Science Leadership Conference

To kick off APA's 2012 Science Leadership Conference, psychologists serving as academic leaders explored ways of advancing psychological science within higher education in a time of constrained resources and competing demands.

At the most basic level, psychology departments must know their budgets so they can make a case for increased support, said Camilla Benbow, EdD, dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt University. A surprising number of chairs and even deans don't, she said, but the only way to be a good advocate is to know the numbers inside and out.

The Science Leadership Conference included a panel discussion with psychologists who serve as academic administrators. From the top: Isaac Prilleltensky of the University of Miami, Dr. Valerie G. Hardcastle of the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Ronald T. Brown of Wayne State University, and Dr. Camilla P. Benbow of VanderbiltWhen Benbow chaired Iowa State's psychology department, for example, she used data to make the case that the university underfunded psychology compared with other departments, given its high number of students and the amount of external funding it brought in. Pulling data from many different sources, Benbow persuaded the dean to provide more funding.

"I could have spent a lot of time talking about how unfair it was, but when I put the data on the table, it clicked," she said.

Once you know your budget, said Benbow, you can come up with a plan to manage it strategically. In tight times, think about where the field is going and then focus on what you're good at, she said. Find a niche you can fill and make sure every decision moves you toward that goal, she advised.

Be sure to consider the wider context, added Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, PhD, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. Simply asking for more money won't work, she said. "Array your strategic plan as much as possible in the direction in which the college or university is going," she said.

In some cases, working toward a long-term goal might mean cutting courses or programs that don't fit your strategic plan, if only temporarily. "Pruning a tree makes the tree come back stronger," Benbow pointed out. At the same time, she said, don't just think about cutting. Finding new ways to raise revenue, such as developing a master's degree program, could be a way to "grow yourself out of" financial problems.

Get your faculty involved in making these hard decisions, said Isaac Prilleltensky, PhD, dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami. "Faculty members want to be consulted," he said. "If we invest in developing participatory democracy, people will come up with great ideas for new sources of funding."

A one- or two-day faculty retreat away from campus is a great way to get buy-in, said APA Board of Scientific Affairs member Sheldon Zedeck, PhD, adding that departments could also consider asking business school colleagues for help in developing an effective strategic plan.

Once it's time to craft a request for additional support, do it the same way you would write a grant proposal, suggested Valerie G. Hardcastle, PhD, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. When you write a grant, she said, you say you're on a fabulous trajectory and just need an extra position, a new machine or lab space to really take off, said Hardcastle. "You don't say, ‘If you gave us 10 faculty or a new building we could be really good,'" she said. "That's too grandiose."

Raising money

Psychology could also be more involved in doing its own fundraising, the panelists agreed.

That can be a challenge for psychologists, said Ronald T. Brown, PhD, provost at Wayne State University. "Psychologists aren't as attuned to giving as many other professions are," he said. "I think we need to develop a culture of philanthropy within our association."

One first step might be to build the required infrastructure within departments, said Kimberly Andrews Espy, PhD, vice president for research and innovation and dean of the graduate school at the University of Oregon. "Psychology departments generally don't have a mechanism for identifying their friends, cultivating relationships and then asking," she said. What they do have, said Fitzpatrick, are thousands of undergraduate majors who have gone on to successful careers — all of whom are potential donors.

Of course, psychology departments shouldn't "go rogue," said Prilleltensky and others, emphasizing that departments should coordinate their efforts with their institutions' development offices. And they should give potential donors a chance to be part of something grand, Prilleltensky added.

"Having an exciting vision is crucial," he said. "People like to associate with a vision."


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.