Joshua Viers

Joshua Viers
Director of CITRIS (The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) & Associate Professor, Environmental Engineering and the UC Merced, School of Engineering

How do you define faculty leadership?
To me, leadership has always been about finding a way forward. We face significant challenges, whether they be societal, educational, or technical, and finding a way forward can be daunting and time consuming. Thus, faculty leadership is about faculty stepping forward and willing to give their time and expertise to find a way forward to solve a given problem. Perhaps it is something that really pushes forward in solving grand engineering challenges by bringing technical experts together, or perhaps it is something less obvious like streamlining a business process. Regardless, we are all better together and faculty leaders help identify the path forward that makes it easier and more efficient for everyone else.

Can you share an example of when you've been able to influence positive change as an academic leader?
The issues that I am most passionate about are the ones that disaffect others but few people recognize them, and fewer still try to do anything about it. These issues include things like parking and ease of access to buildings, equitable access to facilities and campus resources by all campus patrons, enhanced training for students and staff, and nonsensical policies that deserve more scrutiny. Many of these issues require minor changes to practice, but can have much bigger rewards for everyone as it makes their jobs easier and less stressful.

How could the University benefit from preparing more faculty for future leadership positions?
I have committed over 23 years of my professional life to the University of California, but it is only recently that I have come to fully appreciate the need for faculty leadership. This is not just in the realm of shared governance, but also placing a personal stake in the current and future wellbeing of the campus and its broader community. We can only be as good as we make it for ourselves.

Tell us about your experience with leadership development programs, or if you have not participated in any, what you would hope to gain from doing so.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Executive Leadership Academy developed by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, which covered a broad range of administrative issues for which I was less familiar. That said, the best preparation I received for leadership training was as a whitewater raft guide through the Outdoor Adventures program at UC Davis. Learning to safely navigate a raging river with a boat full of trusting paddlers is not unlike leading an academic unit!

How does strong leadership from Faculty impact the University of California?
The University of California is an exemplary institution of higher education. It is a recognized global leader in research, and a perennial top destination for all aspects of higher education. We cannot be that institution without students, staff, and faculty all working together. Furthermore, the administration cannot achieve its potential in guiding the future of the institution without collaborative problem solving with faculty leaders. There are many benefits to faculty leadership, but perhaps the most rewarding are those instances where we can point to collaborative problem solving, whether it be revenue sharing models or better dining options.

What would you say to Faculty hard pressed to find time to participate in leadership workshops or other programming?
The time required to better understand all University programs, processes, and pinch points can be considerable. That said, faculty do not need to understand everything to be effective leaders or agents for change. We all recognize when something doesn’t work as well as it should, and being a campus leader just means taking the initiative to improve one aspect of campus life. Leadership programming just makes it easier to find the right path to effective and positive change.