Editor's Note: Freeman Hrabowski III is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"It's not about me. It's about us." This is the opening line of a new book on shared leadership called "The Empowered University" that I co-authored with my colleagues Philip Rous and Peter Henderson.
"When outsiders comment on the success or failures of a university, they often focus on the institution's president," we observe. But this view of university change is misguided, as it takes a community to transform an institution over time. University leaders often find themselves moving from one crisis to the next. The time to build the relationships and community is not in the heat of the moment. Leaders must continually build consensus and understanding as a key practice.
Shared governance has traditionally been central to many universities, though leaders view it differently. Some institutions favor a top-down approach, while we at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) have embraced more collaboration and draw on it for information, deliberation and collective leadership.
We have an interactive shared governance structure that includes university leadership, the faculty senate, staff senates and student government associations. The president and provost attend faculty senate meetings, providing updates about the university. The faculty senate president and the senate's academic planning and budget committee chair also attend meetings of the president's council. Further, our provost and several other campus leaders are former faculty senate presidents.
Through this approach, we understand a range of perspectives on issues, and we struggle together over decisions that affect us all. We don't always agree or reach consensus. But, at a minimum, we are transparent. Everyone can understand the issues, we share a set of information, we discuss and are clear about uncertainties and risks.
People understand that decisions are made thoughtfully, even if they don't agree with them. Beyond shared governance, we also place shared leadership at the "empowered university's" center. Through our culture, values, goals and work, shared leadership allows faculty, staff and students to take the lead and also the initiative, seeing the work through to completion. It embodies a spirit of empowerment that develops allies, change agents, champions and innovators.
Building an empowered community through shared leadership begins by embracing innovation as a habit of mind that is intensely reflective. As leaders whose job is to boost our universities, we are constantly telling our story to others: elected officials, boards, donors, employers, families and alumni. At the same time, we are also looking in the mirror constantly to assess what is working and what isn't, our strengths and weaknesses, and our opportunities and challenges.
It's often difficult to create a climate that encourages people to be honest about what they see. As we work with campus groups to deliberate issues, we acknowledge that we sometimes don't have all of the information and that we are open-minded about the nature of a problem and the potential solutions. We begin with data collection and analysis and then have deep, sometimes difficult, conversations about what works well and what does not, and what we can do to improve.
Our work to advance women in our science and engineering faculty is one example of how we embrace shared leadership. About two decades ago, several women in the natural sciences approached me and the provost and said, "We want the campus to support women faculty in the sciences the same way it has successfully boosted underrepresented minority undergraduates in these fields." They challenged us to do better.
Initially, we questioned if there was a problem because there were many women in our natural sciences departments. But we looked at the evidence to guide us and found out most women in these departments were graduate students, technicians and lecturers — not tenured or tenure-track faculty.
We then worked with colleagues to develop new approaches to support women in recruiting, hiring, retention, advancement and leadership. We worked with the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) faculty group to understand the issue and take steps to address it. We empaneled an ad hoc committee to study the issue and make recommendations. We created UMBC's Priorities for Women's Advancement, Retention and Development (UPWARD) committee to guide actions on the recommendations.
We also brought together a group that collectively became the principal investigators (PIs) for our proposal to the National Science Foundation for an ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant, which we received in 2003 and allowed us to take more concrete steps to support women faculty. I served as PI on the grant, with mostly women leaders as co-PIs, to send a message to our campus and to our funder.
We were taking this issue very seriously and their investment would produce impressive results. When some heard I was PI, they said, "But you're a man!" I responded that this is not a women's problem any more than race is a black problem. These are human problems, and more specifically American problems, and we must all work together to address them.
Our ADVANCE program has been a success, using innovative approaches to recruitment, interviewing, hiring and mentoring; inviting speakers for campus events; and adding a new family leave policy. Since the program launched, the number of women tenure-track faculty in STEM has increased by 60% from 2003 to 2018, compared to a 14% increase in men tenure track faculty. In 2018, women made up nearly one-quarter of our university's STEM faculty. We realize we have more work to do.
The ADVANCE program has four core principles.
First, we set high expectations for individual and programmatic success. Second, we build community for a sense of belonging and substantive support. Third, we provide mentors who help sustain our women faculty in their research and professional development as they advance on the tenure track. Lastly, we assess how the program is working to guide necessary programmatic changes and communicate to others what we accomplished.
One of our sayings at UMBC is: "Success is never final." We found that, after the NSF grant expired in 2010, our progress in advancing women in the natural sciences faculty backslid. To sustain the work, we invested significant institutional resources to regain momentum.
Meanwhile, through work with our College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences' Black Faculty Committee, we extended our ADVANCE initiatives to increase the success of underrepresented minority faculty across fields. Drawing inspiration from the University of Michigan, we also created a Committee on Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence to engage in peer education that reduces implicit bias and strengthens minority recruitment and hiring.
Finally, we included leadership development for senior women faculty in our ADVANCE program, bringing our approach to shared leadership full circle. This work has brought women to various leadership positions on campus, including vice provost, dean and associate dean of engineering, center director and others. Indeed, we have been so successful in promoting women that we now have another problem; other institutions are recruiting these accomplished women away to deanships and department chairs.
When they do, we again ask the hard questions: How can we learn from and support our colleagues as they leave?