In April, Hobart and William Smith Colleges Professor of Religious Studies Susan Henking was named an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow for academic year 2009-10. The ACE Fellows Program, established in 1965, is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership in American higher education by identifying and preparing promising senior faculty and administrators for responsible positions in college and university administration. Thirty-eight Fellows, nominated by the presidents or chancellors of their institutions, were selected this year in a national competition.
Several months into her tenure as an ACE Fellow, Henking is gaining a perspective on the intricacies of public higher education administration in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), a network of 14 universities throughout the Commonwealth with almost 117,000 students.
“I’ve been at Hobart and William Smith for 20 years,” says Henking. “This is my opportunity to learn a lot about a very different place. As a faculty member, I think it’s my responsibility to be informed not just about my discipline or even HWS, but about higher education more broadly.”
“The ACE Fellows Program is the only professional development program for individuals considering academic administration that actually puts you in the real situation,” commented PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh. “With these positions becoming increasingly complex and stressful, it is crucial that we provide opportunities for Fellows to learn by being immersed in leadership issues. As a former fellow, I fully understand the importance of the learning that occurs by being involved and by observing a variety of leaders handle the myriad of problems that confront them every day. For PASSHE, the opportunity to have a fresh view on the way we do things is equally important. Susan has provided us with many excellent insights and ideas, so we, too, are benefitting greatly from her Fellowship with us.”
Looking at elements of higher education such as key leadership skills, the quest for equity and inclusion, and the ongoing impact of the current economic crises, Henking is examining the ways these “are related to the managerial day-to-day.” And, she argues, while we can learn a lot from the best practices of institutions very much like HWS, we can learn even more, perhaps, from institutions which are significantly different from us which was her main reason for choosing a system office rather than a single campus as her 2009/2010 fellowship site.
Henking hopes that through the fellowship she can bring back to the HWS campus “information about how a different institution (or set of institutions) seeks to connect the managerial with inclusivity.” For Henking, this conjoining of vision and management is particularly important as women make up the majority of college students – and the workforce – but remain underrepresented in higher education leadership.
“If we understand the landscape of what other schools are doing in these areas, we can do things better at the Colleges,” Henking says.
Peter Garland, PASSHE Executive Vice Chancellor said that “while the Program is designed to help Fellows learn more deeply about leadership in an academic setting, we are also learning a great deal from Susan. Her many insights into PASSHE issues, shaped by her background and experience at HWS, are proving to be invaluable assets as we deal with the many challenges we face.”
While the fellowship includes intensive seminars for fellows three times during the year as well as visits to other campuses and attendance at conferences, the main opportunity afforded by an ACE Fellowship is full immersion at PASSHE and mentorship from leaders there. At PASSHE, for example, Henking works with leaders in human resources, finance and administration, government relations, academic affairs, and, most crucially, the chancellor and executive vice chancellor. She has the opportunity to watch 14 presidents at work in a system, to learn from the Board of Governors and Councils of Trustees appointed by Governor Rendell, and to learn about issues as diverse as transfer agreements with community colleges, union negotiations, distance learning and collaborative programming across universities. And, she works with her colleague ACE Fellows as well – on topics as varied as financial ratio analysis and workforce planning, drawing on imaginary case studies as well as the real challenges facing institutions that partner with ACE to engage Fellows in exciting real world team work (such as Rutgers Newark in the case of diversity strategic planning).
“Personally, this fellowship is a real learning opportunity,” she says. “By the end of each day I have learned at least five new things.”
And, in true HWS fashion, Henking says she is “learning by doing, in addition to learning by reading.”
“We are very pleased that Professor Susan Henking’s leadership abilities and dedication to this institution have been recognized by the American Council on Education,” says Mark D. Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who nominated Henking for the fellowship. “Over the past two decades, she has proven herself to be committed to her students, her research and the Colleges.”
This year’s opportunity builds on Henking’s background as a leader at the Colleges as well as her professional association (the American Academy of Religion) and in wider arenas of higher education. A recipient of the Faculty Distinguished Teaching Award, she has twice chaired the religious studies department and for a time served as acting provost and dean of faculty for the Colleges. Among her publications in recent years are examinations of the relation of religion to higher education as well as continuing work to raise up the scholarship of teaching in her profession through the Teaching Religious Studies series of the AAR.