The Intentional Work of Values-Enacted Change

The Frederick Douglas statue on the University of Maryland campus depicts, as wikipedia puts it, "Douglass in the middle of a speech, with one arm outstretched, and a copy of his autobiography under the other arm." His mouth is open in a fiery speech. The statue is cast bronze on a black marble block with white text chiseled on front reading Frederick Douglas 1818-1895, on the side, white text is legible that reads: Abolitionist, Suffragist, Labor Leader. The figure is set off to the right of the image with a band of long, wheat colored grasses in the middle background, with three windows of the red brick colonial style building in the distant background.

When Stephanie Shonekan, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) at the University of Maryland (UMD), asked about the origins of the HuMetricsHSS initiative at lunch after our workshop this week, I was transported back in time to October 2016 when a group of us met at the Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill, NC, for the Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute (TriangleSCI). We had gathered to reconsider the question of academic metrics with an eye toward making indicators of quality more humane.

The Original HuMetricsHSS Team at the Rizzo Center in Chapel HIll, NC, 2016.

Now, over six years later, when we begin our HuMetricsHSS workshops by asking colleagues to consider their most rewarding academic experiences, I often return to that time we had together at the TriangleSCI to think and walk and imagine how we might make meaningful change by aligning our core values with the practices that shape academic life.

That experience changed the trajectory of my own academic career as I began to recognize the transformative power of values-enacted leadership.

This pathway led me to the Washington, DC area this third week of January 2023 to continue the work of putting values into intentional practice as we reimagine the future of the Academy. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I joined a group of academic leaders at the Association of American Universities (AAU) for a workshop co-sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to consider how we might redesign institutions to support equity minded graduate education.

Equity-Minded Graduate Mentoring

The workshop was organized around Dean Kimberly Griffin‘s work on equity-oriented graduate mentoring practices, which emphasizes the importance of creating institutional structures that recognize and reward supportive mentoring that attends to the well-being of the whole person. As she writes:

“equity-minded administrative leaders must take care to ensure that mentoring responsibilities are fairly shared across professionals and that engagement in mentoring is recognized in substantive ways that translate to meaningful rewards and recognition.”

Griffin, Kimberly A. “Rethinking Mentoring : Integrating Equity Minded Practice in Promoting Access to and Outcomes of Developmental Relationships.” In Higher Education Administration for Social Justice and Equity : Critical Perspectives for Leadership, edited by Adrianna Kezar and Julie Posselt, 93–110. New York: Routledge, 2019, 18.

The work we have been doing in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State through the Charting Pathways of Intellectual Leadership initiative is animated by a commitment to recognize mentoring in substantive ways, so it was heartening to hear Dean Griffin reinforce the importance of this approach. Her emphasis on institutional structures shaped the design of the workshop, which focused on existing successful practices—for example, the Guidelines for Successful Graduate Student Mentoring at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign and the Toolkit for Cultivating a Culture of Mentoring at Duke University. We were invited to consider how we could integrate these practices into the structures of our institutions, from universities to scholarly societies and associations.

Taken from the back of a conference room with two rows of rectangular tables with seven or eight people around each table. A man in a facemask is holding a poster in the front of the room while a woman in a mask is describing what is on the poster. The room's florescent lights shine on a diverse group of participants in the AAU Equity Minded Graduate Mentorship workshop. There are table tents with names, sticky notes, pads, and pens on the tables.
At the AAU/NASEM workshop on Taking Doctoral Mentorship Seriously in January 2023.

I was grateful to have an opportunity to engage in substantive conversations with colleagues from the AAU, NASEM, the American Council for Education (ACE), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), about the important role these organizations must play in making meaningful change across the U.S. Higher Education ecosystem. As we have increasingly emphasized in our HuMetricsHSS workshops, the only way to ensure that transformative culture change takes root and grows across higher education is to build coalitions within and across institutions and organizations with colleagues who are structurally positioned and values-oriented and who have an extreme prejudice toward action.

Values-Enacted Change

After the Graduate Mentoring workshop, I made my way to the University of Maryland where my HuMetricsHSS colleagues and I led a workshop on values-enacted leadership and institutional transformation.

A selfie taking by Chris Long, who is on the left of the image with Jason Rhody, Nicky Agate, Simo Sacchi, Bonnie Thornon Dill, and Xhercis Méndez from left to right. The day is sunny, and Bonnie is wearing sunglasses. We are standing in front of the stairs and white doors leading into Tawes Hall, where we held the HuMetricsHSS workshop.
Members of the HuMetricsHSS team at UMD in January 2023.

