single image

Pedagogo S3E1: Effectively Managing Change

With the challenges posed by COVID-19, the many socio-economic issues that are impacting education, and the advent of technology as an essential element of education, managing change has become increasingly important. Listen in as host Dr. Divya Bheda and her guest, Dr. Catherine Wehlburg, Athens State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, share insights and advice for becoming an effective change agent at your institution.

Guest Bio:

Catherine Wehlburg, Ph.D., currently serves as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Athens State University in Athens, Alabama. She has held other positions in higher education including Senior Fellow at AAC&U, Founding Dean for Sciences, Mathematics, and Education at Marymount University, and Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness at Texas Christian University. As a tenured full professor and former department chair, she has always focused on mission, student learning, and strategic decision making. Dr. Wehlburg has published many articles, books, and chapters and has always had a focus on educating the whole student as the essential role in higher education. She has been recognized for her work in student learning outcomes assessment by being elected president of the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE) and received their Outstanding Achievement Award. Her leadership has been called innovative and inclusive as she seeks to engage others in the ongoing discussions surrounding access and success for all. Dr. Wehlburg received her Ph.D. from the University of Florida in Educational Psychology.

Transcript:

Announcer:

Pedagogo. The show that brings education to your ears and meta-mastery to your assessments.

Today’s episode discusses change management, and the importance of building relationships across your organization to co-create effective change.

Pedagogo. Brought to you by ExamSoft, the digital assessment solution that gives you actionable data for improved learning outcomes. When integrity matters, ExamSoft has you covered.

Divya:

Hello, everyone. I hope you are as excited as I am for today’s conversation on effectively managing change with Dr. Catherine Wehlburg. In this season of Pedagogo, we are exploring big ideas and trends in education and change management strategies and best practices seem like an important topic to explore. Because now, more than ever, with COVID in the background, the current socio-political climate that is impacting education all around, and the advent of technology as an essential element of education, change and keeping up with change is becoming ever more important. You can visit our website, examsoft.com/pedagogo to read a little bit more about Dr. Wehlburg and her accomplishments, uh, read her bio in full detail, and to get her contact information as well, but here are a few key highlights.

Divya:

Dr. Wehlburg has served in numerous leadership positions throughout her career. She currently serves as the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Athens State University in Athens, Alabama. And given that she was the founding Dean for Sciences, Mathematics and Education at Marymount University, and prior to that served as the Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness at Texas Christian University, she is the right person for us to be talking to you about this topic. I know she prides herself on being student learning focused, especially taking the whole student into account as an educator, she grew up backstage at a university theater because her father was a technical theater professor and lighting designer, so campus and higher ed culture are ingrained in her upbringing. And personally, I have had the privilege of seeing her amazing, inclusive, and innovative leadership live in action in various fora, including at Texas, when I was in Texas. So welcome Dr. Wehlburg. Catherine, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Thank you. I am just so happy to just spend some real time talking about change and, and how we can manage change, because it’s such an essential piece of higher education.

Divya:

Thank you. So, given all the work that you have done around faculty change management and just coaching faculty through dealing with change in your leadership roles, what is it? How would you define change management or effective change management?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, when I think about change management, it really is included in those two words. It… you know, we’re talking about change, and how we can cope with change, find ways to make change effective, and do it in ways that takes actual management of that work so that it is intentional and it takes into consideration the culture of your institution, of the people that you’re working with, um, that is certainly inclusive, and, and is able to be a, an ongoing process that is dynamic enough to continuously move forward but doesn’t necessarily always get stalled so we’re never there. So, so when, when I think about change management, it’s both a process that occurs so that you get a change of something done but that it is also a process that is continuous and ongoing, because we really always need to be thinking about what happens next, and what could we do better.

Divya:

Right. And so it almost sounds like a little bit of continuous improvement and a little bit of learning to be flexible and learning to be aware of like what’s coming up in the future and kind of feeling ready for it and prepared for it and how you would manage it so that it-

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Absolutely.

Divya:

… doesn’t affect you. Yeah.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Yes.

Divya:

Wonderful.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And so, so there’s a piece of assessment in that, uh, with that, you know, continuous improvement, but then there’s also a really strong, um, recognition that, uh, every institution, every department, every organization really truly does have its own culture and its own history, and it’s important to recognize that so that in really good change management, one size does not fit all.

Divya:

Thank you for grounding us in that, because yes, I think context does matter, and you have just centered that in the conversation. You know, my follow up immediate question that comes to mind is, what experiences in higher ed, or otherwise, made you realize that this managing change, the change management skills were absolutely essential? If you could speak to it from being a leader as well as, as a faculty member or a staff member or just like a general professional, what made you realize that it was important?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, as you mentioned in my introduction, and thank you so much for that, that was wonderful and very kind, I certainly have, have grown up in a household that had an academic feel to it. My dad was a, was a faculty member and a lighting designer in a theater department at the University of Florida, and I kind of grew up backstage, but I grew up with this awareness that everything that we do impacts, um, how people respond to us.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

