The Opportunities and Challenges of Program Administration
The number of programs in technical and professional communication has grown rapidly in the last decade, and to meet this growth, programs and departments have called upon colleagues – often those without extensive experience in program administration such as junior faculty and those not in tenure-line positions — to bear the responsibility of daily management. While other professions often provide structured mentorship and professional development opportunities for junior employees to evolve into leadership positions, higher education, by contrast, has normalized the practice of assigning leadership responsibilities upon those who might not yet be prepared either through training or with the practical experience and institutional authority to succeed as fully as they might. This is especially the case for scholars from marginalized backgrounds, who are frequently assigned leadership responsibilities in diversity and inclusion without adequate support and compensation.
This year’s CPTSC conference is dedicated to challenging this paradigm by welcoming presentations, panels, posters, and workshops on the pragmatic issues that program administrators face as they manage, lead, and develop their programs. In particular, we seek to create a dialogue among those who have deeper experience with program administration and new, diverse voices and perspectives that might suggest alternative perspectives for meeting the daily needs of program administration.
Presentation (Individual, Panel & Poster) and Workshop Themes
The list below provides topics that program administrators regularly face as they lead programs. These themes guide our conference sessions this year.
Assessment: Every program has some sort of requirement to evaluate how the program and its students are performing. What are the different ways that programs are assessed? What key metrics and instruments are used for evaluating programs? How can administrators argue for different types of measures and processes to better ensure excellent outcomes for diverse and marginalized students?
Budget management: Perhaps an area where academics feel least prepared—yet a crucially important one—is managing budgets and making tough decisions on what (and who) gets funded. What are the different types of budget models? How does budget intersect with scheduling and curriculum? How do you work with the college or university’s finance people? What arguments persuade upper administrators to provide more (or different) types of funding? What are the different funding streams available and how are they used to ensure a program’s success?
Building corporate / community partnerships: As a discipline closely tied to professional practice, TPC must engage with partners outside the university. What ways can we ensure our students have access to diverse types of experiences? How do you seek partners, develop them, and include them in your program? What are the limitations of external partnerships? What role should external partners have in curriculum and program development? How can faculty benefit from external experiences? How can programs ensure that we are building ethical and reciprocal partnerships?
Course modalities: COVID has significantly affected our programs, and students increasingly demand multiple types of delivery options. What modalities are best for what types of courses? How can programs concurrently manage multiple delivery modalities? What professional development do faculty require as they teach in new modalities? What audiences require different modalities?
Curriculum development: Curriculum is not static, and TPC programs often work to alter and improve their curricula through new courses, new emphases, or entirely new programs. What are the institutional processes (and barriers) to curriculum innovation? What types of courses should appear in a TPC program? How do you link new courses into existing programs? How do you build entirely new programs or curricula? How might curricula include micro-credentials like badges and certificates?
Faculty recruitment, hiring, and retention: Diverse faculty create the best programs and yet we rarely consider the “life cycle” of our faculty. What are the best practices for ensuring diverse applicant pools? How can hiring be inclusive (or go wrong)? How do institutional practices promote (or not) effective, ethical hiring processes? What practices ensure we retain, promote, and support all faculty in our programs? What is the value of retaining faculty?
Fundraising: Higher education budgets have decreased significantly in the last 20 years, and consequently program directors feel more pressure to raise additional money. What are the best practices of ethical and effective fundraising? What are the limits of fundraising? How does fundraising intersect with curriculum and external relationships? What are the personal and professional benefits of fundraising? What different types of fundraising exist? What are the university’s resources to support fundraising?
Managing “up”: Program administrators exist at the intersection of faculty and upper administration and frequently need to “manage” their superiors. What are situations in which managing one’s superiors is necessary? What best practices exist to ethically drive leadership support? When is it okay to defy leadership? When is it best to acquiesce to leadership to secure larger program objectives? How does managing up prepare us for future leadership positions?
Scheduling and course management: Programs offer courses, and those courses must connect specific faculty with specific courses with specific programmatic goals. What processes exist to effectively manage the complexities of scheduling courses? How can institutions support course management and scheduling? What key questions should administrators ask as they consider placing different faculty into different courses and course levels? How do undergraduate and graduate programs differ for scheduling?
Self-care: Running programs is difficult emotional work and requires that administrators consider their own emotional, physical, social, and career health. What are the key emotional challenges of program leadership? How can administrators protect boundaries? What practices ensure leaders balance their own career aspirations with those of the faculty they support? How do administrators ensure they make time for their physical and social health? What practices maintain relationships with colleagues who were – or will be – a leader’s peers?
Student recruitment and retention: Increasingly, program directors actively recruit new students, both for undergraduate and graduate programs. What practices ensure inclusive recruitment of diverse student populations? What challenges do programs face with retaining students once students have matriculated? How can faculty and administrators equally participate in recruiting and retention? What differences exist for different types of programs (e.g., graduate vs. undergraduate; department vs. program; major vs. minor or track)?
Strategic planning: Effective leaders have a sense of where to guide a program, and strategic plans provide one way to manage a program’s activities. What are the benefits and limitations of strategic planning? How can strategic planning build cohesion (or not) among faculty? What processes ensure inclusive processes for authoring strategic plans? When should plans be tossed aside (or adhered to)?
About the CPTSC Conference
The CPTSC conference emphasizes discussion of programmatic issues. The audience includes people with programmatic interests in technical, professional, and scientific communication. We welcome participants—administrators, faculty, and graduate students—from secondary, community college, or university levels, as well as representatives of industry.
For questions, contact Laura Vernon, Conference Committee Chair, at email@example.com.