Faculty Announce New Organizational Model

By Cassandra Latimer

Wilson College will be operating under a new faculty governance model beginning with the 2024-2025 academic year. Approved by nearly all professors after two plus years of comprehensive conversation and fact finding, this new model lays the foundation for Wilson to continue its evolution and growth as an institution.

The new two school model will be led by Elissa Heil, Ph.D., vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the Faculty (VPAA). In her new role as Provost/VPAA, she will continue to lead the overall pedagogy of Wilson. Individual academic programs will be divided into two schools – The School of Professional and Graduate Studies and The School of Arts and Sciences. Each school will be led by a dean. A new Dean of Professional and Graduate Studies and a new Dean of Arts and Sciences will report to Heil and assist with accomplishing the day to day operational and managerial tasks of Academic Affairs, as well as supporting each school’s degree programs strategically and administratively. Joshua Legg, M.F.A., associate dean of Academic Affairs and director of the Master of Fine Arts program, and Michael Cornelius, Ph.D., professor of English and director of the Master of Arts in Humanities program and the Master of Organizational Leadership program, will transition into the new dean roles, respectively, this summer.

“The higher education industry has been changing drastically, and our faculty have weathered difficult change with measured aplomb, equanimity, creativity, and collegiality. Their work on assessing governance and planning for a new model are no exception and demonstrate their willingness to evolve to meet the changing needs in higher education,” said Heil.

L to R: The leaders of the new two school model will be Joshua Legg, M.F.A., dean of The School of Professional and Graduate Studies, Elissa Heil, Ph.D., provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, and Michael Cornelius, Ph.D., dean of The School of Arts and Sciences.

Legg and Cornelius helped lead the assessment process with their faculty colleagues, which ultimately led to the governance change. Both Legg and Cornelius are pleased with the number of faculty who were fully engaged and involved in the process. Cornelius shared, “I so appreciate the openness of people. In the end, so many voices came together.” Legg took the observation a step further in relating that faculty embraced a “healthy approach to participating, and, that made conversations, even difficult ones, easy to hold.”

The current governance model, adopted in 2014, focused on academic divisions, and the intention was to reassess the approach and needs of the College after five years.

Unfortunately, changes in higher education, not the least of which was turning to remote instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and launching Wilson College Online, caused a delay in that assessment until 2022. “Recognizing how higher education has changed and how Wilson has evolved, faculty and administrators realized we needed change,” shared Cornelius. In the last decade, Wilson has experienced a steady increase in enrollment, reaching the second highest overall enrollment in its history with the Fall 2023 Census of 1,555 enrolled students. This, coupled with the addition of more online courses and degrees, and additional student experiences, has resulted in a need to rethink how Academic Affairs is organized to best serve students and faculty.

Faculty and administrators expect the new model to provide more professionalization and clarity around the College’s academic structure, ultimately creating more academic possibilities for students. Having two deans will allow each to be more present in the programs they manage and to play a part in deepening the relationship between students, their faculty members, and programs of study. With these changes, students can expect to have a more direct relationship with their dean versus the current model, which has the VPAA/Dean of Faculty
fielding questions and requests from all faculty and students. Also, students will know who to contact should they have questions or concerns.

“My hope is that the new governance structure (also) gives time back to faculty. They will have more time in their
schedules to connect with and mentor students, to advise clubs, find internship opportunities, explore new methods of teaching and sharing knowledge, and nurturing lasting relationships with alumnae and alumni,” said Cornelius. “That deep time with students is what transforms them. That’s the Wilson experience.”

Assessing the current faculty governance structure was no small task. Over the course of more than two years, faculty identified opportunities for improvement, researched models used at our aspirant schools, reviewed industry best practices, and entered into deep conversation to determine a new path forward that will better serve Wilson now and into the future. In summing up the assessment process, Legg shared “(At Wilson), we have a desire for a very democratic approach, to foster collegiality, and have all programs on equal footing. We treat people respectfully on this campus. We do that well. (We demonstrate) professional respect and courtesy that is
not political.”

“Wilson College is not just a name, it’s a feeling,” stated Cornelius. “The administration gave us (the faculty) the
freedom to explore and see where the conversation would go. …That’s shared governance. We are in our most democratic phase—again, that’s Wilson.”

For more information about degree concentrations, visit
www.wilson.edu/undergraduate-programs and www.wilson.edu/graduate-degree-programs

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