As an undergraduate, I studied psychology, and as a graduate student, I went into educational psychology. As an undergraduate, my focus was on behavior modification and kind of that Skinnerian bent that was popular back in the day, maybe not so much now, but, um, I realized as, as we were working with the theories of reinforcement and punishment, that it was really all about how we build an environment. And that whether I was working with pigeons, which I did in my lab as a junior, as an undergraduate, with my own daughter, or with my neighbors in the neighborhood association, or whatever, it’s really all about how that environment is designed and how that will impact what people choose to do and how they do it. So, by changing the environment, you can change how people think about something, you can sometimes change behavior in very good or bad ways.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, that focus on how we can create the environment I think is a really important piece of change management. In my first job as a faculty member, I was an assistant professor at a small, uh, college in Missouri, uh, small departments, small institution, we all wore lots of hats, and we were getting ready for accreditation visit. And this was back in, you know, the early days of assessment where this was new to accreditation, uh, agencies requiring assessment, and so there was lots of panic about that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And I remember as a very young, inexperienced faculty member watching faculty that I respected that were abs- and are absolutely wonderful, just kind of losing their minds over this idea of having to do assessment. I was an educational psychologist, writing learning outcomes and exploring learning and how people learn was nothing new, that was kind of what I had done and continued to do, so I wasn’t really… I was seeing a real disconnect between how people were behaving, because of this new accreditation mandate, and how I would have thought they would have responded.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, I got involved in the assessment piece kind of through that door because I was able to say, “Okay, let’s not worry as much about why we have to do this, but really, let’s look at what our mission is, how we are teaching our students, and can we change that environment?” And if so, we can do that at the department level so writing learning outcomes isn’t really as much of a threat as, as some people perceived it back then, and probably, to a certain extent, still do to this day.

Divya:

Right. I was just going to say, I wonder if our listeners captured the nugget of wisdom that you just shared there, because it was so subtle, that, that, you know, we should be doing accreditation work with the purpose of how is it going to help us and less so with a reporting bent in mind, because if we focus on what we can be doing to improve, then we are meeting the accreditation expectation, the assessment expectations that these standards have.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Absolutely.

Divya:

Um, so thank you for that. Yeah.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And, and if we’re doing assessment right, it is all about change. And so if we are looking at learning outcomes in a particular program and, and we ask really good questions, and we have, uh, a reasonably high bar set for, for what we’re trying to do, and we find that we’re falling short on something, our students aren’t learning as much as we wanted them, or they’re not performing to the level, or their, you know, their senior projects, or their graduation rates or whatever are not where we want them to be, that is exciting because that means we can focus our resources of time, certainly money, and other kinds of resources on those areas so that we can improve, because assessment isn’t going to be about maintaining, or not usually about maintaining, it’s about continuous improvement and looking at quality.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, all of that is really about how to manage change and that we are able to look at that as not something to be afraid of, but something that allows us to become better, and therefore becomes an exciting opportunity to, to really grow and improve.

Divya:

Thank you. You’ve already shared, based on what I’ve heard so far, you’ve said the key central tenets are, understanding organizational culture, understanding it enough to figure out what the environmental factors are that can be changed to allow people to be able to change and accept and move in particular directions or towards particular missions or visions or goals. Um, are there any other tenets or principles of effective change management that you think people should know about so that they can deploy it?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Absolutely, because I think that in order for change to happen and to happen smoothly and, and well, it has to be safe. We have to have environments where it’s safe to make a change.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Uh, I remember very clearly when, uh, a lot of pedagogy was about flipping the classroom or changing to active learning, and one of the things that we saw was that when, when a faculty member would kind of revise their course to add all of this active participation in, often, their course evaluations would, would go down, because students weren’t used to that kind of learning. And so, faculty who were up for tenure or who were looking at promotion did not want to try something new because it might mean that they would get lowered course evaluations, so who would want to risk that? Um, and the answer is, no one would want to risk that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And so in order for change to happen, it has to be done in a way that is going to be as safe as we can possibly make it so that it’s not something that is going to punish us, it’s going to be something, uh, that we can work with. So, it needs to be safe.

Divya:

I love that because I want to highlight your, one. Of your-

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Yeah.

Divya:

… so this, the idea of psychological safety and creating a safe space for failure to allow for innovation and experimenting and advancement, spot on. Thank you. Okay. And, and then the next one.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Well, yeah, so that psychological safety is a, is a big piece of that. And related to that is that often, when we change, we have to acknowledge that there was a loss. We are changing away from something, and so what we’re changing away from is, is no longer there or it’s going to, going to be different. And I think change management doesn’t work very well if we aren’t able to say, “Yes, this is going to be different. This is what you’re going to lose.”

Divya:

And, and sometimes we don’t even recognize the loss. Like we don’t even know what we lose. It’s just this intangible, like something is not sitting right and I’m not comfortable, and so then we move towards that discomfort or move away from the discomfort and then we go back to whatever it is that we were doing because we’re not comfortable being uncomfortable.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Exactly.

