Plenary Sessions

The 2018 Leadership in Higher Education Conference Plenary Sessions.


Opening Plenary Session

Thursday, October 18, 2018 | 5:15-6:30 pm

Why Leadership Excellence in Higher Education is More Important Now Than Ever

C. Edward Watson, associate vice president for quality, advocacy, and LEAP Initiatives with the Association of American Colleges and Universities

There are a range of urgent challenges facing higher education today, including retention and completion, instructional quality, diversity and inclusion, and a range of financial concerns. These issues are now situated within a backdrop of increasing pessimism nationally regarding higher education’s impact on the U.S. as highlighted in an oft cited Pew Research Center study from 2017. This keynote will explore the most pressing concerns facing higher education today and posit key solutions for ambitiously meeting these challenges. Within the institutional solutions portfolio in indeed leadership itself. This session will revisit the narrative regarding higher education leadership and suggest elements of the narrative which should be abandoned in favor of core essential values and practices.

Learning goals:

  • Recognize the range of challenges present across higher education and persistent in their own contexts
  • Examine the goals and purposes elemental to their leadership style
  • Consider the adoption of new approaches that work in service to higher education

About the Presenter:

 C. Edward Watson C. Edward Watson

C. Edward Watson, PhD, is associate vice president for quality, advocacy, and LEAP Initiatives with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) where he leads the association’s national and state-level advocacy and policy efforts to advance quality in undergraduate student learning and guides AAC&U’s agenda to advance educational quality initiatives within institutions, state systems, and state-based consortia. He was formerly director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Georgia. He is the founding executive editor of the International Journal of ePortfolio, the executive editor of the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and has published on teaching and learning in a number of journals, including Change, Educational Technology, EDUCAUSE Review, the Journal for Effective Teaching, and To Improve the Academy, among others. Watson has recently been quoted in the New York Times, Campus Technology, EdSurge, and University Business Magazine and on CNN and NPR regarding current issues and trends in higher education. He is the author of two books, Teaching Naked Techniques: A Practical Guide to Designing Better Classes (Jossey-Bass) and Playing to Learn with Reacting to the Past—Research on High Impact, Active Learning Practices (Palgrave MacMillan), both published in 2017.


Dinner Plenary Session

Friday, October 19, 2018 | 6:30-7:30 pm

Seeking, Obtaining, and Surviving a Presidency

Will Wootton, vice-president for advancement and executive director of the Highlands University Foundation, New Mexico Highlands University

Administrators are the arms, legs, heart, and muscle of higher education. How do they succeed and how do they fail? What does the path to the presidency look like? Does the administrative process produce the best college and university presidents? And what can administrators at traditional universities learn from the path to the top at a very small college?

Seeking, obtaining, and surviving a presidency is inevitably a personal story. Drawing on the speaker’s experience scaling the administrative ladder at a variety of very small colleges throughout New England, this entertaining talk will share anecdotes and lessons that translate into a variety of different higher education contexts.

Learning goals:

  • Consider some of the historical underpinnings of academic leadership
  • Understand some of the issues facing academic leaders today
  • Learn about one president’s journey to the top job and the lessons he learned along the way.

About the Presenter:

 Will Wootton Will Wootton

Will Wootton is a 30-year veteran of higher education administration and a recently retired college president. Beginning as alumni and publications director in the early 1980s, Will Wootton worked for 28 years in three of New England’s smallest colleges: Marlboro College, 19 years, 225 students; Montserrat College of Art, three years, 300 students; and finally as president of Sterling College, the nation’s smallest residential liberal arts institution, six years, 125 students. Besides helping guide Sterling through years of economic recession, Wootton developed an integrated summer semester, creating a genuine year-round institution, and served a two-year term as chair of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges.

Shortly after retiring in 2012, Wootton accepted—through the Registry for College and University Presidents—an interim position at New Mexico Highlands University, as vice-president for advancement and executive director of the Highlands University Foundation.


Lunch Plenary Session

Saturday, October 20, 2018 | 12:15–1:15 pm

Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Cultivating Justice-oriented Leadership for Meaningful Institutional Change

Kris De Welde, director of Women’s and Gender Studies and professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology, College of Charleston

"Diversity and inclusion" as a guiding ideology for academic leaders is critical to embrace and yet simultaneously flawed. While the need for diversified students, faculty, and administrators continues to be imperative, and there are myriad benefits to inclusivity at all levels of academia, has "diversity and inclusion" become empty rhetoric? Drawing on Welde's research and experiences in various higher education leadership roles, this plenary will propose justice-oriented leadership as a strategy that can make daily life more equitable for institutional members, while concurrently forging pathways for meaningful and deeply inclusive change reflective of diversity. This session also will explore organizational complexities that encumber higher education leaders, particularly women and scholars of color committed to more equitable academic structures and cultures. Current and aspiring leaders interested in pursuing institutional change for increased diversity and greater inclusivity will be encouraged to explore justice-minded approaches to organizational reforms that reflect, support, and advance diversified bodies of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. With a focus on intersectionality, this plenary will present intervention strategies that serve to further individual leaders, while simultaneously generating opportunities for academic justice.

Learning goals:

  • Explore the importance of and shortcomings to "diversity and inclusion" as a guiding ideology
  • Learn about institutional transformation that cultivates academic justice
  • Understand the importance of intersectionality within institutional change efforts

About the Presenter:

 Kris De Welde Kris De Welde

Dr. Kris De Welde was born in Miami, Fla. to Cuban immigrants who fled the island’s dictatorship in the early 1960s. Throughout her childhood she was encouraged to always ask questions and not accept the status quo if it was harmful to others. While she was the first in her family to attend university, her parents instilled in her a love of books and words—both Spanish and English. She attended Miami Dade College, where she earned her AA degree, then later attended the University of Colorado, Boulder where she graduated magna cum laude with a BA in psychology. She continued her studies at Colorado University, Boulder where she earned her doctorate in sociology with a graduate certificate in women’s studies. Today, De Welde is director of women’s and gender studies and professor of women’s and gender studies and sociology at the College of Charleston. She most recently served as associate dean of university-wide programs and faculty engagement and professor of sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University. She has also held faculty positions at the University of Denver and Flagler College. Her research interests include intersectional inequalities in higher education and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Her co-edited/authored book (with Andi Stepnick of Belmont University) titled Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education (2015), received a 2015 Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title.