The Chair Academy

Worldwide Leadership Development For College and University Leaders

The History of the Chair Academy

Gary Filan

The Search for More
Prior to 1990, leadership training was almost exclusively reserved for executive-level leaders in higher education. With an influx of newly appointed mid-level leaders the Maricopa Community Colleges recognized the necessity to prepare these leaders for their roles as department chairs and maagers; to enhance their skills to overcome the many challenges they would face. With guidance from Paul A. Elsner, Chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College System and Mesa Community College President, Larry Christiansen, a select committee of leaders from Mesa Community College, including Jim Ferguson, Gary Filan, Gilbert Gonzales, Aaron James, Richard Malena, Jo Wilson, and Chuck Zontanos, began attending leadership conferences across the nation, looking for a program ingredients that might be embraced to meet Maricopa's needs.

Realizing these conferences were not what they were looking for, the group decided the best alternative was to develop a program within Maricopa that was specifically focused on department chairs at the community and technical college level. With the financial support of the Maricopa Community College District, the committee laid the groundwork for the first annual leadership conference which featured learning-centered concurrent and roundtable sessions, best-practice workshops, recognized scholars on leadership, and keynote speakers who knew and understood post-secondary organizational issues.

Creating a Relevant Leadership Development Program
The tremendous success of the first conference provided the committee a wide pool of ideas to draw from. The next step was to develop a comprehensive body of curriculum that would instruct participants in the fundamental tenets of transformational leadership. The committee sent out and collected data from thousands of collaborative surveys, focusing on four specific areas; the characteristics of the position, the responsibility of position, the challenges of position, and resource strategies. These results, combined with modern-day business and leadership principles, formed the basis for the first Chair Academy Leadership Practicum. The first pilot program took place in Prescott, Arizona during the summer of 1992, 48 participants from across North America were in attendance. The ideas and input compiled from that pilot program became the foundation of the Academy for Leadership and Development year-long practicum.

Building and Expanding the Academy's Brand
In 1994 the Academy began expanding across North America; the program, no longer a series of modules and keynote addresses, became a fully integrated curriculum presented to leaders by a cohort of academy Facilitators including Ken Robson, Helen Burnstad, Marilyn Rinehart, Bill Lamb, Al Seagren, Dan Wheeler, Mike McHargue, Idahlynn Karre, and Gary Filan. With this expansion in delivery, the academy also expanded its audience from solely department chairs, to all mid-level organizational leaders at the college and University level. With an uncanny vision and understanding of college challenges, Dr. Gary Filan, the Academy’s founding Executive Director sensed that in addition to program chairs, there was an emerging need to help organizations engage in succession planning at various levels throughout post-secondary education.

Dr. Filan realized that community and technical colleges across the nation had experienced an era of rapid growth and expansion throughout the decades of the 1960s and 70s. The leadership teams in place were maturing and would soon be moving-on at an alarming rate. As senior leaders (Deans, Directors, Vice Presidents and Presidents) retired, there would be a need to more fully prepare both organizations and individuals for the leadership challenges they would likely confront during periods of significant transition and change. Dr. Filan anticipated the need to prepare educational organizations for an era of significant change.  In partnership with Dr. Idahlynn Karre, he worked tirelessly to revamp Academy program material and create the kind of experience that would truly engage participants in the leadership development process regardless of their position or persuasion. By the end of 1994, leadership programs were prominently being featured across the North America (both the US and Canada).  In the years that followed the Chair Academy’s global reach had extended to programs in Guam, Australia, Europe, China, and the Middle East.

With the great success and growth of the Academy’s Foundation Programs, the question of “What’s next?” began ring around the globe, particularly among the Academy’s 6,000 alumni. In response to this call the Academy developed the first-ever Advanced Program, one that would expand on the fundamentals of the Foundation program, but would serve the developmental needs of more seasoned practitioners. In 2005 the Academy for Advanced Leadership was delivered in Phoenix, Arizona to an international audience of 50+ participants. The next step on the journey to helping organizational leaders adapt to the needs of the 21st Century was now in place.

The Future of Leadership Development
Throughout 2012, with the retirement of Dr. Gary Filan, the Academy has gone through its own period of transformation. With new leadership in place, a vision of the future to help guide us, a healthy appreciation for the fundamental principles of our founders, and the support of its long-time partners, the Chair Academy for Leadership Development continues to provide educators around the globe with the essential tools and skills intended to help facilitate their success as we confront the many challenges that lie ahead