Divya:

Great point. I never thought of the last element. Yeah.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Well, I’ll give you an, a specific example of that. Several years ago, I was working in faculty development, and we were in the process of looking at, at changing and modifying and updating many of our classrooms. And we were going to move… and I know this is going to shock people… we were going to move away from chalkboards and, to have whiteboards. And the unbelievable discussions that we had because faculty were going to lose their chalkboards. Now, what they were getting was something that was better, that had color. And I, well, of course, there’s colored chalk, but, you know, with whiteboard, you can do so much more than you can with chalkboards, and they’re not as messy.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Um, but oh, my gosh, the, the conversations we had about losing chalkboards, to the, to the extent that for one particular department, uh, we kept those chalkboards for several years because to move away from them was just simply going to cause just too much of everything. Stress, problems, discussions, votes of no confidence, all of these things for moving away from chalkboards. So, had we better, done a better job of, of recognizing, “Here’s what you’re losing and here’s what you’re gaining,” so that we could have those conversations and acknowledge that loss, that becomes an im- important piece to that.

Divya:

Thank you for sharing that. That sounds like so many technology conversations happening today, right? In so many ways, as we adopt new technologies, what, what are we giving up? “I’m not comfortable. I’m going to lose this part feature that I really like.” It, it speaks so clearly to that, and, and that makes me think almost that maybe we need counseling and healing conversations about, “Oh, I’m giving that up and I’m actually going to miss it, and I’m feeling bad,” and for us to be able to acknowledge that from an emotional space rather than from an intellectual space.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

I think we do need to do that. We’re having conversations right now, on my own campus, about moving away from whiteboards and moving to monitors where we have the technology to actually draw on the monitors that can be seen more easily. And, and of course, we’re having some discussions about that because faculty don’t, now don’t want to lose their whiteboards, which again, I understand, that’s something they’re comfortable with, they’ve, they’ve used it, it’s worked for them. So, I think we’ve got to acknowledge that loss.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And another tenet to this is that, that we really have to think about co-creation, and that when we’re talking about change, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it doesn’t happen from the change management leader, or the administrator, or the, the provost, or the president, because in those cases, it will often fail. This has to be something that is truly co-created as we go forward in order for that to work so that it is, you know, it, there is ownership.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

I don’t like to use the word buy-in because buy-in kind of makes an assumption that you’re trying to sell something, and, and, and that’s really not what we’re doing here, but we do have to have engagement in the process so that there is ownership of that change and a recognition of, of why that change has to happen. And we need to build in some type of metric so that we can be open to criticism, we can be looking at this as objectively as possible, and recognizing, “You know what, if this doesn’t work, we will know it, and then we will go back to what we had before, or we will go to another option, but we have to see, we never have a change that is going to be the final change.” There’s always going to be a next evolution, a next version, uh, a new way of looking at things. So, it’s never going to be completely done and final.

Divya:

So, the key tenets are, um, understand the culture, understand the people, understand loss, understand that it is going to… there is an element of assessment, see it as an opportunity, and know that it’s going to be ongoing, have a backup plan and have a metric to measure it. Thank you for all of those key points.

Divya:

So, now, what you said about change management, that it has to be co-created, that everyone should be involved, it should be inclusive, how realistic is that because in most campus cultures that we have seen or that I have observed, um, there is always some perception, uh, among the general staff and, and faculty, that change is coming top down, you know, or, or someone’s getting to decide something and it’s being imposed, and oftentimes, the perception is that “This is yet another fad, someone has an agenda, this is not making sense in our world, and we have to go with it because we’ve been told to do so.”

Divya:

If you could draw attention to COVID, um, related, like all the changes that were made, and whether, you know, how inclusive like… and when you have such things like COVID, where you have to have quick change and quick decision making, how realistic is it that you can be inclusive?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

We’ve missed the boat if we, if we make the assumption that we can’t possibly be inclusive enough so we’re not even going to try, uh, which is certainly not what you’re suggesting there. But I think that we have to take a step back sometimes and recognize that because change management is a process, that it’s going to sometimes take longer than we might want it to take.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Now, certainly with COVID, we had all of a day and a half, practically, to move every course in every university to online in about a day and a half, and it was, you know, an absolutely crazy, crazy time, but the institutions that were able to do that more smoothly already had a history of talking about things like online learning, distance education, uh, HyFlex kinds of options, hybrid courses, so they already had started that process. And so for some institutions, if they were already fully online, they didn’t have to change a thing because they were already there.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, I think in a lot of instances, what we have to be able to do and what I try very hard to do as an administrator in an academic leadership role is to look ahead and see where I think there are going to be bumps, or changes, or issues, so that I can start having some conversations that I know are going to take a long time, and they should take a long time because they’re important conversations to have.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, to, to be more specific, I’m in a, in a new position here at Athens State University, and there are many wonderful things that are happening here and at other institutions as well, but one of the issues that I see come up again and again and again is faculty workload. So, how can we talk about faculty workload without talking about change? Well, we can’t, because unless somebody just gives us, you know, an unlimited pot of money to, you know, pay out of, uh, we are, we have tied faculty workload to tenure and promotion decisions, to rehiring decisions, and to the dollar amount that comes in through tuition or state appropriations or other areas like that. And so we end up in this cycle of needing to teach more and more and more or do more research more and more and more, and so we get kind of stuck in that way of thinking.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, in order to, to change that, we have to take a few steps back so that we can be a little bit more objective and, and we can really talk about it.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, one of the things that I won’t do, because I, I know this would not work, is to go in and say to my new faculty, “Guess what, we’re not doing any overloads anymore. We are not going to allow you to teach, uh, at other institutions. We want to look at what you do here and we want to, we want you to really be focused on your teaching, your service, your research, your scholarship, your mentoring. Uh, well, let’s follow that.”

