Leading Programs in Graphic Design


Observations and Comments on Leadership, Personnel and Operation of the Graphic Design Program
Each Graphic Design Department or Program operates somewhat differently according to the type of institution, mix of personalities, program objectives and working conditions. During my career, I have taught at independent schools of art, private and public universities. What is relayed here are recommendations based on my experiences, observations and opinions. While they might not apply to every program, it is hoped that they will provide insight into a number of conditions and situations connected to the operation of an educational program in Graphic Design.

Program Organization
The traditional form of Graphic Design program organization is a Department with a Head who is expected to provide leadership, handle administrative duties and represent faculty, students and program. In most institutions the position is by appointment, at others, the headship is elected from the faculty or it is a rotating position.

Liberal Arts colleges and most but not all state universities are prone to use other forms of organization. Perhaps the most common is to lump Graphic Design with other disciplines into a Department or School of Art under the leadership and supervision of a Department Head or Director. In these circumstances, there is no leadership by discipline; there are less faculty for each program of study and each one tends to be less professional with fewer required credits in the major.

Graphic Design programs must have a designated Head with specified responsibilities to fulfill the role of leadership. I cannot conceive of a program being effective without institutionally defined leadership.

Role of a Department or Program Head
The position of Department Head, Senior Professor or any other such designation defining leadership is generally regarded as one of authority. Speaking from twenty years experience, I would define the position as first being one of service. Service to the administration, faculty members and students. The role of the Head is to serve the various and many needs of faculty, students and administration. A primary responsibility for the Head is making decisions which are in the best interests of the program. The decisions might not be popular with administration, all faculty members or students. The Head must make the decision and accept full responsibility for it even when it is difficult.

The position of Department or Program Head is the least understood of any in academic organization. Administrators tend to view the position as the last outpost of administration and expect Department Heads to represent administrative interests. My view of the Department or Program Head position is that its primary role is to represent the best interests of the program, faculty and students, and it is the link with administration.

Within academic organization, I divide individuals into categories of leaders, managers, followers and independents. The latter might fit into any of the previous categories or function in different ones at different times. I do not believe that one category is superior to any of the others because all are required. Qualities of leadership usually are natural and might be roughly characterized as being forth right, respected by others, easily accepts or creates change and has abilities to organize and project. I do believe that individuals can learn the role of leadership. Those with natural abilities to manage might exhibit traits of paying attention to details, are more methodical, have a strong sense of responsibility and order. In my experience, followers are usually individuals who do not want the additional responsibilities of the Headship or managerial duties as they are committed to professional practice, their families or some other outside interest.

My observation is that administration most often goes awry when unsuitable individuals are appointed to a position, and particularly so when leadership is required. Managers seldom make good leaders; leaders are invariably boat-rockers in management positions and so on. However, there are many exceptions and sound appointments result from matching the appointment to the needs of the position. As an example, a Graphic Design program with an exceptionally strong faculty might benefit more from good management than strong leadership.

The leader who carries out the responsibilities and serves their constituents will be more successful over a longer period of time than those who view the position as one of authority. Leadership simply does not work when it is only authoritative. The Head consults, coordinates and facilitates program matters, keeps records, plans and generates ideas, works with administration and speaks for the program.

Effective traits of leadership are few and absolute. Leadership is defined as one who leads by example. An effective leader cannot expect others to do what they are not willing to do themselves. Being direct and honest are mandatory in dealing with faculty members, students and administrators. There has to be trust and respect. Procrastination, indecisiveness or avoidance behavior on the part of the Head inevitably leads to erosion of #confidence in, respect for, and trust of leadership. Openness and flexibility are related qualities; to listen is often more important to leadership than an ability to articulate. Secretiveness does not sit well with faculty or students and it is highly destructive to trust. A leader can make some unilateral decisions and survive in position. However, if the leader consistently makes unilateral decisions, faculty resent it and credibility for leadership is lost.


Role of a Department or Program Head continued >


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