Meet Amarjit Budhiraja, Chairs Leadership Program Interim Director
November 3, 2021 | Kristen Chavez
Budhiraja provides leadership in program for department chairs
As interim director of the Chairs Leadership Program, Amarjit Budhiraja is giving back to the program he called ‘a lifeline’ in his early days as chair.
Started in 2007, the Chairs Leadership Program (CLP) is a collaboration between the IAH and the College of Arts & Sciences. The yearlong program supports first-time and reappointed department chairs through monthly confidential conversations.
Budhiraja is a professor in the department of statistics and operations research, where he served as chair from 2014 to 2019. He noted the complexities that a department chair faced, beyond the scope of a teaching or research professor.
“You have no training, for example, of managing budgets, conflict resolution and personal issues that are extremely confidential and very sensitive,” Budhiraja said.
That’s where the CLP comes in.
Challenges for chairs
In addition to the support the College provides to chairs through a council, comprehensive manual and support from the Dean’s Office senior leadership, the CLP provides peer support to discuss challenges facing the individual department chairs.
“Chairs today must balance day-to-day research and instructional needs while thinking of the future of their department, and do all of this with finite resources,” said Elizabeth Engelhardt, the College senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities who oversees the Institute.
“The Chairs Leadership Program carves out a regular time on busy chairs’ schedules to step back and reflect. It helps chairs to stop juggling for just a moment, sit down, and get back to the fundamentals of leadership that led them to say yes to the role.”
When Institute director Patricia Parker approached him and asked him to fill the interim role, Budhiraja didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“I got so much from this program, and it gives me satisfaction knowing that I’ve given back to it in a small way,” said Budhiraja.
According to his colleagues, Budhiraja is well-suited to take on his new leadership duties.
“He had a definite vision for the department and worked tremendously hard to advance the goals of our department in research and pedagogy. But at the same time, he took everyone along,” said Shankar Bhamidi, professor and director of graduate studies in the statistics and operations research department.
Nilay Argon, professor and director of graduate admissions, shared the same sentiment.
During Budhiraja’s tenure as chair, Argon served as diversity liaison. She said that Budhiraja was supportive of her efforts to promote diversity in the department, particularly through hiring.
“I think one of the most important characteristics of a good leader is being fair and equitable to all,” said Argon.
Facilitating connection, virtually
As interim director, Budhiraja balances other responsibilities, including teaching, advising and his own research in probability and stochastic analysis. But with over 20 years of experience in academia, it’s a realm where he feels comfortable.
This year’s CLP group have met twice via Zoom, with another two meetings planned for the semester. Before the pandemic, the meetings were in-person and over a meal, offering a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.
Nevertheless, Budhiraja is glad to work with the new cohort of chairs, who can rely on resources and each other to work out complex issues and develop strategies that can apply to their daily work.
“A core philosophy of this program is peer coaching,” Budhiraja emphasized.
As program director, he said his role is not to dictate best practices, but to facilitate the discussion. “I help the conversation and the solutions come from the group.”
Budhiraja cherished the community of peers that formed from his CLP group and wants the current participants to walk away with the same feeling that he had from the program: that you don’t have to do everything alone.