal about human resource development in terms of how to operationalize a development plan within particular time-frames. Further, identifying priorities in development can issue smoothly from operational reviews that should be intrinsic to the institution’s broader, multi-year plans. Experience with the design, implementation and full evaluation of an operational review process is a key competency for the naturopathic Dean.

Show Our Deans the Money

The financing of higher education in the 21st century (and earlier) has been affected by a societal trend on both sides of the 49th parallel, which sees the director and immediate user bearing more of the cost. (Hough, 1992; Rhoades, 1998) In the world of naturopathic medical education, the Dean faces that same pressure. She wants to reduce the pressure that comes from disproportionate tuition dependence, since student loan burden is massively worrying. The Dean needs to understand not only the funding formula for his respective program and institution, but also to understand the share his program has (and why) of the total post-secondary pie. Being savvy about the political and fiscal priorities of the institution in which that program lives is essential.

Further, understanding the wider range of financing variables has to be part of this particular competency regarding finances, which includes embracing an awareness of how student financial assistance works in practice, as well as an awareness of costing models for successfully mounting single programs, program clusters, and entire campuses. The sophistication of the knowledge needed about finance function cannot be emphasized enough. Strategic decisions are best made when the Dean understands weighting formulas, projected revenues, fixed and variable costs, discretionary expenditure ratios, and confident grounding in the sound fiscal management of one-off projects. Aspects of this competency include a precise understanding of how elements work, such as revenue, operating income, cash flow, and asset utilization. 

The strong Dean will also seek conceptual competence in accountability (Hufner, 1991) and responsibility paradigms as these manifest in higher education. In addition to seeing clearly the way the wind is blowing with respect to accountability instruments such as key performance indicators, the leader will want to generate exceptional competence in reporting outcomes to key stakeholders (the students themselves, advisory committees, Boards of Directors, accreditors, and so on). Rapid, reliable and focused communication with funding authorities, program approval teams, and local governance groups – such as advisory committees and standing committees of the Board of Directors – implies a political sensitivity to what must be reported as well as a strong commitment to accuracy and documentation. The Dean must know which categories are relevant and timely, and which ones need to be quantified and to what extent. (Price-Waterhouse, 1995)

Choosing process performance measures – not just results measures – is an important skill for the Dean’s tool kit too. As well, good process performance measures build enthusiasm. In the end, the effective Dean will have a conceptual competence in using performance measures to link what people do well daily to his or her institution’s overall objectives. The difficulty of measuring performance is well known in the higher education sector in the United States, in particular, largely because most public sector and non-profit educational institutions must pay attention to a cost line that does not always or easily reflect the accruing hard-to-measure equity of successful graduates and community goodwill. All too true in our programs and their institutions, eager attention paid to allocated budget amounts often does not reward entrepreneurial Deans who may well have a business plan for new activity that spans more than a single fiscal period.

The Dean as Change Agent

Our Deans have to develop conceptual competencies as change agents (Price-Waterhouse, 1995) in the current North American health market and higher education markets. The transformation of post-secondary education proceeds unrelentingly. At one extreme there are those who would proclaim that discontinuous thinking which would keep outdated rules and fundamental assumptions driving the agenda is impossible to dislodge. At the other extreme are those – fearing that the mission of naturopathic medical education risks being relegated to dusting furniture in Pompeii (to awkwardly cite Hammer and Champy from their 1993 work on re-engineering corporations) – who would have our Deans move rapidly in an all-or-nothing mode that could keep ineffective, outdated ways of producing learning in place longer than they should be. The Dean will have to learn how to assimilate competencies for initiating, conducting, and ensuring that transformative practices are understood, implemented, and fine-tuned. This complex competency involves the transforming of processes which rapidly evolves into new responsibilities and tasks, from narrow and task-oriented activity to more multidimensional work, particularly in the delivery of education and training. Our programs can be conservative places, where “we always have done it this way” becomes a rationale for avoiding risk-and-reward approaches.

