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Standards & Guidelines » CAA Guidelines


Adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on October 25, 2009; revised on October 25, 2015.

For purposes of this document the definition of an academic arts administrator is an individual charged with direct oversight of an academic unit within an institution of higher education. Often referred to as a head, a chair, a director, or a dean, the administrator provides leadership for the unit (e.g., program, department, school, college, division, or institution) and shapes robust learning environments where teaching, service, research, scholarship, and creative accomplishment are nurtured and valued.

Statement on Leadership and Excellence

The specific definitions and charges of leadership differ according to position, unit, and institution. Some administrators are empowered to envision unit-level missions and objectives and have a great deal of latitude in this regard. Others are expected to facilitate a vision established by a supervisor(s), an institutional leadership team, a university system, and/or a governing body. Likewise, and depending upon the institution, supervision and management structures can range from highly centralized to largely decentralized. In addition, academic arts units vary in size from a few dozen to several thousand students. While leadership roles are shaped by these and other factors, effective administrators typically work collaboratively toward formulating a common vision, developing strategic plans, articulating purposes, and securing resources for accomplishing both unit-level and institutional goals.

Strong leaders are imaginative and proactive, responding confidently to opportunities and challenges in the field, exploring new pathways and partnerships while advancing diversity and inclusion. The most successful academic arts administrators are often characterized as excellent team builders and creative problem solvers. They recognize the numerous and varied responsibilities associated with their positions; embrace timely and transparent methods of communication; and develop a stable foundation for management. They are also adept at assessing risks and navigating transitions and they employ appropriate organizational methods, managerial skills, and diplomacy to stimulate change while maintaining stability.

Eventually, nurturing educational excellence is considered the primary function of the academy, and thus its leaders. There are many ways an academic administrator can support distinction and high merit. Some examples include: developing new and innovative curricular initiatives; creating faculty mentoring and student leadership programs; allocating faculty travel budgets and professional-development funds; researching funding resources and providing tools for grant writing; linking faculty and students to opportunities abroad; supporting visiting artists and guest lecturers; regularly attending faculty and student events; and working with stakeholders to plan for and attain individual, unit, and institutional excellence.

Overall, and ultimately, administrators are responsible for achievement within and advancement of their units. Engaged leaders fully embrace the vital role relationship building plays in assuring success by maintaining consistently collegial relations with faculty, staff, students, and institutional administrators alike.

Statement on Qualifications

Academic arts administrators are typically expected to possess appropriate earned terminal degrees and be recognized experts in one or more of the disciplinary specializations represented in the unit. The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the terminal degree in studio art practice. The Master of Fine Arts (MFA), the Master of Design (MDes), the Master of Art and Design (MAD), and the Master of Graphic Design (MGraph) are among the terminal degrees in design practice. In theoretical, historical, and/or pedagogical subjects the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), the Doctor of Education (EdD), and comparable doctorates are the appropriate terminal degrees. In some cases, creative work, research, and publication are indicators of qualifications, productivity, professional awareness, and significant contribution to various aspects of art/design and art/design-related fields and may be substituted for earned terminal degrees.

Minimum qualifications most often include knowledge of art, design, art education, and art history disciplines; strong writing and organizational skills; experience in public speaking and communications; an interest in fundraising; and a working knowledge of budgets and fiscal oversight. Demonstrated past experience and success in management and/or leadership constitutes a substantial qualification for an administrative position. For those accepting administrative appointments with little or no past experience, developing strategies for and building networks to acquire appropriate leadership and management skills is essential. Participation in courses, programs, workshops, conferences, and symposia offered by professional organizations, businesses, and institutions is highly recommended. A listing of numerous such organizations can be found at the end of this document in the Resources for Arts Administrators section.

In addition, and given the general expectation that critical decisions will be made within a wide range of responsibilities including personnel matters, it is strongly recommended that academic administrators hold senior rank and tenured status if those options are available at the institution.

Statement on Knowledge

It is essential that academic arts administrators be aware of emerging trends and practices across the arts, design, and related areas. Art and design are ever-expanding disciplines; administrators are advised to commit time, effort, and resources to staying abreast of developments that influence contemporary thinking and shape broad and pluralistic definitions of the terms. Continually expanding one’s frame of reference positions the administrator to exercise sound judgment in matters across a range of responsibilities.

