Association for Collaborative Leadership

The resource for collaboration in higher education.

President's Update - April 2020

Monday, April 20, 2020 12:43 PM | Deleted user

I hope you and your family are safe and well; we are clearly living in unprecedented times.  As we try to retain some sense of normalcy while reframing our priorities, I am thankful for this strong network of colleagues who so freely share ideas and expertise with each other.  I so appreciated the quick thinking of the Virtual Professional Development Committee to bring us together on a webinar as our institutions were making decisions to move classes on-line and the resource sharing that has continued. ACL serves to build connections and those connections can ground us as we chart new territory that we never asked to explore.  We are here to support your leadership as you provide leadership to your organization and institutions.

I am sure that you all share the feeling that projects discussed and begun in February seem like they were from another lifetime. My intent after the February 25th ACL Board meeting was to send you a breezy update about the great meeting we had with representatives from the Teagle and Alfred P Sloan Foundations, and our plans for the year. And while I still want to share those points with you, now in our “Member Spotlight” you will also find notes about how the highlighted consortia are supporting their institutions in responding to the pandemic, a query for support as we consider alternatives for our annual conference, and an invitation to help host virtual "coffee talks" to share ideas, questions, initiatives and lessons learned as we operate in this new reality.

Increasing Our Visibility

One of the priorities the ACL Board identified is increasing our visibility with foundations that support higher education.  With the generous offer from the Big Ten Academic Alliance, we were able to hold our “spring” board meeting in New York City and have Andrew Delbanco and Loni Bordoloi Pazich from the Teagle Foundation and Elizabeth Boylan from the Sloan Foundation join us for a couple of hours.

Key Takeaways from our conversation:

  • Theme of Higher Education as a public good is central to vision

  • Both have a strong focus on tenured faculty led initiatives

  • Opportunities exist for ACL to increase foundations’ awareness of who we are and what we do

  • We have some expertise to share in terms of how to facilitate successful collaborations.

We also spent time at the meeting reviewing our strategy map and refining our priorities.   We acknowledged that ACL has deep penetration into the known universe of formal higher ed consortia and that our focus will be on ensuring we are providing value to our members and being a resource for new collaborations that are trying to get off the ground. We will continue to look for opportunities to get the word out about the work we all do in supporting higher education. We are always cognizant that we are a volunteer working board, many of whom are leading one and two person organizations which are  representative of much of our membership.

We have witnessed an unprecedented increase in communication via the ACL Discussion List (listserv) the past few weeks, as colleagues seek community and aim to build on the work of their peers in navigating uncharted waters. Although ACL always aims to anticipate the evolving needs of our consortia, we would now especially like to understand the new ways that we can best serve our  members. Whether it be a webinar topic, a toolkit, a list of resources, or something brand new please let me know of any ideas that you feel might be beneficial during this time. In this time of separation, connection has never felt more important. 

To that end, we are launching an open series of “ACL Coffee Hours” available to ACL members. If you have a topic for which you would like to host a discussion with your peers – pick a time, email us to reserve the ACL Zoom, and send the announcement out to the ACL Discussion List. Our goal is for conversations to last about an hour. I have volunteered to host one Friday, April 24th at 10AM (EDT)- since this is the first one, it will be an open check-in to see how you are doing, hear what’s on your mind and perhaps generate ideas for future check-ins. ACL members can register here, and we hope you will join us. 

Best regards,

Claire Ramsbottom

Executive Director, Colleges of the Fenway

President, Association for Collaborative Leadership

Upcoming ACL Webinar:

ACL Board Member Elections: Nominations Open

The Association for Collaborative Leadership (ACL) seeks nominations of individuals from member organizations to serve on the Board of Directors, the governing body of the organization.

Nominations open today and close on April 30, 2020, at which point the Nominating Committee will review nominations and make recommendations to the ACL Board of Directors. The election process will take place via an online voting by ACL Members beginning in May. A list of current Board of Directors can be found here.

Click here to download ACL Board Member Qualifications and Expectations document.

Nominate Today!

Welcome to our Newest ACL Member!

Independent Colleges of Indiana

Member Spotlight Special Feature:

Two ACL Member Organizations share how they've taken a strong lead for their schools during the pandemic.

Great Lakes Colleges Association

by Michael (Mickey) McDonald, President

Founded in 1962, the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) is a consortium of 13 liberal arts colleges in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. While initially founded primarily to develop collaborative study abroad programs, the GLCA has focused its activities over the last few decades around administrative and faculty convenings, and faculty development in teaching, learning and scholarship.  The GLCA is also the founder and administrator of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, an international partnership of 30 colleges and universities advancing liberal arts education within the contexts of its member institutions.

Given that the 13 GLCA institutions are not co-located and that we have not had a history of shared services (like emergency planning or response, cross-registration, etc.), we found ways to support our institutions and institutional leaders during this pandemic based on our current strengths of convening and faculty development.  Actions we took included:

  • Compiling institutional responses to the coronavirus and sharing this information in “real time” with institutional leadership
  • Convening virtual conversations of those in like positions (presidents, CAOs, deans of students, deans of admission, CFOs, CIOs, registrars, human resources directors, admissions campus visit and event planners, and more) so that they can share resources, policy actions, change in practices, and engage in open conversations with peers about issues, questions and concerns.
  • Inviting faculty by discipline to join listservs or Zoom conversations to share resources and seek advice from each other.  This has been less well received we believe because (1) faculty are overwhelmed already trying to manage these teaching and life changes, (2) they have resources on campuses for taking their teaching virtual, and (3) many are connected through their disciplinary organizations.
  • Advocating for financial and regulatory relief on behalf of our institutions through national organizations like ACE and NAICU.

The Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design 

by Deborah Obalil, President & Executive Director

The Association for Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD) is comprised of 40 leading, specialized art and design colleges and universities in the US and Canada, as well as a small but growing number of international affiliates. The organization has existed since 1991, originating as a platform for the presidents of “the similarly structured art schools” to find peer support and a means for collective action. Over its nearly thirty-year history, AICAD has grown to reach nearly every administrative role within its member institutions, as well as some faculty and students through its regular programming and services including an annual Academic Symposium, biennial Student Success Conference, the AICAD Post Graduate Teaching Fellowship, AICAD Exchange for student mobility, a collaborative portfolio development program for students in grades 9-12, and numerous other means of connecting peers and sharing information across institutions.

With “connect and strengthen our member institutions” at the forefront of our mission, AICAD always has the needs of our member institutions as our primary guiding force.  This has provided us with the organizational culture and capacity to quickly assess the needs of our members during this unprecedented time and adjust our programs and services to address both ongoing and newly developed needs. Key elements of this response include communication, adaptability and foresight – not surprisingly all aspects of what our institutions deliver through art and design education.


Communication is a central aspect of what AICAD provides at all times, so we’ve simply ramped that up during the last month as COVID-19 has begun to impact all our members. Our existing listservs saw increased traffic almost immediately, with members knowing they could quickly access their peers in this way. For topics that emerged on the listservs where more conversation would clearly be valued, we quickly set up online web meetings for those groups and topics. In the first three weeks of the crisis we’ve hosted six of these “virtual roundtables” for groups ranging in size from a dozen participants to over 80. We do not record these roundtables but do distribute summary notes following, many of which have evolved into living Google docs that can be updated as situations change. We already have multiple virtual roundtables scheduled for the next few months as the rapidly changing environment is driving a desire to stay connected across our membership.

Our presidents especially have appreciated the connectivity to their peers during this time. We’ve held three conversations to date, and have settled on a bi-weekly schedule of virtual roundtables for presidents for the foreseeable future. As they work to address both the immediate needs of their campuses as well as plan for a drastically changed and uncertain future, having connectivity to each other for both moral and intellectual support is proving invaluable.

AICAD also serves in a limited way as an advocacy organization for its members, so our activities in this area have also increased during this crisis. We’re in constant contact with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) as the lead lobbying organization for private higher education, signing on to advocacy letters and encouraging our members to actively communicate with their elected representatives on various legislative matters. We’ve quickly and consistently shared news of relief efforts that will impact our members and directed them to analysis of any of the relief legislation to help them make the best decisions possible for their own institutions.


Second only to the need for communication in a crisis is adaptability. At AICAD we have quickly assessed the landscape and adapted both current and future programming to address the new needs of our members. We made the decision in early March to hold our April 1 Board meeting virtually instead of in person. We also drastically changed the agenda to address only the urgent business needs of the association and the concerns of our members in the moment. All other business suddenly seemed inappropriate and unnecessary, tabling many items for the future. The Board also decided to table the passage of our FY21 Budget. Despite being finalized only six weeks ago, enough has changed that we all concluded that new financial planning is called for.

We’ve canceled all in-person programming through the end of 2020. While this might seem extreme, we determined that, given the uncertainty of what our members face this fall, the only equitable means to deliver programming was to do so online. As a national and even international association, travel costs are always an aspect of our in-person programming. We expect that both personal and professional constraints may make travel not possible for many in our membership through the remainder of the calendar year.

Thinking more expansively, we’ve organized virtual roundtables and communications platforms for constituents within our member institutions we’ve never served before. The need to transfer studio-based, hands on art and design education to emergency remote teaching methods was a new challenge for faculty and curriculum leaders across our membership. Instead of saying, “we don’t serve them,” AICAD immediately rose to the challenge and convened more than 80 department and division leaders in a virtual roundtable and ongoing online conversation. Many of the ideas and resources shared in that forum became the basis for a compiled Tips for Teaching Art & Design Online that we’ve widely shared beyond our membership, recognizing that faculty in these fields could benefit regardless of where they teach.

Lastly, we’ve adapted a core capacity of the organization – research and data collection – to serve our members’ most immediate needs. We’ve pressed pause on all regular, in-process internal data collection efforts to relieve our members from completing any data reporting not tied to urgent needs. We’ve coordinated with any 3rd party research efforts in which our members participate as a cohort (e.g NSSE) to address implementation disruptions and ensure cohort reporting can be fulfilled in a flexible fashion. We’ve refocused our research staff on collecting information that matters now and providing regular updates to those compilations.


Lastly, to provide leadership for our members and ensure effective future operations of AICAD, I’ve turned much of my energy now as a leader on envisioning various future scenarios for our membership and the association.  There is no returning back to what was considered normal prior to this crisis, even after the immediate health and economic threats have dissipated.  On the positive side, we will all be more comfortable and adept at using online tools for learning and communication. While I don’t believe it will completely replace the need for in-person opportunities to connect, I do think we’ll be better positioned to offer a mix of online and in-person programs and services that is more expansive than what we previously offered as an association.  I’m sure many other new realities will emerge in the coming months, and while none of us can truly see the future, I aim to be as prepared as possible in leading my organization and our members to meet those new challenges.

Serve ACL: Help Reimagine the ACL Annual Conference

The insight and experience of ACL members are our greatest assets. If you have insights about or experience in executing inventive, engaging programming at a distance, please join the Annual Conference Committee today. We also welcome any members eager to research and develop both the format and content of this event.  Help ACL: Please email with subject line "ACL Skunkworks" to register your interest. 

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