TO: Employee-News

FROM: Dr. Melik Peter Khoury

DATE: September 2, 2015

SUBJECT: Functional Leadership in Abundance


Dear Colleagues,

I promised at professional development day that I will follow up in writing what was presented.  More importantly, please use this document as a start to our 3-year process to successfully implement our strategic plan Goals & Objectives.  Let me say once more that I am honored and humbled that the Unity College community has seen fit to entrust me with the interim Presidency of Unity College upon Dr. Mulkey’s retirement from Unity College.

Until his departure I look forward to working with President Mulkey who has helped us establish an inspiring vision for this institution.  That vision finds operational expression in the Unity College strategic plan, a document drafted by representatives of every constituency, ratified by the Board of Trustees, and operationalized by Senior Staff.  My primary charge as Executive Vice President, CFO, CAO, and President-Elect is to help this community realize the strategic plan.

Unity College was started fifty years ago by a community with a dream.  Thinking of our college founders and pioneer students—those who were called to “Help us build a college”—I can’t help but be reminded of the shopworn quote from Thoreau, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”  The quote is overused, but Unity College is a castle in the air if ever there was one.

The founders, pioneers, and first fifty years of the Unity College community have built a castle in the air.  President Mulkey has helped us draft the blueprint and lay a strong foundation.  It is up to us to now raise the structural framework from inside the existing castle and complete the build out.

I’m writing today to outline the plan and approach to organizational structure at Unity College.  If you attended the strategic priorities session during the State of the College professional development day, you heard most of this.

As you’ve heard me say many times, Higher Education cannot afford to continue business-as-usual, and Unity College’s bold strategic plan isn’t a business-as-usual set of initiatives.   A bold college vision deserves a responsible, yet fresh, approach to administration.  Unity deserves an approach that honors legacy and still looks forward.  Unity deserves an approach that values community input and trusts individuals to do their jobs.  Unity deserves an approach that celebrates our values and values progress.

Leadership Approach

Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  What works at one institution and with one group may not work with another.  What works at one time will fail at another.  Before we get to the details, let me mention a few things that I believe we need to make leadership work for this college at this point in Unity College’s maturation as an institution.

Unity College needs personnel with access to information and to decision-makers.  Our new administrative structure may end up being less vertical and flatter than we’re used to, but horizontal elements will allow day-to-day realities to better influence strategic decisions.  One-on-one relationships among students, faculty, and staff are central to the Unity College value proposition.  A flatter organization helps establish students at the heart of the community and keeps executive administration closer to that heart.  A flatter organization makes sure that there are opportunities to develop leadership at all levels of the organization.  Unity needs more leaders, more access to leaders, and clearer paths to leadership.  For faculty, for staff, and for students.  Unity needs leadership in abundance.

Unity College needs empowered and accountable leadership.  Functional leadership is an established approach that leans heavily on a team of mutually invested senior leaders and that we will apply at Unity College.  In terms of the organizational chart you may not notice much of a difference, but a senior level team will share overall responsibility for meeting strategic institutional goals, establishing campus culture, managing risk, and most importantly, stewarding the mission of the college.

Within the senior leadership team individuals will be required to serve as first among equals or chief officer in their given area of primary responsibility.  In a functional leadership setting, an individual’s capacity to serve will, at times, seem to stretch the boundaries of a strict job description in order to place project and need above reporting structure.  As for departments and offices, they will continue to report to a single senior leader.  Individuals within departments will have clear job descriptions but be expected to participate in project teams when a project requires their particular capacity.

Unity College needs to pay attention to our institutional culture.  Ask anyone: one of the most important aspects of Unity College is its community.  Its people.  Us.  The kind of movement that we have experienced over the last few years—even though positive—takes a lot out of a community.  Challenge and change brings out the best, and sometimes the worst, in a community and a culture.  One of the objectives of this administration will be to engage in an appreciative study of and investment in the Unity College culture and community.  We need to grow our resilience as a community in order to finish what we have begun and prepare for success over the next fifty years.

Functional leadership, horizontal structures, leadership in abundance, first among equals, culture management—These are principles I’ve applied and experienced here and at other institutions, but I am not sure that exactly this combination of leadership values has ever been tried before.  That, in itself, is exciting.  Here’s a summary that helps me.

Unity requires functional leadership in abundance.

Unity College is poised for good things—hopefully great things—but only if we identify the work, engage and trust each other, and remember why we’re here.  Unity requires that everyone stays connected to a single purpose.  Unity requires everyone to do their part, trust that others will do theirs, and have opportunities to lead.  Unity requires that we all make a commitment to the success of this small, but increasingly important, institution.

Administrative Structure

In the spirit of functional leadership in abundance, the new Unity College organizational structure is based on functionality and driven by data.  Several chief officers serve as the senior leadership team and will have first-among-equals responsibility in their area of focus.  Everyone on campus will report, ultimately, to one of several chief officers from within departments.  But those departments might look pretty different by the time we’re done.  And some folks will take the opportunity to embrace a new or modified role at the college.