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, if I said that to my faculty, they would say, “Well, how would you know how much I’m teaching?” “Well, I can look, I can, I can verify that you’re teaching this number of hours, I can look at yo- at your, uh, course shells, and I can see how ma- much time you’ve spent in there.” Let’s take that a little bit further. Suddenly, I become the time police where I’m looking at everybody. Well, that is not going to get us anywhere good, and we are certainly not going to have an open conversation about faculty workload if it is seen as just something that I am pushing on and taking away, um, the options for faculty to teach additional courses or do other kinds of activities.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, instead, I have to start with a conversation where I will often ask about, “What are the pain points? What are the frustrations? What makes your job more difficult?” And that’s been a conversation that I’ve been having, since I’ve been here, with faculty from across campus. And one of the things I’m finding is our faculty are exhausted. I mean, I think this is true nationwide. Staff are exhausted, students are exhausted, parents are exhausted, and what we are doing is not working. So, how do we change it? Well, we can’t go in and just say, “I’m going to take something away from you, I’m going to take your freedom to, of teaching an additional course, um, or additional two courses away from you.” Then I put the faculty in a defensive mode, and I’m removing something from them, and that’s never going to go well.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, instead, “What is happening? Where are your pain points? What would you like to have more of? What would you like to have less of?” So, we can start having those conversations about workload and try and keep the focus on workload, not on only compensation, even though those are certainly related to each other, but focus on workload, because if we can get to those kinds of conversations, then we can start to have other conversations to, again, keep it safe, acknowledge that there is potentially a loss or a perceived loss at any rate, and that it becomes something that is truly co-created so that it becomes something that we are all having a conversation about rather than, I’m looking at a spreadsheet, I’m seeing you’re teaching too many classes and, and being paid for some type of overload, and I’m going to take that away from you.

Divya:

You know, in this example that you shared and everything you’ve said so far, it sounds like relationship building skills or, or relationship skills and communication skills seem to be very essential to change management as well, because it’s all about managing people. So, would you say change management has a significant, like a significant portion of change management is also people management?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Absolutely. Because change is about behavior. You know, people are, are doing the behaving, our faculty, our students, ourselves, you know, because we’re in this context of our institutional culture, and we are behaving. So, if I don’t ask questions, if I don’t know what is the, what are the, the frustrations, what are the, what are the exhilaration of faculty, of our staff, then I can’t really start having a conversation about change. So, I need to be able to ask questions and share some of what I think and what I’m seeing, authentically and honestly, uh, but also ask for the same back so that I get also a sense of what is really happening, what’s working, what’s not working.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And so that building of relationships, that recognizing, uh, the difficult, uh, positions that many of our faculty and staff and students are in, uh, becomes such an important piece of that overall change management process.

Divya:

Thank you. So, what factors that cause change? So, in higher ed, um, I would say budget, um, maybe student enrollment trends, population distribution. Uh, could you talk a little bit about some of these factors that usually drive large scale change in higher ed, and then I’d like to get into more nuances?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Right. So, there are, there are so many things. We’re talking about the birth dearth, uh, that’s coming up, you know, that demographic cliff, we’re seeing numbers of students choosing to not go to get a, a college credential. They’re finding other ways to become credentialed in many situations through some of the, the larger corporations that are providing their own training, and we’re seeing enrollment, uh, declines in many instances, we’re seeing changes in how we budget and the dollar amount that, that we are budgeting for. And all of these are going to certainly drive change.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, then the question is, how are they going to drive change? So, let’s take a kind of a thought experiment here. So, I’m at an institution, uh, and we’ll just call this a fictitious institution, even though this is happening to almost every single institution out there, um, and we’re looking at enrollment trend declines over the last five to seven years. And they’re not necessarily steep declines, but they are definitely ongoing concerning declines, um, and yet our number of faculty may be holding pretty steady, and the number of courses may be holding pretty steady. So, this is not a sustainable model, so something has to change.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Well, we can look at that and say, “Well, you know what, we don’t have as many students, therefore, we’re going to have to cut your program, we’re going to have to cut the faculty, we’re going to cut the number of sections offered, and now we’re using, you know, essentially a big, you know, sledgehammer to make changes, we’re getting, you know, rid of tenure track positions perhaps, so now we’re just with adjuncts who are much more-“

Divya:

This is such a reality right now.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

It’ is exactly the reality right now.