Unlike public sector institutions, though, our colleges and universities, in the general sense of running a “going concern” (a phrase widely used in the corporate world), have greater flexibility with an operations approach to strategic planning. The policy and entitlement orientation which affects so much of the public higher education sector’s operational framework, while present in our schools, is less entrenched. For example, we don’t have operational instruments, such as collective agreements, or the impact of statewide economic policy priorities that can influence program funding. Our Deans are singularly committed to growing the naturopathic profession via the best possible naturopathic curriculum. The functional rivalries, operational redundancies, and contrary imperatives frequently present in state systems are less likely to daunt the naturopathic Dean who becomes increasingly skilled in transformative practices.

Finally, an effective, upwardly mobile Dean will want to master numerous competencies under the “learner-centered” umbrella (McCombs, 1992; O’Banion, 1997; Tinto et al, 1994] often talked about in higher education. He or she will need to have skill in curriculum and program design, measurement and evaluation, and information technology applications to teaching and learning. Becoming familiar with how adult learners learn, and focusing on what are the most effective designs for value-added learning, will greatly enhance the competency portfolio of that Dean. Coupled with these pragmatic competencies must be a deeper understanding of theories of knowledge. Gathering awareness from approaches such as constructivism (Cherryholmes, 1988) will act as a catalyst for the Dean because learning itself is transformational rather than additive. Building on developmentalist and constructivist approaches, the Dean will want to be sure to have a grasp of the dominant learning theory of the day. Further, the Dean will want to understand the metamorphosing nature of the learners in our programs. Those learners, for example, are younger than they were historically, and they demand quick, electronically-mediated, high-quality delivery and currency. Thus, our Deans will want to be committed to keeping abreast of higher education theory and practice. If they choose to stay in an administrative role, they will make it a priority to stay on top of the best information about how contemporary students learn. The old notion of time- and place-bound learning, supervised by a “sage on the stage,” will not endure, despite many of our program accreditation standards being predicated on that model. The Dean cannot randomly stir students and teachers in a classroom bowl for long. The timing, measure, and ingredients are all important for the recipe to come out right.

Scanning the Educational & Healthcare Environments

Parallel with all these competencies must be constant gathering and utilization of factual information. The Dean must know how to find reliable community demographics with windows on diversity, access, and futurism. Further, student demographic data and profiles are essential platforms for the Dean’s planning process. Stored in the larder, too, should be information about the history and evolution of naturopathic medicine as a heterodox medical system, labor market trends, and inter-institutional relationships. Understanding conceptually, for example, differentiation and diversity among post-secondary institutions can greatly assist in the Dean’s ability to build a more ideal system for the achievement of academic balance and diversity, as well as sustainability.

Our Deans will want to know more about the structure of higher education in jurisdictions other than their own, so that they can compare and contrast what has evolved in their particular state or province with what has developed elsewhere, with a view to improving their own designs. As well, understanding the origin and impact of government policy on higher education, with the goal of spotting quickly what is trendy vs what is enduring, is a worthy competency toward which to strive. Further, digging more deeply into the essential differences between the mainstream university and the traditional naturopathic college or university in which a naturopathic program exists could resolve, in part, the impulse of our colleges to revere the small, regional comprehensive university model. The original purpose of our colleges has been blurring for a long time. That purpose itself is shifting and now includes strong commitments to research and to inter-institutional partnerships. There are, too, important competencies linked to developing the best ways to partner with mainstream primary-care delivery systems without violating or compromising the educational mission of the naturopathic programs that kept the profession alive in North America.

Our Deans are our best guardians for the mission of growing the profession. The impact of governance; the implications of shared governance pressures; the vicissitudes of funding; the pressures of accountability; and the imperative of understanding what a learner-centered institution looks like are in many ways the tip of a very large iceberg. The last 20 years have been decades of flurry for naturopathic medical education. The value to society of naturopathic medical education is embedded in the hearts and minds of our Deans. The pressure on naturopathic college leaders to develop and manifest competencies to meet the challenge is great and growing and grueling.

Read Part 1 Here


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David J. Schleich, PhD, is president and CEO of the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM), former president of Truestar Health, and former CEO and president of CCNM, where he served from 1996 to 2003. Previous posts have included appointments as vice president academic of Niagara College, and administrative and teaching positions at St. Lawrence College, Swinburne University (Australia) and the University of Alberta. His academic credentials have been earned from the University of Western Ontario (BA), the University of Alberta (MA), Queen’s University (BEd), and the University of Toronto (PhD).

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