So how do we realize functional leadership in abundance?  How do we establish chief officers, reorganize, and refresh our jobs while getting our day-to-day work done?  We will advance along the following steps, and progress will require some flexibility.

Step One: Identify chief officers.  The plan for chief officers includes their titles, functions, and job descriptions; and is largely complete.  An outline version of that plan is included in the section below—the one regarding the chief officers and their core functions.  Chief officers will be identified through a combination of interim appointments (internal or external), internal appointments, internal searches, and external searches.  Once assembly of the chief officer team reaches a point of critical mass, the team will work together to begin to work with others to organize functions into departments and departments into people.

Step Two: Establish functional groupings into departments and offices.  Sr. Staff worked over the summer on a functional analysis of Unity College.  Each member of Sr. Staff with managerial responsibilities completed a matrix that identifies core areas of responsibility and the work necessary to complete those tasks. The result of the summer project is a set of data that will be instrumental for this step in our process.  Chief officers will work together to look for opportunities for mutual support, improved workflow, and amplification of resources before assigning departmental boundaries.  The work has to get done, and we will always need our people to do it.  But if we do our job well we will surprise ourselves and the structure at Unity College will look a little different after we’re done.  At the close of this phase departments and offices will be established within chief officer responsibility areas, then we will move on to locating individuals.

Step Three: Location of individuals. Unity College is home to a widely talented group of employees and this will be our chance to refresh roles and job descriptions.  In this phase chief officers will discuss with individuals how their own goals and abilities best serve Unity College within the new configuration. Not everyone’s job description will change much or at all. Where it does, and when necessary, professional development and training will be provided to ensure that competencies match need and individuals have opportunities for growth.  The effective assignment of talent to task is at the heart of the functional approach to institutional structure and personal professional satisfaction, so it is important to revisit job descriptions, departmental reporting lines, roles, and available trainings—whether or not major change happens at this level.

Step Four: Institutional Committee and Policy Review.  As a functional approach to leadership in abundance takes root, we will likely find that our current institutional committee structure and policies no longer serve as well as they did a few months ago.  As need emerges, we will bring proposed committee changes to Sr. Staff for review and vote.  Institutional policies go through the College Policies and Processes Committee.

Senior Leadership Team

A note about chief officers:  The language of “chief officer” is familiar to us in the form of “Chief Academic Officer” and “Chief Financial Officer.”  But just to be clear, chief officer is not a rank it is a role.  Our leadership team may have, for example, a dean working with a director as first among equals.  Different rank, parallel role.  In addition, Unity College will also have a chief of staff who will serve as an extension of my office and coordinate among the other chief officers.

The senior leadership team will initially consist of around ten chief officers.  That number may decrease over time as the institution grows, the strategic plan becomes a reality, and systems emerge.  It may expand if contingencies require it.  Chief officer roles might be combined or split.  As the senior leadership team, all chief officers will report directly to the Executive Vice President.  After January 3 chief officers will report to the interim President.

Here is an overview (in no particular order) of senior leadership and an idea of their individual responsibilities. What follows is a blueprint.  Job descriptions, and even positions, will evolve as human resources are added and our strengths and needs become clearer (subject to change).

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like revenue, recruitment, traditional marketing functions, market research and planning, and new market development.

Chief Student Success Officer (CSSO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like student success and retention, persistence and graduation, student support, academic support, and co-curricular living and learning.

Chief Academic Officer (CAO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like curriculum, faculty, accreditation, distance education, and academic administration.

Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like relationships with environmental partners, reporting on sustainability and environmental initiatives, campus sustainability education and information, departmental compliance, participating in campus planning, and strategic sustainability initiatives.

Chief Facilities Management Officer (CFMO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like physical plant planning and maintenance, campus beautification and landscaping, real estate management, custodial, energy and utilities, physical asset maintenance, and construction and renovation.

Chief Information Officer (CIO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like technology infrastructure, data management, institutional research and reporting, institutional effectiveness, instructional technology.

Chief Finance Officer (CFO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like the budgeting process, financial management, financial planning, auxiliary services, institutional risk management, and emergency preparedness.

Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and Human Resources Officer (CDIHRO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like human resources, institutional culture, professional development, personnel compliance, community relations, morale, and maintaining a positive campus culture.

Chief of Staff (CoS) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like coordination of senior leadership, strategic plan management, support for EVP/CAO, strategic projects, partnership development, and new business development.

Chief Fundraising Officer (CFO) will be the first-amongst-equals for functions like alumni relations, major donors, annual fund and other giving programs, and donor relationship management.

Academic Administration Process and Parameters

At the most recent professional development days the faculty showed support for engaging in a process of renewal.  While I understand that decisions regarding institutional organization fall into administrative purview, I also believe in the importance of participation and stakeholder input, therefore we will be pursuing a design process over the fall semester that will end in feedback by faculty and a decision by me.