Divya:

Oh, my God. [crosstalk 00:26:14] so many colleagues. Yeah.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Because that’s how we are responding. We’re seeing a problem and we’re coming up with a solution, um, that is not the only solution. There are other ways to think about that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, what we have to do then when we see these, these kinds of, of issues developing, and certainly, a lot of these have been developing for decades and we know that they’re coming, well, let’s sit down and start the conversations on how to do that. Can we look at the curriculum that we’re offering and streamline it some so that perhaps we’re not offering as many, uh, different options so that we have more students in each section, so that we are more efficient about the way we deliver curriculum?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Can we look at how technology can help us to do things so that we could have synchronous and asynchronous and we can have these options, uh, that we provide so that we’re bringing in as many students as we can to help our students… because most of our missions focus on student growth and development and economic and social mobility… so we can still continue to do that? And if we do that, well, then maybe the fact that, that we’re going to have fewer 18 year olds in the next several years becomes less of an important push, uh, because we have still a lot more students than we can handle if we look at our entire population, um, of adults who do not have some type of a credential and, and would like some type of a credential.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, we have to just stop trying to look at these outside influences as hurting us into a single solution. Sometimes we’ve got to step back and think outside the box, and we can’t do that alone, we can only do that with others.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, one of the things that I try and do is I get people together and we do scenario planning. You know, what if we were suddenly given a gift of 25 million dollars, what would we want to do with that? How might we adjust? Or sometimes it’s a, one that’s a more negative kind of situation. What if our institution suddenly, uh, you know, lost a third of our students? What would we do and how would we handle that?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

We’ve certainly been doing that in, in cases and scenario planning with, uh, you know, active shooter, and what do we do if we lose power, or there’s a natural disaster, uh, and, and we’ve certainly got those plans in place. Well, why aren’t we doing the same thing for some of these social changes? How can we adjust? How can we, we deal with this? How can we better work toward our goal?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

We do that in, in groups, we do that in, in, whether that’s a task force, or a think tank, or something like that, we do that much better. But doing that takes practice. You can’t just do that once and be done. And so having those ongoing kind of discussions makes people start thinking outside the box and it makes people much more open to the idea of change, because they’re talking about it and they’re seeing that it can be less threatening than they might otherwise see it.

Divya:

This idea that you just shared, Catherine, like I’ve never heard before, but I love it. Like, I hope all our listeners pick up on that and like establish a think tank or some kind of committee that’s just like a strategic scenario planning committee, as you said, where it is. It’s, it’s just planning for all the future scenarios, keeping track of trends, keeping track of what is happening so that then you’re ready, you’re ready for change, should it come and hit you in the face, like COVID did, right? So, such a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing that.

Divya:

So, then building on that, um, there is this perception among faculty, and I, I know I felt it too, and I still feel it as a higher ed professional, it’s this idea that when you’re in an institution, faculty, staff feel like change is always happening, like change is being forced upon them, and they’ve just learned a technology, they have to switch to a new one, or they’ve just like instituted a program and they’ve been told, you know, “cut it or change it or whatever.”

Divya:

And so there’s co- that, it feels like the, the change is constant and never ending and exhausting, and yet, like when we take a step away from, you know, as an ex- external person looking into higher ed, it feels like higher ed is archaic, like it’s not changing. The graduation rate problems that we’re having, 30 years old, still continues, pedagogy issues, teaching and learning strategy issues, lack of training issues, like all of it, overworked faculty, overworked staff, like all of it still feels the same. What is that conundrum? Could you explain it as someone who understands change (laughs)?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Well, and just listening to your description of that makes me just feel frantic, and, you know-

Divya:

(laughs).

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

… and exhausted all at the same time because that is what we’re dealing with. There is so much of that that’s happening that we feel we don’t have control. And that issue of control is a big piece of that, and certainly, we don’t have control about a lot of things. There are things… you know, the weather, power outages, there are so many things we don’t have control over. What we do have control over, though, are the conversations and the plans that we can make now for these kinds of things, and that gives us a sense of that control.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

The other thing that I think becomes so very important is that we go back to our mission, that that becomes central to all that we do, our missions, our history, our traditions become even more important when we are faced with, with so much ongoing constant change. So, looking at tradition. So, for example, we had our commencement ceremony for our summer students who are graduating, and there is something to be said about the pomp and circumstance of these kinds of traditions.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And many institutions have wonderful, wonderful traditions, and, and that’s where we need to go back to them, to remind ourselves why we’re here, why this is so important to us, you know, that, get that magic back, that spark that drew most of us to, to be an educator in the first place, and we need to not lose that. So, that helps us to keep some of these other things in a bit more perspective. Because higher education has gone through, as you say, change from day one. Any good educator doesn’t teach the same class, the same way, the same time every year, that saying that, you know, you never step in the same stream twice, uh, because the context is always a little bit different. So, change is constant.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Now, surely, people looking outside will say, “Well, it hasn’t changed at all,” and members, maybe of boards of trustees or legislators will look and say, “Well, your numbers are going down and yet your faculty numbers are not, and your expenses are higher, your revenue is down. Why can’t you change?” There’s validity to both aspects. Yes, we do need to be more responsive to change. Absolutely. We need to be able to think more, uh, entrepreneurially, than, than we typically have done, because the context is different. But as I, as I often say, if we don’t do it, someone else is going to do it for us and we’re not going to like it nearly as much.

