Students lean on experience to learn leadership

Shaping leaders is a strong component in the Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management program within the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education.

“Leadership in higher education has become vastly more complex over the last few decades. I want the students in the executive Ed.D. program to have direct exposure to individuals that have been effective higher education leaders,” said Charles Knapp, president emeritus of UGA, who directs the program and its leadership module. The fast-track executive doctoral program was launched in 2010.

During each two-year cohort, Knapp brings in diverse leaders from academic, political and corporate worlds to share their experiences. Past speakers include Erin Hames, deputy chief of staff for policy for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal; Mark Musick, retired president of the Southern Regional Education Board; Veronica Biggins, managing director at Diversified Search and former personnel director in the Clinton White House; and Vince Dooley, retired athletic director and coach at UGA.

“The common thread is that all these individuals are effective leaders. I want them to speak to and with the students about the manner in which they approach difficult problems,” Knapp said.

At a recent meeting, students met with Dooley, whose own long career as a coach and leader was filled with dramas big and small, both on the playing field and off. Dooley mentioned the crisis known as the “Jan Kemp affair” in the 1980s, in which a faculty member accused the university and athletic association of academic violations.

Dooley described the experience as having “our whole body wide open being looked at with flashlights.” He noted that although many of the accusations were unfounded, there was enough that needed correcting.

“We realized we can’t respond to everything-we had to take the crisis and turn it into opportunity,” he said. Shortly thereafter, the University of Georgia Athletic Association became the first of its kind to create a mission statement.

Such real-life examples are the basis of the leadership training within the program and also one of its greatest strengths, according to graduates like Stu Evans. A 2011 graduate, Evans is executive director at the McIntire School of Commerce Foundation at the University of Virginia and assistant dean of strategic initiatives at the McIntire School of Commerce.

“Dr. Knapp’s leadership roundtables exposed us to thought leaders not only in the education sector, but also from a variety of industries to discuss their perspectives on managing complex organizations,” Evans said.

Tim Doyle, who received his Ed.D. in 2011, credits the program with helping advance his career. Doyle is associate vice president for student life at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. Previously he served as director of enrollment management and as a faculty member at The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani.

“I owe so much to the UGA experience: I literally wouldn’t have been considered for this job without the degree, and my responses to questions were informed by knowledge gleaned from the IHE faculty and fellow students alike,” he said.

Providing such experience is critical for success after graduation, according to Knapp.

“I believe that effective leadership is the most important skill higher education administrators can have. The students also need to have technical skills and understand the background and context of contemporary higher education, but if they aren’t leaders their careers will be limited,” he said.