In March, Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., marked her seventh year as DMU’s 15th president and has only stepped up the cadence. Here, she reflects on her tenure and continuing priorities for the University.
Raised in McCormick, SC, inthe segregated south, Angela L. Walker Franklin and her sister, Maria, were raised by parents who stressed the importance of achieving educational excellence. Dr. Franklin completed her doctorate in clinical psychology at Emory University with the assistance of a national American Psychological Association Fellowship Award. With more than 25 years of experience in higher education, she is the first female and person of color to lead DMU. Previously, she served as executive vice president and provost at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. There, she oversaw academic and administrative departments and held a professorship in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
Prior to her role at Meharry, Dr. Franklin held several positions at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, including vice dean, associate vice president for academic and student affairs, associate dean for student affairs, director of counseling services and tenured professor of psychiatry. She is a former American Council on Education Fellow.
First days and early lessons at DMU
When President Franklin arrived at DMU in 2011, its Board of Trustees charged her to make an assessment of the campus culture during her first 100 days.
“They wanted me to evaluate overall effectiveness and track the positives and negatives, which I took to heart,” she says. “As I engaged people across the campus as well as alumni and members of the Des Moines community, I learned valuable things about the reputation and role of DMU and saw where we might think differently about our direction and engagements with all constituents.’”
In that initial period, she learned a great deal about the history and culture of the University and of its many connections across Des Moines and Iowa. She presented her comprehensive report to the board when it met on her 88th day in office.
“I reported that on the surface, DMU seemed like a warm family, but under the surface there was some clear divergence in opinions,” she says. “Yet amid the difficult dynamics at that time, I found people here who were sincere in their drive to see the institution advance and thrive. The board appreciated my honesty, trusted my judgment and asked me bluntly what I plan to do to fix things.”
At the beginning, many decisions needed to be made, including very difficult ones. Naturally, some people were upset by some of those decisions. “The first couple of years were challenging, but we were able to evolve to a much more productive and positive state,” she says. “We all know that change is never easy, but I worked with the executive committee of the board, and every decision was made with their green light. As things evolved, people started to see the benefits of the changes.”
Views on effective leadership
President Franklin consistently advocates the value of genuine servant leadership.
“I have had the good fortune to learn about leadership from my family and many talented leaders in higher education,” she says. “A consistent effort I have made over the years has been to listen, listen, listen – in meetings, fireside chats with students and campus-wide open meetings. Servant leadership has been the approach I have always taken by sharing in the leadership process and applying the Golden Rule.”
She also follows the Association of Governing Boards’ philosophy of embracing integral leadership, which AGB defines as a president who “exerts a presence that is purposeful and consultative, deliberative yet decisive, and capable of course corrections as new challenges emerge – [an approach that] aligns the president, faculty and the board together in a well-functioning partnership purposefully devoted to a well-defined, broadly affirmed, institutional vision.”
In the spirit of that philosophy, she led the campus through a visioning and strategic planning process and reshaped DMU’s administration.
“I changed the structure of the president’s cabinet into an Executive Leadership Team to tap the synergies that come from us all working together to strive for organizational effectiveness,” she says. She also worked with the Board of Trustees, consistently seeking their active support and engagement in pursuit of strategic institutional goals.
Highlights of institutional advancement
Under her leadership, the campus community created a carefully articulated mission with accompanying core values and four vision statements reflecting excellence in education, research, and clinical and community service with a focus on health policy advocacy. President Franklin describes how the campus community engages in short-term operational planning that is fluid and flexible. “But we also pursue aspirational visioning for the long-range sustainability and process of innovation for Des Moines University,” she adds. “It’s rewarding for me to hear new faculty say they’ve never worked at a place that lives its mission as consistently as DMU.”
The University’s research enterprise has quadrupled during her tenure, both in the categories of research and levels of external funding.
This year is evolving to be a milestone for DMU in many dimensions. Among the outward signs of improvements are renovations in the DMU Clinic’s osteopathic manual medicine department and physical therapy clinic as well as updates to the first and fifth floors of the Academic Center. These freshly updated spaces are generating excitement for the campus community. The University also received national recognition as a top producer of family medicine providers, which aligns with DMU’s mission.
A strong advocate for diversity and inclusion across the campus, she says the work of the Office of Multicultural Affairs helps distinguish DMU from its competitors. “It is important to note the impact that our expanded multicultural programming has across the campus,” she says. “The work of that office helps students, faculty and staff in developing cultural competency and sensitivity.
“Overall, from curricular, financial and operations standpoints, we are in a very strong position,” she says. “Being named a Great College to Work For by the Chronicle of Higher Education and a Top Workplace by the Des Moines Register were validating achievements. And we have recently completed new accreditation site visits that benefited our physician assistant, physical therapy and public health programs.”
Pioneering innovations in behavioral health
President Franklin is especially proud of the University’s new efforts to advance the delivery of behavioral health services to the region (see pages 28-33). A clinical psychologist, she was asked by the Greater Des Moines Partnership to chair the mental health task force for the area’s Community Health Needs Assessment. That task force led to the partnership’s recommendations to expand and strengthen mental health services and education. DMU’s new partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness has accelerated that process.
“I’m very proud to see this University step up as a leader and advocate for the need to address mental health issues,” she says. DMU is seeking external grant funding from several organizations to fund development of a behavioral health clinic and expanded curriculum.
The University also is focused on defining and pursuing educational innovation as it best serves students. “We’re excited to welcome our new provost, Dr. Ralitsa Akins, to address that strategic issue,” she says. Akins joined the campus May 1, bringing a wide variety of educational, administrative and health sciences experience to the role (see page 5).
“We’re at a point when we can start advancing the institution through increased fundraising initiatives that will propel innovations in all of our educational, research and clinical programs,” President Franklin says. “In my inaugural address, I charged our University community to set audacious goals, be bold in leadership and dream big. I maintain that charge for us all. We should not lose our drive to excel as a national leader in health sciences education. We should also continue in our collective efforts to think and operate as one university, motivated by our mission and vision.”
Murray Goldstein, D.O.’50, M.P.H., an osteopathic pioneer, recently asked her that if knowing what she knows now, would she still have accepted the DMU presidency? She answered immediately.
“I can say that even with the surprises and challenges, I would absolutely leap at the chance to lead this exceptional University. I feel strongly that I am here for a reason. I consider my work with everyone here to be a calling, and I remain excited to continue to give this institution my very best efforts.
“We have an outstanding team approach here in which everybody serves a vital role, and that’s empowering for all,” she adds. “I am proud to celebrate the strong future ahead for DMU and the important services we will provide for future students and communities nationwide.”