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The cultural contradictions of American education

The privilege of serving doctoral students

Wku graduation
Earlier this week, my friend, mentor, and supervisor, Dr. Marguerita DeSander, director of the School of Leadership and Professional Studies, announced my appointment as new director of the Educational Leadership Doctoral program (EdD) at Western Kentucky University. I consider this a tremendous honor and look forward to serving WKU and the larger education community in this new role. Great things are coming for the EdD program in the near future!

Working with doctoral students has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my professorial career. In my soon-to-be 13 years of service at WKU, I have had the privilege of teaching six different doctoral courses and serving on the dissertation committees of 22 students who have successfully completed the program, including 10 for which I was chair or co-chair. My many wonderful experiences with these students motivated my calling to this new role as director of the program.

I want to extend my sincere thanks to the many great scholars who have previously served as director or interim director, including program co-founder Jay Fiene, Chris Wagner, Tony Norman, Lester Archer, Nicholas Brake, and Aaron Hughey. Dr. Margie DeSander has been a steady guiding force since the EdD program became a part of what was then the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, and Research in 2019 (now part of the School of Leadership and Professional Studies). All of these leaders and a host of dedicated faculty and staff members have helped forge an outstanding doctoral program that boasts distinguished graduates who currently serve as school district superintendents, principals, higher education administrators, and leaders in various businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Through our recent affiliation with the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate, WKU is blazing new trails to distinguish the EdD as a distinct terminal degree for scholar practitioners working in education organizations. The curriculum for recent cohorts of P-12 education leaders has been organized around Improvement Science, which helps leaders identify vexing problems of practice in their real organizational contexts, deploy a cycle of interventions to impact the problem, assess the results, and plan for the future. These improvement science cycles of inquiry are captured in a dissertation in practice, a new form of doctoral capstone with far-ranging implications for practitioners and scholars alike. 

My first priority as director of the EdD program will be leading faculty and stakeholders in a full review of our course requirements and curriculum in light of the Improvement Science model. We want to make sure that course experiences are optimized to develop doctoral graduates' knowledge and skills in Improvement Science techniques, especially in P-12 education contexts. Special consideration will be given to our non-P-12 organizational leadership students and the utility of using Improvement Science in their varying contexts.

Admissions and advising processes will also be reviewed and updated as needed to make sure every student has the necessary support to be successful in the program. Renewed marketing and recruitment efforts will support our work to establish partnerships with key stakeholder organizations to ensure that the program not only grows, but flourishes and has a bigger impact on the constituencies our students serve. Our model for such initiatives is our ongoing partnership with the Kentucky Association of School Administrators to support cohorts of practicing and aspiring P-12 education leaders to earn their doctorate. We will seek similar partnerships with organizations in P-12 and other fields, and will organize an external advisory council to assist with outreach and provide input on continuous program improvement.

As many of you know, my own academic background is in the humanities, specifically history, philosophy, and religious studies. Leadership development is not simply a matter of acquiring a body of content knowledge or technical skills, although both are essential for effective leaders. Rather, leadership studies, like education in general, is about forming individuals in virtue, wisdom, and self-control, both for their own personal flourishing and for the benefit of the communities in which they serve. Disciplines within the humanities are especially well suited to exploring the questions and concepts that help form leaders in this way, and I look forward to bringing that perspective to our collective work on the overall design of the program and specifically to the leadership curriculum.

Please spread the word and help us recruit the next cohort of outstanding doctoral candidates. And please reach out to me with your questions and especially your ideas for how we can take a great doctoral program to the next level of excellence. 

Climb with us! Go Tops!


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