Sustainability in Higher Education | AUA Blog

Sustainability is the theme of the upcoming Autumn Conference of the AUA and I am honoured to participate as a panellist during one of the sessions. I have been asked to share my characterisation of the notion of sustainability.


Tina DeNeen
Associate Executive Director


What does sustainability mean to me?

Sustainability can have various meanings, depending on context. Regardless of application, however, sustainability to me refers to the ability to 1) maintain or 2) avoid depletion.

Many industries use the term sustainability in reference to being “green” or environmentally friendly. While maintaining a commitment to an ecofriendly environment on college campuses is significant, higher education administrators are also beginning to look toward being able to maintain continuity of service by recruiting, developing, and retaining the right people. Maintaining appropriate staffing levels, as well as maintaining staff diversity and expertise, is inherently linked to the overall health of an institution. As higher education professionals begin to retire, it is imperative that there is a formal plan for maintaining excellent levels of service with little interruption.

What is succession planning?

The concept of sustainability of staff in a higher education organisation is often strategically operationalized though the process of succession planning. This strategic initiative involves identifying critical organisational positions and developing a plan for professionals to be poised to replace leaders when they retire or otherwise separate from the institution. A successful succession planning exercise increases the pool of experienced employees who will be able to assume leadership positions as they become vacant. Having a pipeline from which to draw when filling key leadership positions helps ensure that the transition is least disruptive.

How do we begin the process?

Some colleges and universities have a tendency to focus on a replacement strategy for the highest-level positions—such as presidents, vice presidents, and deans. Industries outside of higher education tend to plan for vacancies in critical positions at all levels. University administrators must maintain an awareness of the number of people in critical positions who plan to retire or leave the institution so that they know where to direct their efforts.

There are some best practices when planning a succession strategy. Amongst the most important elements of the succession planning process is that it is strategic, formal, inclusive, mission-driven, flexible, and transparent.

What is the benefit of succession planning?

Succession planning ensures that an institution is sustainable and that the individuals who have been identified as capable of leading the institution have the knowledge and abilities essential to minimise business disruption.


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