Professional organizations acknowledge that the role of the academic administrator continues along a pathway of increasing complexity. Ever-evolving demands are the norm and administrators need to be well-informed about issues that might include but are not limited to: student programming expectations; course scheduling and delivery options; emerging teaching and learning technologies; curricular guidelines and general academic policies; assessment and accreditation; recruitment and retention; student affairs; faculty promotion, tenure, and merit procedures; staff management; faculty and staff development; contingent faculty hiring and advancement; personnel evaluation; human resources policies; facilities and equipment management; environmental health and safety; fundraising and development; grants and contracts; financial aid; cost structures; and revenue streams, including a detailed understanding of institutional and/or state government budget protocols and the relationship between those schedules and academic planning cycles.

In addition, arts teaching, learning, research, and creative practices are perhaps best advanced through current and learned perspectives across a range of issues related to the economy and global markets; philanthropy; international educational philosophies; civic engagement; community outreach; diversity initiatives; shared governance and collective bargaining; legal protocols; operational planning and campus master plans; and new models of thinking and doing.

Moreover, as arts leaders are expected to be highly visible advocates for their units within the institution and beyond, a knowledge of and commitment to the value of an arts education for intrinsic as well as career-specific reasons is essential for success.

Statement on Management

As previously stated, the definition of an academic arts administrator is the individual charged with direct oversight of a unit. Oversight is a central element of managing a department, school, or college and implies responsibility for consistent communication and documentation, recordkeeping, internal and external resources management, and equitable personnel decisions regarding students, staff, and faculty.

Building an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility among colleagues is imperative. Good managers maintain an objective perspective, employ clear communications, gather input from all available sources, and assure constructive engagement. As no one individual is likely equipped to address every concern, managers should be versed in relevant policies and protocols and seek counsel from appropriate sources as needed. Advisors might include the administrator’s supervisor(s), student affairs staff, human resources representatives, diversity practices experts, disability and counseling services specialists, and institutional legal counsel. Additional useful contacts might extend to institutional board members, external professional colleagues, and community members.

Ensuring consistency of and access to information for faculty, staff, and other administrators also supports a sustainable management style. Many art administrators offer retreats, or similar meetings, and/or actively mentor their administrative teams and staff about communication policies, grievance processes, appropriate decision-making hierarchies, and institutional policies and procedures.

In addition, effective strategic planning—both short- and long-term—is critical to good management and fosters investment in achieving collectively held goals. Planning consultations often incorporate input from numerous constituencies: faculty, staff, students, other institutional administrators and colleagues, board members, business and community leaders, accrediting agencies, and local, state, and federal government officials.

Overall, sound management practices enhance the quality and reputation of the unit within the institution and to external audiences. They also create healthy environments to support excellence in teaching and learning, preparation for careers in the arts, academic freedom, research and creative activity, and community engagement.

Statement on Advocacy

Taking the lead in advocating for the arts is among the fundamental roles of an arts administrator. While articulating the mission, vision, and objectives of the art unit in a substantive and persuasive manner is vital, it is equally important to communicate the greater value of the arts to the institution and beyond. A detailed and accurate working knowledge of institutional culture is indispensable for these purposes. Further, superior advocacy extends beyond the institution; exemplary leaders can and do shape local, state, regional, national, and international dialogue on the arts.

Successful art administrators draw on professional resources both inside and outside the arts for data collection, networking, mentoring, and better understanding of broader issues in higher education and the arts. A list of relevant advocacy organizations can be found in the Resources for Art Administrators section.

Resources for Arts Administrators

Many academics accept administrative positions with little or no formal training in management or leadership. For both new and experienced administrators it is critical to build networks of support among colleagues and to seek educational opportunities to enhance their knowledge base. As previously mentioned, many professional arts organizations, colleges, universities, and other institutions offer summer institutes, annual conferences, leadership seminars, and graduate programs to provide mentoring, networking, and employment resources. Higher-education institutions—such as Carnegie Mellon University, Kansas State University, Bryn Mawr College, and Harvard University—are among those offering leadership programs for academic administrators. Most of these opportunities are advertised through the organizations and publications cited below.

Professional Organizations in the Arts

CAA, an organization of over 14,000 individual and institutional members, facilitates the exchange of ideas and information among arts professionals and fosters career development and advancement by offering job postings as well as mentoring and interviewing opportunities at its Annual Conference.

National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
The major activities of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design are the accreditation of educational programs in the visual arts and the establishment of curricular standards and guidelines. NASAD is the only accrediting agency covering the entire field of art and design recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. The association is composed of over 320 member institutions, including public and private colleges and universities, as well as independent art and design schools. All member institutions of NASAD meet standards and uphold the code of ethics of the association as stated in the NASAD Handbook.

In addition to the accreditation function of the association, NASAD publishes books and newsletters, holds an annual art meeting, and provides information to the general public about educational programs in the visual arts and design.

