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GSLC Partners with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to Provide the “Leading from the Middle” Series

In the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020, college campuses were quick to issue statements decrying racism and supporting efforts to promote racial justice. In most cases, these statements led to little structural change, however. Deep, transformative change often comes slowly in universities: research on change in higher education and other organizations has revealed that while proclamations by leaders at the top may be important, real transformative change depends significantly on those in middle-management roles, such as deans, department chairs, and division heads. These people hold both front-facing and behind-the-scenes roles with students, and they are a major factor in student success; and yet, they are often new to leadership roles and often do not enjoy a seat at the table when major decisions are made.

In the Spring of 2023, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) contracted with the GSLC to design and deliver a workshop series specifically for mid-level leaders in AASCU institutions. Participants consisted of two-person teams from 13 institutions plus the central office of the Texas A&M University System. Participating universities were diverse in geography, mission, and ethnic diversity and included Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs).

Titled, “Leading from the Middle to Further Equity and Student Success,” the six-module virtual workshop series ran roughly bi-weekly from February through April 2023. Jon Wergin, GSLC Professor Emeritus, served as the series coordinator. Each session was facilitated by a two-person team, all from the GSLC’s faculty and experienced alumni. Session titles included: “Learning the Landscape to Navigate Change,” “Strategic Thinking with Equity in Mind and Heart,” “Leading Change Through Relational Practice,” “Building Inclusive Teams for Inclusive Institutions,” “Communicating Through Data to Advance System Change,” and “Creative Imagination, Deep Thinking, and Action Steps.” Each session was offered on Zoom for two hours on Wednesday evenings. Suggested readings were listed for all sessions, and the participant guide contained a fuller bibliography as part of the series’ Toolkit. In addition to Professor Wergin, session facilitators included GSLC Professors Lem Watson, Mitch Kusy, Harriet Schwartz, Fayth Parks, Lize Booysen, Aqeel Tirmizi, and Beth Mabry; and alumni Brittany Motley and Julie Johnson.

All six sessions were highly rated by participants, enjoying average ratings of at least eight on a 10-point scale. Participants found the readings and presentations relevant and the group discussions engaging and thought-provoking, and they especially appreciated the opportunity to share ideas with colleagues on other campuses. Everyone completing the series and submitting a plan for follow-up work was awarded a certificate from the GSLC.

This initial series was so successful that the GSLC will be conducting a similar workshop series with a second cohort of AASCU universities in the Fall of 2023, along with “booster” sessions and possible campus consults with Spring participants.