Invest in Your People

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This week, Ken Steele chats with Maureen Adamson, president of Fleming College, about how higher ed leaders can sustain a culture of innovation on campus, particularly by investing in our people.

“The most important thing” Maureen says, is to “give the gift of time” to front-line faculty and staff to reflect and innovate. “It can’t be someone in a back room trying to think something up.” We also need to invest in our people. “We want our faculty to be best in class; that requires investment and professional development.” It’s also important to bring in external perspectives for lectures and workshops, to help campus personnel “think outside the box” and “beyond our navel,” to be exposed to the many innovative ideas out there in higher ed around the world. “There’s a lot of fabulous stuff out there that is mind-blowing,” she observes.

Maureen has publicly committed that, even in times of serious budgetary pressure, “there will be no cuts to professional development at Fleming College.” Ken observes that it seems particularly appropriate for institutions committed to education, to also be committed to the continuing education of their people. “There is no evidence to say that cutting PD is helpful,” Maureen observes wryly.

From her career experience in the healthcare sector, Maureen has learned that research, whether pure or applied, requires some tolerance for mistakes. “We have to give people the opportunity to take a risk, and to make mistakes… That’s the only way we’re going to get to that point of innovation.” Between academic rigour and public-sector accountability, Ken points out, public colleges and universities experience a compound, cultural “double whammy” that discourages innovation and risk-taking, particularly at the levels of middle management and front-line staff and faculty. Maureen emphasizes that “it’s all about accountability,” and accountability frameworks need to allow front-line personnel to take some calculated risks. “These kinds of approaches are all hands on deck, and they’re very iterative.”

From her experience in government, Maureen knows first-hand that bureaucracy “is very risk averse.” Colleges are fortunate to be a few steps removed from that bureaucracy, and to have some latitude “to change things up.” Maureen believes we have to shift the centre of power to faculty in the classroom, and to the student experience itself. Finally, she observes, in a bureaucratic environment, even if people don’t want to hear it, “you always must speak truth to power… It allows you to sleep at night.”

Maureen Adamson is president of Sir Sandford Fleming College, in the region of Peterborough Ontario. She has 25 years of leadership experience in PSE, healthcare, government and the not-for-profit sector. She has previously served as President & CEO of the Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences and of Cystic Fibrosis Canada, as VP Corporate Services at Mohawk College, and as Deputy Minister of both Tourism, Culture and Sport and of the Status of Women for the government of Ontario.

A sincere thank-you to Fleming College for arranging the onsite videography for this episode.

Next week, Ken’s conversation with Maureen Adamson concludes with her thoughts on how to nurture a culture of innovation on campus by investing in our people. To be sure you don’t miss it, take a moment to subscribe at http://eduvation.ca/subscribe/

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