Divya:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, I would much rather have those conversations now when we have a little bit of time and space to do that so we’re better prepared for when it actually comes up. It doesn’t make the conversations any easier to have. We’ve got a little bit of time, perhaps, we’ve got some space, and we can do that in ways that value the different voices, uh, that bring people in. One of the things I love about doing these, these kinds of task forces, this, uh, coming academic year, we’re actually calling it an Academic Council, and it’s going to meet every month, and there’s going to be some amount of reporting out, so everybody hears the same thing and it’s kept up to date, and then we’re going to have, uh, a problem or an issue or something, and we’re going to do some small group discussion about that so that we can start some of those conversations.

Divya:

Good. As you were talking, what, what it made me realize is exactly that, like scenario planning, that aligns with mission, that understands being responsive to the external community, I think, because internally, what we prioritize, we are pretty responsive and change oriented, but then maybe externally like and having that communication again is where then that change can happen and be more responsive to external circumstances and situations and contexts. So, thank you again for that.

Divya:

So now, if we think of faculty, so if we think of the people, you know, rank and file folks, staff, faculty members, non leaders, what are some skills are related to change management that, that need to be learned by this group so that they can thrive in higher ed?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

There are several different ways that we need to be doing this. One, is to be constantly communicating, and not just one way communication. Uh, there needs to be communication, uh, from… and, and I’ll use the top and bottom metaphor, even though I don’t know that that’s always accurate, but from top down and bottom up. Uh, we need to be asking questions and allowing for that two-way communication. There is no such thing, I think, in higher ed, of, of over-communicating, um, because we know that, that I… and I’m so guilty of this. I don’t actually read every email all the way through and then I’ll ask a question and somebody will go, “That was there in the email.” It’s like, “Yes, actually, it was. I just didn’t read it.”

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, we need to be over-communicating and open to, to criticism, open to questioning, open to other thoughts that might take us a little bit outside of what our, what our typical comfort zone is. And I think that we can model that, and I think we can encourage our deans, our department chairs, our board members, and our faculty to do the same kind of thing. I think we can do that with every single person in our campus community, from our staff, to our outsourced agencies that may come in to do, whether that’s, um, some of the custodial work or whether that’s some of food service, let’s get to know people and find out what their story is, what their experience has been.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, we’ve got to be able to have that sense of open discussion, open communication, and, and again, that safe space to have the ability to question.

Divya:

What about students?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Well, and we… isn’t it interesting that here, you know, we’ve been talking forever along, we’ve been talking, and students, this is the first time students have really come up in the conversation, and, and-

Divya:

When everything is central around them.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

It, and, and everything. I mean, that is why we’re here, is because of students, so how is it that we don’t include students more than, than we do? And we absolutely should be including students in many of these conversations. And that means not just putting them on, you know, the student voice on the board of trustees, or the student member of this, because then we get into some of the tokenism that we’re, in higher education, we’re very good at, unfortunately. “Oh, well, I did ask a student,” because the student was there or the student didn’t show up, so it’s not our fault that we don’t have the student perspective on that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, what we have to do, again, is create the environment where student voices are, are heard and, and used. We can do that in so many ways. We can certainly do it through putting a student on many of our governance committees, um, maybe not all of them, and that doesn’t always work because of differences in timing and, but we also can be getting the student voice through our many surveys and assessment data that we are, are doing, uh, whether it’s an alumni survey, a climate survey, any way that we can do that and take that student voice and make sure that it is part of the conversations that we have.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, to give you an example. My first week, uh, on the job here, we had a, a very important decision to make, and that was whether graduation, which just occurred, was going to be inside or outside. Big conversation as, as you can imagine. Historically, the summer graduation has been outside, we’ve got beautiful historic buildings, and it’s an incredibly gorgeous backdrop for graduation to happen. It’s also Alabama, in August, or late July, uh, very hot, very humid, and the chance of rain is very high. What do we do? How do we do this? And we were having these conversations and, and I said, “Well, let’s ask the students who are graduating. What would they like and what’s important to them?”

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And so we sent out a very brief, uh, three-question survey to all the students who had applied for graduation and said, “How important is it to you to be outside in this historic, lovely, wonderful setting, versus being inside, uh, where it might be cooler, but yes, in the gym, um, or do you not care?” The majority of our students didn’t really care where it was. That was not the important thing, the important thing was that they were going to graduate.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, we had a, a photograph taken of the, the, with the backdrop of the location where it normally would have been, which is, again, a gorgeous historic building with columns and it’s just beautiful, we had that printed on a, a vinyl backdrop, uh, that hung behind the stage in the gym with, you know, pipe and drape around it, uh, and we actually, on the platform, put some, uh, AstroTurf kind of, kind of grass, that when you looked at it, it was lovely. Um, everyone just loved it.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, we were able to make a change that referenced the, the history, that took into consideration what the students wanted, and also what our alums wanted, and what the families who were attending wanted. And so we were able to do something that ended up being a wonderful experience, um, and because it was close to 100 decrease that day, and we were all wearing our regalia, I was very happy to be inside in the air conditioning, uh, but we were able to do that in a way that no one felt that they were losing out on something.

Divya:

All the examples that you’re sharing are just, you’re sharing such beautiful ways in which people are included, the different participants who have a stake in the matter have a voice, you’re talking about relationship building, you’re talking about safety, you’re talking about making sure that, that they are sorted in, you know, in opinion or thoughts. So, just thank you for all these real world examples.

