Passion for Truth Drives “Living Legend” in Academic Leadership at Teachers College

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Teachers College has landed a “living legend” to chair the Department of Educational Leadership.

Dr Fen English was hired as President and Professor in June 2018.

“He is internationally recognized for his work and, as a result, brings immediate recognition to the Department of Educational Leadership, Teachers College and Ball State University, ”said Acting Dean of Teacher’s College, Roy Weaver.

Fen, short for Fenwick, comes to Ball State with 57 years of professional experience, having most recently served as the R. Wendell Eaves Distinguished Senior Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 2013, the International Council of Teachers of Educational Leadership named Fen a “living legend”.

A prolific researcher, Fen is the author or co-author of 43 books, 34 chapters and over a hundred journal articles. In higher education, he served as department chair at the University of Cincinnati and UNC-Chapel Hill and dean and vice-chancellor of academic affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

An ingrained idealism

Fen’s renowned career has been driven by an almost insatiable appetite for the truth.

Fen grew up in Los Angeles, the son of two teachers. His idealism led him to first pursue a degree in journalism, specializing in photography.

Working for the Los Angeles Times while a student at the University of Southern California embittered him about a career in the news.

“I have seen overloaded stories,” he said. “I saw what the influence of wealth could do. I thought, ‘Where can I tell the truth?’ Being a classroom teacher looked pretty good.

In Kindergarten to Grade 12 education, he was a teacher, vice-principal, principal and superintendent.

“I’ve played just about every role you can imagine in public schools,” Fen said.

In search of justice

Dr Fen English

If the pursuit of truth seems too esoteric, consider this: parts of Fen’s career resemble a harsh detective story.

As a private sector consultant, Fen has occasionally investigated criminal conspiracies and racial injustices in public schools.

One case involved Jersey City public schools in the 1980s. The district sued the New Jersey state government, arguing it was withholding necessary funding. The state’s position was that the district was too crooked to be trusted. As part of a defense strategy, the New Jersey attorney general hired Fen to audit the district.

Fen has helped expose a culture of bribery and cronyism, bribery and shadow employment.

“The mayor has appointed his hacks to positions at the school level,” Fen recalled. “That’s how he paid his political debts, with patronage. I walked the halls and saw desks, but no one was there.

Fen’s audit helped provide the basis for the state’s education department to take charge of the district.

A subsequent mission asked him to investigate the problems of integration in public schools. Fen found that minority students were expelled at rates disproportionate to their percentage of the population.

“School districts didn’t want the public to know that African American students were being kicked out,” he said.

The investigation helped Fen write a book called “Curriculum Auditing,” which is still used by districts to address systemic bias.

A chair in the right place

Fen’s academic research has mainly focused on uncovering the truth about what makes a good leader. He said society needs to move towards “unheroic leadership models” and stop basing theories on people like charismatic military leaders.

“You don’t want Napoleon to be a high school principal. You know what I mean?”

Fen said he came to Ball State for the opportunity to work in an exemplary department at a well-respected university. The position also afforded him time to further research leadership.

“I was dean. I was vice-chancellor, ”he said. “Even though I teach leadership, being a department manager is pretty much all I want to go because you can still keep your research interests. “

The world-renowned leader in leadership said he has been impressed so far by the character of the teaching staff at Teacher’s College.

“The teachers here really care about the students,” he said.

About Dr Fen English

Position: Chair and Professor, Department of Educational Leadership

Education: BA and MA from the University of Southern California; doctorate from Arizona State University.

Recent research / publications: Fen is the author or co-author of 43 books, 34 book chapters and over a hundred journal articles. In 2016, he completed “Leading Beautifully: Educational Leadership as Connoisseurship” with co-author LC Ehrich.

First job in teaching: Teacher, third grade, Tweedy Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District.

Previous experience in Indiana: Between 1995 and 1998,Fen was dean and vice-chancellor of academic affairs at IPFW.


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