National Council of Arts Administrators (NCAA)
The National Council of Art Administrators provides professional development and networking opportunities for current and future administrators. The organization hosts an annual conference, maintains job listings, and offers a fellowship program for emerging arts administrators.

Professional Organizations Serving All Academic Disciplines

American Association of University Women (AAUW)
The American Association of University Women provides fellowship, advocacy, and development opportunities aimed at serving women in higher education.

American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
The American Association of University Professors provides information and standards on a wide range of issues related to higher education, including the protection of Academic Freedom, Shared Governance, Research, Legal Program, Government Relations, and Education & Training. They produce a wide range of reports and publications related to these issues, including the Journal of Academic Freedom and the AAUP Policy Documents and Reports (a.k.a. “The Redbook”).

American Council on Education (ACE)
The American Council on Education offers a range of resources on advocacy, leadership, and policy research and strategy. The council has over 1,700 institutional members and provides a range of programs and conferences aimed at developing leadership experience for academic administrators, including a Leadership Academy for Department Chairs and a Fellows Program.

Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U)
The Association of American Colleges & Universities is “concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education.”  It offers a range of publication on liberal education coordinates initiative such as LEAP.

American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD)
The mission of ACAD is to provide academic leaders who share a commitment to student learning and to the ideals of liberal education with networking and professional development opportunities and to support them in their work as educational leaders.

Higher Education Resource Services (HERS)
HERS is dedicated to creating and sustaining a community of women leaders through leadership development programs and other strategies with a special focus on gender equity within the broader commitment to achieving equality and excellence in higher education.

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
The NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. The NEA’s Artists in the Workforce study is a particularly useful resource for documenting demographic and employment patterns in the arts. The NEH is an independent federal agency and is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.

Professional Organizations Serving Specific Arts Constituencies

Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD)
Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) [deans]
International Council of Fine Arts Deans (ICFAD)

Arts-Related Conferences/Annual Meetings

National Council of Arts Administrators

Employment Position Listings

Inside Higher Ed
National Council of Arts Administrators
Higher Education Recruitment Consortium
Higher Ed Jobs


AAUP (Advocacy information is spread throughout the site, but see in particular the “Our Programs” and “Issues” sections)
AAUW Action Fund
ACE Advocacy News
CAA Advocacy Policy
CAA Advocacy Update
LEAP Institute for the Arts
The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project
The Cultural Data Project
Americans for the Arts


Chronicle of Higher Education
Chronicle of Philanthropy
Inside Higher Ed

Authors and Contributors

Ad Hoc Committee on Guiding Principles for Academic Arts Administrators (2015): Jim Hopfensperger, Western Michigan University (chair); Brian Bishop, Framingham State University; Colin Blakely, Eastern Michigan University and University of Arizona; Steve Bliss, Savannah College of Art and Design; Marie Bukowski, Southern Illinois University; Peter Chametzky, University of South Carolina; Andrea Eis, Oakland University; Michael Fels, Elon University; Robert Green, Abilene Christian University; Rebecca Harvey, Ohio State University; Robert Hower, University of Texas-Arlington; Judith Huacuja, University of Dayton; Eldred Hudson, University of North Carolina-Charlotte; Chris Kahler, Eastern Illinois University; Lauren Lake, University of Alabama-Birmingham; Donna Meeks, Lamar University; Jean Miller, University of Missouri-St. Louis and Illinois State University; Susan Moore, Indiana University-South Bend; Ellen Mueller, West Virginia Wesleyan College; Joe Poshek, Orange Coast College; Ravi Rajan, SUNY-Purchase; Sergio Soave, Ohio State University; Anne Stanton, University of Missouri; Jody Symula, Virginia Commonwealth University; Joe Thomas, Kennesaw State University; Adrian Tio, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth; Greg Watts, Metropolitan State University and University of North Texas; Michael Willie, Illinois State University.

CAA Task Force on Professional Practices for Academic Art Administrators (2009): Jean M. K. Miller, Towson University (chair); Carmon Colangelo, Washington University in St. Louis; Anna Calluori Holcombe, University of Florida; Jim Hopfensperger, Western Michigan University; Art Jones, University of North Dakota; Ronald Jones, University of South Florida; Joseph Lewis III, Alfred University; Robert Milnes, University of North Texas; Denise Mullen, Alberta College of Art and Design; Joseph Seipel, Savannah College of Art and Design; Georgia Strange, University of Georgia; Judith Thorpe, University of Connecticut; Adrian Tio, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; and Ruth Weisberg, University of Southern California.