Interview with William Knight

William Knight serves as Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Ball State University.
Interview by Jolene Pastir

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Jolene Pastir and Bill Knight on the Ball State campus.

eAIR: Please share a little bit about your background and the career path to date.

Like most people who get into IR, perhaps until recently, I stumbled into it by accident. I did a practicum in IR/assessment as part of my master’s program at Kent State University; I really enjoyed it and felt that it was something I wanted to learn much more about. When I started my doctorate at Kent, I did an assistantship with the same office. In my second semester I was offered a full-time job doing IR and assessment with the Kent regional campus system.

Right about the time I finished my doctorate, my job at Kent was eliminated due to budget cuts. I accepted a new job at Georgia Southern University and had a chance to be part of more than a one-person office and to learn about strategic planning and academic budgeting. In 1996, I had the opportunity to be a director and to move back to Ohio when I started at Bowling Green State University. During my 15 years at BG, I was able to mature as a professional, work with great colleagues, have a faculty role, and gain experience in areas such as accreditation and program review. During that time, I also had the privilege of serving as Forum Chair, member of the Board of Directors, and President of AIR.

In 2011, I made the decision to start a new phase of my career at Ball State, and I could not be happier about that decision. So far (in my career), my job titles have included practicum student, graduate assistant, Coordinator of Academic Assessment and Evaluation Services, Visiting Scholar, Assistant Director of Research and Planning, Director of Institutional Research, Assistant Professor, Director of Planning and Institutional Research, Instructor, Assistant Vice President for Planning and Accountability, Associate Vice Provost for Planning and Accountability, Visiting Scholar (again!), and Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness.

Keep working to support positive change, but understand that the pace of change in academe is often glacial and that support for our work can change overnight with new leadership.
eAIR: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the field?

Ask questions and seek help from colleagues in your office or beyond. Take advantage of professional development opportunities through AIR, affiliated organizations, and other groups. Keep learning about the various aspects of our work. Take pride in the fact that you are part of a profession that is truly making improvements in higher education. Maintain (or get!) a sense of humor. Keep working to support positive change, but understand that the pace of change in academe is often glacial and that support for our work can change overnight with new leadership. Try as hard as you can to understand the perspectives of our customers, whether they are institutional leaders, faculty members, government agencies, the media, etc.

eAIR: Who or what inspire you in the field of IR?

I’ve had the great privilege of having two IR mentors, Greg Rogers at Kent State and Mike Moore at Georgia Southern, who taught me a lot. I’ve also been blessed to have great colleagues in the offices where I have worked and a strong network of friends in the business across the country. I’m also incredibly grateful to have the world’s greatest spouse and best friend in Adriene. All of these people inspire me, as well as the students and new professionals in our field with whom I have the opportunity to work at Ball State and beyond. Finally, I get inspired when I go to presentations at the AIR Forum and at the conferences of affiliated organizations, when I read associated publications, and on other occasions when I realize that we have an absolutely world-class set of professional organizations.

eAIR: What resources do you find most helpful for your work in IR?

Colleagues, conferences, publications, and other resources available through AIR and affiliated organizations. Also, books, articles, conferences, webinars, etc. from other types of organizations, some in higher education, some in management, and some in a wide variety of areas. We have started a reading group in our office at Ball State; we read one book per semester that has implications for us. So far we have read Academically Adrift (Arum and Roksa), Working with Emotional Intelligence (Goleman), and Analytics at Work (Davenport, Harris, and Morison). I strongly urge my IR colleagues to read at least one non-IR, non-higher education book or attend one outside meeting, webinar, etc. each year. AIR and affiliated organizations provide very valuable resources, but we can learn from other perspectives.

eAIR: Can you share any unique and interesting information about yourself?

I feel strongly that everyone in our field needs to maintain or develop at least one non-higher education interest in order to maintain perspective and perhaps sanity. I have enjoyed reading about these interests in this interview series. For me, these interests include horror novels and movies and Gilded Age-era residential architecture and social history.

eAIR: Finally, can you tell me about your two upcoming books, The Handbook of Institutional Research and the book about leadership in institutional research?

The Handbook (Jossey-Bass) was released in August 2012 and is the first comprehensive, book-length text on IR since Dressel’s Institutional Research in the University (1971). Working with my co-editors, Rich Howard and Gerry McLaughlin, was wonderful. We are delighted that the Handbook contains the work of 78 authors from a full spectrum of institutions and higher education organizations, including international groups. I am glad that we took a very broad look at IR, and I definitely learned some new things about topics such as organizational learning, change management, space management, and data mining. The only disappointment was that, due to space limitations, several excellent chapters were not included in the book; we are working to find a publication home for them.

The newest book I am working on as a single author has had a couple of title changes. I think it’s going to be called something like "Leadership and Management in Institutional Research: Increasing Personal and Professional Effectiveness." It is not on technical-analytical topics, but rather, focuses on issues such as budget and human resource management, mentoring, dealing with your boss, meetings, time management, office effectiveness, taking care of yourself, campus politics, legal and ethical issues, emotional intelligence, and leadership. The book is based on a survey of AIR members about their leadership development needs, a diverse literature, and my own experiences and those of colleagues. It will include case studies and exercises for readers. I hope it will be published in 2013.

Jolene Pastir is Assessment Research Analyst in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Ball State University.