Divya:

So, if you want to be a change agent… so I, I’d like to switch gears a little bit. If you want to be a change agent, and you want to be a catalyst for change, and you’re trying to do that, and especially in today’s world, you can imagine, there are so many ways in which we can be change agents, uh, what would you say are strategies, um, to plant a seed, to be subversive, uh, basically, to affect change, what are some strategies?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, I think one is… and we’ve already kind of talked about this, is get to know people. Um, go out and meet them where they are. Um, when I came here, the first thing I did was meet with as many administrators and faculty that I could and students, to a certain extent, even though I came during the summer and we didn’t have as many students here, but I set up meetings in faculty offices, other places, so that I would go to them. Uh, you really learn something, uh, about, uh, someone when you see where they are, where they live during their work life.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

The other thing, I think, is that you have to have a sense of humor. You have to be able to look at things and recognize, first of all, whatever it is is not going to be the end of everything, it will be fine, that we’re going to get through whatever this happens to be, but keep that sense of humor.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, I’ll give you an example. We are getting ready for our kind of welcome back celebration for our faculty and staff, and so we’re having a New Year’s party, because it’s the start of the academic year. And what this is doing, when we get together, and we meet with everyone, we’re certainly going to have our state of the institution, we’re going to be talking about the kickoff of some of our new proposals, but we’re also going to celebrate the fact that it is a new academic year, and this is truly something to be celebrating. But having that sense of humor and, and being able to make people laugh and get out of their comfort zone, suddenly they see each other as a person, but it also gives us a chance to celebrate what we do really, really well.

Divya:

And, and you’ve raised both points. So, it is appreciating and celebrating and acknowledging what’s working really well, even as we try to make change, and then the idea of for- forgetting like there’s a connection when there’s joy and laughter together, right?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Absolutely. And so let me add one other piece to this. Not only do I think you need to, you know, build these relationships, and get to know people, um, and have that sense of humor, and try new things, you also have to be ready to apologize and to say, “You know what, this didn’t work very well,” and you have to be authentic with that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And I think that is kind of being open to criticism, having metrics in place so that you can say, “Yes, this is working,” or “No, this is not working,” and being able to say, “Let’s try this, and, and if it doesn’t work, then we will, we will change and we will do something else.” And I think that being honest and being ready to apologize, if necessary, is, is a big, big piece of change management and people trusting in that change management process.

Divya:

And that speaks directly to the safety part that you were saying as well, because if you feel safe to be able to make a mistake and say, “Okay, what we had wanted to achieve didn’t happen, what I aim to do didn’t happen,” then there is room again, to treat everything as an opportunity to change, right? And to, and to move something forward anyway. So, that’s, again, wonderful, wonderful advice.

Divya:

Um, what would you say to, to folks who don’t feel like they have the power to make change?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

I think we all have some level of power to make change, and it may be, uh, in, only in our courses, uh, because we are, uh, maybe an adjunct faculty member who may have very little actual power at, at the institution. We can, we can change our courses. Uh, we can change the way that we talk to students and invite students as, as advisees and as mentees. We can have that ability to have a level of change.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

When you kind of think about your own sphere of influence, um, we do have that ability to make, make changes and to support changes. Now, can we change our, our institutional structure and policy? Uh, may- maybe not, but if we can become more involved and more engaged in the conversations and, you know, having that seat at the table, uh, I think is, is a very, very important, uh, piece to that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

I’ve often found that when we think we need to be involved in a conversation and, and we’re not that we can sometimes acknowledge that to the figure in power, um, and say, “My voice is important and this is why, and I would very much like to be part of this conversation.” Now, the answer may be, “No,” and sometimes it is, but when the answer is, “Yes, you make a good point,” then it gives us that ability to be part of that ongoing process and be part of the conversations, and it helps us grow and learn with what we’re doing.

Divya:

So, so what you’re suggesting is, if I don’t have power or if I don’t feel like I have power rather than stepping away and shutting down, I, if I’m left out of some conversation, it’s actually to do the opposite of what we tend to do, which is we just shut down and we say, “Oh, I’m not involved in… you know, that is a ridiculous change, and they don’t know what they’re doing, and let me just sit back, watch, and, you know, see how it plays out.” You’re saying, try to be an active participant and try to reach out and say, “Here’s why,” and be open to the idea that you will get shut down, you may not get invited, but at least you have done what you could to be involved to make change.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Yes.

Divya:

Okay.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

There’s a wonderful story, Fred Rogers, who was of course, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that so many of us grew up watching, um, one of the things that, that he said at one point in time when there were a disas- he didn’t say this on the show, but this was in other kinds of interviews and conversations, um, when, when, when bad things would happen, um, and he would say, “Look to the helpers. Look to see who’s helping, and that helps us keep kind of faith in, in human nature, in our society, uh, in our institutions, look for the helpers.” And for me, that has always been, I think, a very important point.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

I want to be able to look and see who is maki- who is helping here? Who is working toward a vision that is in line with what I would like to see us working with? And I go find those people, and we sit down and, and we talk. Um, and as I was able to actually move from a, from a faculty member into department chair and into a dean position and, and now a provost position, I try, and again, I look for the helpers. Who is coming up with the interesting ideas? Who has tried something that maybe didn’t work, but who has tried something? Whose voice is not being heard right now that needs to be, and can I go reach out and, and invite that, that person, or that organization, or-

Divya:

That group.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

… that group in to have the conversation with, with us? So, I think we need to look to the helpers.

