Focus on Leadership
Faculty members don’t like being told what to do. As an academic administrator, you’ve no doubt encountered that fact.
Michael Bassis, who will soon retire as president of Westminster College in Utah, knew that faculty members are unlikely to implement the “president’s plan.”
But he was able to lead his institution through a strategic planning process that included a curriculum overhaul and changes in degree requirements by focusing on his educational philosophy and letting faculty members determine the best ways to support that philosophy.
For Bassis, “principlecentered leadership” means that “you have educational principles that guide you in the elaborate, convoluted and sometimes raucous conversation that takes place on campus about change.”
Once the faculty decided how to move forward, Bassis supported their decisions by putting resources behind implementation. He even completed an eportfolio documenting his presidency, modeling a new graduation requirement for undergraduates.
Bassis started the change process by advocating for a paradigm shift from teaching to learning. And he set the groundwork for faculty members to accept that shift beginning when he was inaugurated. For example, he planned a symposium on the Future of Higher Education to accompany his inauguration. He used it to share his philosophy about the type of learning that should take place at the institution.
Under the teaching paradigm, teachers deliver content in organized classes. In the learning paradigm, students are told what they should learn. They learn it in a variety of ways, and much of the learning takes place outside the classroom, Bassis said.
“We are trying to get students to develop habits of learning that are not as artificial as sitting passively in a classroom,” he added.
As part of the curriculum reform, Westminster added a requirement that students complete an e-portfolio reflecting on their experience and what they learned. Entering freshmen for the 2011–12 year are the first who must complete the portfolio.
In his final year as president, Bassis realized that his experience echoed what freshmen go through in that it was natural for him to reflect on his experiences and think about what he had learned being president of the institution.
Bassis decided to document his reflections using the format students were asked to use — the e-portfolio. “I thought it might be something they would appreciate and say, ‘That’s great. If he thinks it’s good for him, maybe it’s good for me too,’” Bassis said.
Once he completed the e-portfolio, he sent a link to faculty and staff members so that they could review it. Students can also look at his e-portfolio, and anyone who wants to can evaluate it.
Bassis supported the decision to require e-portfolios by making sure resources were allocated to support the plan. Westminster is remodeling space to create an e-portfolio laboratory in the middle of campus. The lab has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides so that students walking by can see the activity inside.
“Often where you locate something and how it looks is a symbol of how important it is to you,” Bassis said.
The lab will provide the technology students need to complete their portfolios, including computers and video equipment. It will also include a large touchscreen information board that students can use to access information such as Bassis’ e-portfolio or a video of a faculty member talking about the value of written communication.
You may email Michael Bassis at mbassis@ westminstercollege.edu. View his e-portfolio at http://michael_bassis_eportfolio.foliotek.me.