At UMD, we continued to refine the contours of the workshop we did at the University of Washington in December 2022. I tried to capture the trajectory of the workshop in this Mastodon post, written as I was returning from Seattle. It outlines the transition from identifying values to mapping positionality, power relations, and allies in an effort to make meaningful change.

As Dianne Harris, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, wrote in a blog post, entitled Continuing to Rethink the Academy in 2023, that workshop resulted in the identification of four concrete changes we hope to make:

  • Facilitating collaboration across disciplines;
  • Improving and making more meaningful the experience of serving as department chair;
  • Centering DEIA in everything we do across the College and campus;
  • Addressing rewards systems and structures — including fair and equitable pay to the extent possible — to better reflect what we value.

Dianne is following up on the workshop by establishing a cohort of Dean’s Academy Fellows to continue to build coalitions and do sustainable, intentional work on these four important issues. We on the HuMetricsHSS team are thrilled to be, as Dianne puts it, “partners in the creation of a community of practice that is committed to productive, thoughtful institutional transformation.”

A group of people in facemasks are standing around a round table with white HuMetricsHSS values cards organized in the shape of a tree with branches and roots made of values cards. This is a paper coffee cup placed on a round paper plate at the top of the tree with another round paper plate on top of the coffee cup with a set of values cards on the plate elevated above the table. A man on the right side of the table is pointing at the roots presenting the framework.
Tree Values Framework at the University of Washington in December 2022.

Following so closely on the work we did at UW, I arrived at the University of Maryland curious to see if the areas of focus for meaningful change that emerged here would resonate with those the groups identified at UW.

A group of people in facemasks are standing around a round table with white HuMetricsHSS values cards organized in the shape of a tree with branches and roots made of values cards. This is a paper coffee cup placed on a round paper plate at the top of the tree with another round paper plate on top of the coffee cup with a set of values cards on the plate elevated above the table. A man on the right side of the table is pointing at the roots presenting the framework.
Sunflower Values Framework at the University of Maryland in January 2023.

The three areas on which the group at UMD ultimately decided to focus on at the workshop were the following:

  • Professional Track (PTK) Faculty 2.0 – reimagine the experience of professional track faculty by creating a culture of belonging, pay equity, respect, and purposeful work;
  • Reverse Negative Enrollment Trends in ARHU – ARHU will become a destination for adaptable students committed to transformative change in an environment of wholeness;
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Reform – DEI will be placed at the heart of the undergraduate experience – a purposeful general education program will be rooted in a core curriculum oriented toward wholeness, meaning, and purpose.

It was fascinating to see how the results of the two workshops brought forward such resonant themes. At both universities, there emerged a deep commitment to creating academic spaces of wholeness in which students, staff, and faculty can be their best selves and do their best work. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Access, and Belonging were identified at UW and UMD as values of central importance to achieving the purpose of both universities. The equitable pay question that became a theme at UW found expression in the PTK 2.0 initiative at UMD as both universities spent time mapping power relationships and identifying allies who could help them redress issues of structural inequity.

The themes that emerged at the UW and UMD HuMetricsHSS workshops should be seen together with the equity-minded workshop on graduate mentoring sponsored by the AAU and NASEM as part of a growing movement across higher education toward intentional, values-enacted transformative change.

By the time we sat down for our debriefing lunch with Dean Shonekan, we were able to highlight these connections and talk further about the next steps she plans to take in ARHU at UMD.

A group of people site around a table at a capacious restaurant, with a multi-colored painting in the background on the left - it has bands of red, orange, purple, sky blue, and yellow in wavy lines that look like a winding road getting smaller in the distance. On the left side of the table are, from left to right, Simo Sacchi, Xhercis Méndez, Stephanie Shonekan, Nicky Agate, then on the other side of the table, continuing left to right is Jason Rhody, Bonnie Thornton Dill, and Chris Long. There are a few clean plates on the table with a menu and soft drinks, iced tea, and a few beers on the table. Everyone is looking at the camera smiling.

The existing work being done in ARHU around faculty workload offers an exciting opportunity to integrate the values-enacted approach and advance the PTK 2.0 initiative, which dovetails well with the existing Provost-level Task Force on Non-Tenure Track Faculty at UMD. We also discussed how ARHU can tie the themes they identified into the strategic planning work they are doing. Finally, we in HuMetricsHSS talked about connecting Dean Shonekan with Dean Harris to continue to build a sustainable coalition of partners committed to transforming the Academy through values-enacted leadership.

So when Stephanie asked for the origin story of the HuMetricsHSS initiative, it was heartening to realize that the coalition we began to build around a commitment to put values into intentional practice at the TriangleSCI in October 2016 continues to grow and evolve in ways I don’t think any of us there at the time could have imagined.

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