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Career Advice

Finding solutions for postsecondary staff: CHERD

Two-day program is geared for postsecondary administrators at Canadian universities and colleges


Launched for the first time last year, the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development’s program, Challenges for Post-Secondary Administrators in a Changing Environment, is back by popular demand. This year the program is being offered in two different locations: Vancouver, November 12 to 14, and Halifax, December 3 to 5.

Sheila Brown – a past president of Mount Saint Vincent University and now a consultant specializing in higher education talent development as well as a professional associate of CHERD – will be returning to her role as the seminar leader on both the Vancouver and the Halifax programs. She views the program as beneficial to a diverse group of participants, including those who are early in their administrative career, those who are interested in pursuing administration at more senior levels, and those who have joined universities from other sectors. She sees the program as a welcome opportunity for all participants to reflect on their working environment, discuss the challenges they currently face and share experiences.

Dr. Brown notes that the issues and challenges facing postsecondary administrators are many and varied. “We usually start off by spending some time talking about what kind of things people are seeing across the country in their respective institutions,” she explains, noting that the impact of changing demographics is one of the key issues facing administrators at the moment. The increasing participation of students of different ages as well as different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds provides for a more diverse student body and poses particular issues for university administrators.

There’s no doubt that budgetary issues and the after-effects of the recession will also be popular topics for discussion. “[Budget challenges] are always a major issue for people in administrative roles,” says Dr. Brown. “Not only balancing the budget but allocating monies in such a way that it addresses the strategic priorities that you have as a unit or an institution.”

Dr. Brown has also noticed concerns surrounding the issue of succession planning. “We’re seeing a lot of faculty and administrators who entered universities in the late ’60s and ’70s now retiring,” she says. “There’s a reluctance among some people to take on the administrative jobs. There’s concern for people about how their particular department or faculty is able to compete to recruit not only students but new faculty members and administrators.”

While discussion time for timely issues such as visionary leadership, conflict resolution and administrative law is built into the program schedule, Dr. Brown notes that participants are often keen to raise more personal on-going issues such as effective time management, conducting effective meetings, and dealing with the never-ending flood of e-mails. Consequently, the course is designed to encompass sessions where seminar leaders and participants can interact as well as small group discussions where participants can talk with one another.

The benefits to administrators of a program like this one are multifaceted, according to Dr. Brown. First and foremost, the seminar leaders collectively have a considerable amount of relevant experience, knowledge and tools that they are happy to impart. While the program is structured around a core curriculum, the content can vary a little depending on the experiences, specialities and strengths of the seminar team. “We consider ourselves facilitators,” Dr. Brown says of the seminar team. “We try to present some material to stimulate discussion, to respond to questions, and to get people to think about how they might tackle some of the challenges they face.”

Participants can share with each other situations that they have encountered at their own institutions as well as best practices that they’ve found helpful in dealing with these issues. “The knowledge that you’re not alone in the challenges that you face, that someone else is encountering them as well, can be very supportive for people who are dealing with administrative challenges,” she says.

Developing relationships with colleagues in the program can provide participants with a supportive network of people to contact in the future, whether to talk over an issue or gather helpful information. Dr. Brown views the opportunity to step back from a day-to-day job and focus on the issues at hand as another benefit of the program. “Sometimes all people need to solve some issues or develop some strategies is just that breathing space: to reflect, to share, to get some new information, and then move forward.”

For further information or to register for this program, visit the CHERD website or email Cheryl Dugray, CHERD Program Administrator. Email:


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