Divya:

Thank you. Thank you so much. Apart from everything that you have shared, what are some barriers that one should expect in a change process or in a change management process?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Number one, change is always going to take longer than we think it should, always, and, and we need to be able to be prepared for that and build that in. Number two, there will always be pushback to change, and that is actually healthy. Uh, as a matter of fact, it worries me when I suggest a change and nobody speaks up about it because I probably thinks something’s going underground then that I’d much rather have it on the table. Um, so, I think we should expect and, and maybe even celebrate pushback to change ideas so that we can bring that in into the conversation.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Um, the third part about, about change management, some of the barriers to that, um, is that it is never done. We are never finished. We may do a project management plan that is done, because we’ve got lovely milestones and a, a nice spreadsheet, and we can check it all off, but change is never done. And so we are continuously going to be looking to see what we can improve, what might need to be different, how the external influences are changing, and how we’re going to have to respond to that.

Divya:

At what point do, should people say, “This change is not going to happen.” So, when we think of social justice activism, when we think of people of color, a lot of times you are in environments where the, you’re the only one fighting against something. So, at what point can trying to push for change become toxic for you and how do we recognize that and then say, “Okay, I know I need more helpers,” as you said, “to help move this thing forward, or I need to cut my losses and find somewhere else where I can be this change agent and make a difference”?

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

You know, and that is such a hard question to answer because I don’t think there’s a single right answer for, for everyone. I think that is a, a, a personal decision that we have to make at a point in time in our lives, and I think that where we are in our lives will actually have an impact on when we have to walk away.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Um, I think, particularly about the, the recent, um, issues that we’ve seen with Nikole Hannah-Jones and the fact that she was offered a position, uh, without tenure, and it was an endowed chair position, and she was, um, not voted on for tenure by the board. Well, certainly, that is an opportunity for her to go in and make a difference and be a voice for change, but does it really have to be on her? And I think the answer to that is clearly not. And she made a decision to go where she was celebrated.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And I think that that is a decision that each one of us has to make and recognize that that is part of where our power comes from, is that we can choose to fight in some instances, to be involved in, in positive change, but when it gets to a point where this is not something that we feel we’re being effective and it is truly becoming toxic to us, we need to be able to have the power to say, “This is not my fight to have because I am not going to be effective in this and I do not want this to pull me down.”

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

And so her choice to move on is, I think, an incredible powerful choice, and I hope that if I’m ever faced with a, a situation, certainly, where I don’t feel that I can make that, make that change that is not worth my investment of energy, and, you know, blood, sweat, and tears, that I will be strong enough to be able to walk away and take my, uh, my abilities, uh, my gifts-

Divya:

Your beauty or, or power. Yes.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Exactly… and take that to a place that does celebrate and appreciate that. So, I think that is such a, a, a, a personal decision, uh, that we each have to make. I also think that as somebody who considers myself to be a change agent, um, that I need to be able to support that in others, uh, when, when I see that.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

So, as an administrator, when I’ve had faculty, um, come up and say, “Look, I’ve gotten another job offer, uh, and it’s, it’s something I’m really excited about,” I might be able to try and counter offer, but often, it is such a great opportunity for them and I can celebrate their success and the fact that they are moving into something better. And I think that some of what we can do is, is take that power, um, of ourselves to make that decision when it’s time to, to move on, and that when if we’re not the one moving on, that we can help to support the decision made by others in those kinds of situations.

Divya:

Catherine, thank you, thank you, thank you for such a rich conversation because, you know, it went from change management, to people management, to relationship building, to safety, to psychology, to inclusion, communication, voice, power, just… I mean, change, there’s so much to change (laughs). You know, the fact that you drew attention to all the important things, to loss, it’s just, it’s been an eye-opening conversation for me and I hope it has been for our listeners as well. Thank you for taking the time with us today, thank you for your wisdom, for your insights, all the experiences that you shared, and good luck in your journey as well as you continue to be the change agent that you are.

Dr. Catherine Wehlburg:

Well, thank you for this opportunity. I have enjoyed talking about this and thinking about this so much and I would love to continue the conversation with anyone who’s listening, so thank you for this chance, Divya.

Divya:

Thank you.

Announcer:

This podcast was produced by Divya Bheda and the ExamSoft team. Audio engineering and editing by Adam Karsten and the A2K productions crew. This podcast is intended as a public service for entertainment and educational purposes only, and is not a legal interpretation nor statement of ExamSoft policy, products or services. The views and opinions expressed by the hosts or guests of this show are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ExamSoft or any of its officials, nor does any appearance on this program imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent.

Announcer:

Additionally, reference to any specific product, service or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by ExamSoft. This podcast is the property of ExamSoft Worldwide LLC and is protected under US and international copyright and trademark laws. No other use, including without limitation, reproduction, retransmission or editing of this podcast may be made without the prior written permission of ExamSoft.

Sign up for resource updates

ExamSoft Exam Software