Values + Opportunity = Change

The Creative Infrastructure blog is in a period of transition because my career (and life) is in a period of transition. I don’t yet know what the future will bring for the blog, but I do know what the future brings for me: beginning July 1, I will be Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at California State University, Los Angeles. At an open forum with faculty and staff a little over a month ago, I talked about my professional trajectory and my interest in joining the CSULA leadership team. Here is what I said:

My first love – professionally – was lighting design.

After completing my MFA at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I worked full time as a freelance lighting designer, but after several years realized I had something valuable to say to others about lighting design, so took my first teaching job at UW Madison. I soon after became head of the design programs in the Department of Theatre and Drama.

Later, I became director of University theatre and then Chair of the department, which is when I realized that my first love might be lighting design, but my true love is academic administration (yes…there are people who truly love academic administration).

So, when I was recruited to run a much larger unit at ASU and work to transform it into a school of Theatre and Film, I jumped at that opportunity.

As the Director of the School of Theatre and Film at ASU, I led a large and diverse unit; by the time I stepped down to concentrate on my personal loves — getting my children through high school — we had 32 tenure/tenure track faculty; numerous PT faculty; 12 FT staff; about 45 graduate teaching assistants. We grew the budget from $2.6M to $5.1M during my tenure as director, despite the economic downtown in the middle of that period. We built programs, including a very popular BA in film.

Since 2011, I have concentrated on growing the arts entrepreneurship programming we launched in 2006 and fed my love of administration by building programs and by undertaking formal education in the field leading to a second terminal degree in the topic. Two years ago, we moved the fledgling arts entrepreneurship programs into the dean’s office, where I am now director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs for our college-level entity, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. In this position, I am not just director of a graduate program, but serve the entire college in a broad portfolio relating to design and arts enterprise and entrepreneurship. This includes graduate and undergraduate programs, public programming, research, and enterprise support, which has included helping almost 40 student teams develop arts-based businesses many –if not most – of them with a focus on social impact and public good.

In each of my administrative positions, I have led the unit forward by articulating a shared vision and implementing that vision to advance the mission of both the unit and the university.

Teaching arts management and cultural leadership, which is where my teaching is focused now, I lead my students in an exercise every semester in which they have to examine their  own values. I do that exercise along with my students. Although the rank order of them varies, for the last several semesters, my top 5 values have pretty consistently  included Justice (inclusive of social equity), integrity (inclusive of honesty), empathy, usefulness, and….love.

Becoming the dean of the college of Arts and Letters at Cal State LA will give me the opportunity to both live my values and realize my professional true love. The values of the university – that higher education is a tool for social equity and mobility – align clearly with the values I try to live daily. I will be able to live my values of justice, integrity, empathy, love and, perhaps most especially for this audience, usefulness here.

I can be useful to you here as someone who is more than a mere manager, but rather as a leader who sees both the big picture and the particulars, as someone who bundles resources to support program growth and development, as someone who is deeply committed to both faculty development and student success and sees those as intrinsically connected.

Twenty-first century skills are the skills learned in the humanities and the arts: critical thinking; idea generation; working in collaborative groups; multi-faceted communication. The ability to not do just “one thing” but to do “many different things” over the course of one’s work-life. The College of Arts & Letters is positioned to be a leader in supporting the students it serves by giving them tools to navigate the uncertainty that they will face, to understand the technological world humanistically and creatively, and to advance social justice and equity. I want to help you all do that – and that’s why I’m here.

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About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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7 Responses to Values + Opportunity = Change

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  6. So excited to observe and learn from your next chapter! Curious how you’ll navigate the two truths that battle each other in your values statements. Certainly, “higher education is a tool for social equity and mobility.” But also certainly, higher education is of, from, and for a larger system that has created and enlarged inequity and immobility. I’m grateful that you’ll bring invention and intention to the task!

    • lindaessig says:

      Cal State LA is a somewhat unique institution in that regard, which is part of what attracts me to the position. Many students come from the surrounding communities and remain in or near those communities after graduation: social work is the most popular major.

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