Academic Leadership Team

One of my first steps this summer in developing leadership in abundance was to reconvene the former center directors working group as the Academic Leadership Team (ALT – formal charge/role/scope/membership to be finalized  at next Senior Staff Meeting which I will share with you) with a slightly reconfigured membership.  

The ALT moving forward will be comprised of a core team of the Center Directors with the CAO as well as the Registrar, Faculty Moderator, Chair of the Academic Regulations Committee, and Chair of Faculty Planning Committee.  The Core team will meet weekly but alternate business meeting weeks with the expanded strategic meeting members.

One of our first orders of business this fall will be to work with the Academic Leadership Team to draft and solicit feedback from faculty regarding a revised academic administrative structure.  Draft plans will be presented at Faculty Meeting for feedback in time for my December decision.  Implementation will begin in Spring Semester, with full implementation by next fall at the latest. Minutes will be made available weekly once adopted.

Parameters and Process for Academic Administration Restructure

The leadership and structural principles outlined above in regard to institutional administrative structure also apply within the area of academic administration, although academic administrative restructuring will take its own path.  New structures will be designed to establish functional leadership in abundance in academic administration at Unity College.  After initial analysis of our adjunct budget, overloads, course releases, and stipends, I am certain that we can realize structural renewal with minimal additional resources.

What will the new academic administrative structure look like? I am open and honestly excited to see what we come up with together.  I do have some expectations and parameters that I should outline as we begin.

I anticipate that we will end our design process in December with a plan for multiple academic centers that are organized around environmental issues, big questions, select populations, or on some other basis.  However we reorganize we should not simply recast ourselves around major degree programs.

One unit will likely be integrative in nature: focused on across-the-curriculum and foundational learning programs.  It should include all curricular elements that are broadly institutional in nature or that have their primary focus on the first two years (Management Across the Curriculum; Honors Program; Undergraduate Research, etc. (please note that these items are mere examples and might not be exclusive to the first two years or even make the cut).  As a faculty, we agree: we must facilitate participation between Centers and this may be the way to do it.

Further, academic personnel must be empowered to work with the Chief Academic Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Student Success Officer, and others to integrate curricular, co-curricular, and residential components into a transformative and developmentally-differentiated living and learning experience—all within the educational framework of sustainability science.

The goal, then, is to create an academic administrative structure that 1) ensures proper administration of educational programs and personnel, 2) facilitates, rather than limits, working across organizational units, 3) advances strategic priorities–especially the transformation of the foundational college experience, and 4) provides opportunities for functional leadership in abundance.  

As for procedure, we will realize a new structural design through a process that 1) recognizes the relevance and authority of existing governance structures, 2) is efficient (yields a result by early December), 3) and includes stakeholder input.

As we work toward leadership in abundance we will be creating paths to leadership for faculty who wish to participate.  Not all will.  Some will focus on research, some on teaching.  But some will wish to make institutional service through administration a centerpiece of their Unity College portfolio.

Program coordinators, directors, and deans will likely make up the administrative leadership opportunities for faculty.  These faculty administrative opportunities will complement those offered to staff through the new institutional structures and process outlined above.  I will be working with the Center Directors to outline the responsibilities and draft job descriptions for faculty administration positions over the coming weeks.

As with institutional changes, it will likely be necessary to complete some adjustments to college policies and change or create job descriptions to reflect any academic administrative changes adopted.  We will create job descriptions for all positions, adjust those that need adjustment, and develop changes to policy where it makes sense to do so and according to process.

Beyond the Details

The steps outlined above may seem technical and boring to some—I admit, I love this stuff.  My intent is not to bore you or overwhelm you with details.  My purpose here is to invite you to focus and engage with me on building our human and organizational infrastructure, and to do so even as we begin in earnest on some of our priority initiatives and continue our good work on others.  If we work together, I believe we will quickly begin to realize the value of good organizational infrastructure.

Friends and colleagues, I am excited to work with this community of learners, scholars, teachers, problem-solvers, supporters, and environmentally minded individuals, and I am excited to be here at this time in the college’s history.

I believe that in the next ten years higher education will be characterized by change resulting from market pressures and opportunities—many of which we have just begun to realize.  I believe that Unity College is differently (if not uniquely) prepared to do more than just weather the storm.  This college is, in my opinion, prepared to ride the waves and wind to a new place for higher education.

Unity’s distinctive mission has never been more relevant.  Our marketing is crisp and getting crisper.  We have leadership that is willing to invest in future-proofing this important college.  We have a committed staff, faculty and student body the likes I have never seen before.  If anyone can flourish in the current higher education environment, it’s Unity College.

Let’s flourish together.  In Unity,

Ps: Please excuse acronyms, jargon, & lingo that might not jive with your lexicon. My intent is merely to communicate and inform.


Dr. Melik Peter Khoury

Executive Vice President, CAO, CFO &

Liaison to the Board of Trustees

Unity College

Office: 207-509-7144

“Integrity, by its very existence, rekindles the belief that as a people we can live above the level of moral squalor. We need that belief; as a cynical community is a corrupt community.” John  Gardner