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The idea for the development of an organization for chief academic officers was born among a small group of academic VPs who attended the 2012 ACE annual meeting. While attending the meeting with their ACE Fellows, the academic VPs realized that many, perhaps most, of the important ACE conversations were reserved for presidents and chancellors. This led the CAOs to think about how the value of attending the ACE annual meeting might be augmented for academic affairs leaders, especially in light of the expanding role of the chief academic officer on most campuses. As presidents become more involved with fundraising and external university relations, CAOs increasingly become responsible for campus matters previously falling under the purview of the Office of the President.
Why not increase the interactions and enhance the conversations among presidents and academic VPs at national meetings, while also providing a forum specifically for the academic VPs to discuss matters important to themselves and their institutions? Thus, the idea emerged for a new organization specifically for CAOs that would promote conversations important for all types of institutions of post-secondary education. The organization would bring together academic affairs leaders from public, private, 4- and 2-year institutions; from not-for-profit, for-profit, research, liberal arts, and technical colleges; from urban and suburban, large and small, specialized and comprehensive, US-based and international universities, colleges, community colleges, and universities. The new organization would focus on issues shared throughout academic affairs in higher education, regardless of particular institutional mission.
This new idea was then shared with a group who attended a CAO-only luncheon, hosted by SAGE Publications, with a panel presentation on the future of the academic library. The assembled CAOs were in agreement about the need for a venue in which academic affairs leaders could share concerns and best practices, provide mentoring for one another and more junior colleagues, and learn about academic leadership issues across institutional sectors.
Since that initial luncheon, a steering committee overseeing the new organization drafted bylaws, selected interim officers, organized a day-long program of panels and presentations for the first day of the 2013 ACE meeting, and conducted the inaugural business meeting of what had become the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO). Many institutions joined as charter members of the organization, and with the assistance of ACE, a membership drive was conducted and a daylong program of activities was held for the 2014 annual meeting of ACAO in conjunction with the ACE annual meeting. At the 2014 business meeting, the inaugural board of directors and officers were elected. ACAO leadership has completed the process for incorporating the organization as an independent nonprofit, whose business and meetings will continue to be coordinated with ACE. An Interim Executive Director has now been hired, a virtual office for the directorate has been set up, and a listserv functions to promote the interactions and conversations of ACAO members.