This month the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges issued a report calling on trustees to meet their responsibilities for making sure athletics programs are run with integrity, consistent with the educational values of their institutions. It's not clear that all trustees have read the report about where they should focus their attention. The Tampa Bay Times used open-records requests to obtain the e-mail message John Ramil, the board chair of the University of South Florida, sent out after USF lost a football game to Temple University. "Disgusting and unacceptable. We have major problems with our football program," he wrote in an e-mail to the president's chief of staff. That e-mail in turn was forwarded to the athletics director, with a suggestion that he have a talk with the board chair. Asked about the e-mail, Ramil told the newspaper that "I was expressing the same feeling of frustration as all the USF fans are feeling.... I personally want what's best for all the USF programs, whether academic or sports. I also believe in candid feedback, and I think the president and the athletic director and the coaches need to have that kind of feeling of feedback from all the fans. I've given them feedback on good stuff, too."
I first met him when I was a teenager, at a football game. He greeted me with a warm smile on his way down to the field for some presentation. He was already a national icon, an adviser to several presidents. I had no idea that within a few years I would have the privilege of working with him and his gifted associates closely on a daily basis.
Long before he became the legendary president of the University of North Carolina, Bill Friday was an all-star baseball player. A visitor to his hometown of Dallas, N.C., a textile village about 20 miles west of Charlotte, allegedly stopped at a country store for directions. “Isn’t this Bill Friday’s hometown?” he asked the two older men sitting there. They both nodded. One recalled that Bill had been a pretty good catcher for the high school and American Legion teams.
“Yep,” reflected the second. “And if he had stuck with baseball, Bill might have made a name for himself.”
President Friday’s choice to play catcher was always intriguing. With bats flying around your head, fastballs stinging your hands, and stress on your knees from prolonged squatting, it is a tough position to master. But the catcher has a singular view of the field and the other players. Behind an anonymous mask, the catcher controls the pace of the game, has direct access to the key actors, and is in the ultimate position to defend home plate.
He could have played no other position. Like an excellent catcher, President Friday handled the pressure with grace, calmness and a deep understanding of the game. He played intelligently and hard but always fairly and ethically. Never once did I see him hurry, never once did I hear him swear, not once did I observe a disrespectful act toward anyone.
More than once I saw him turn apparent defeat into victory. The begrudging admiration of political opponents was common. One referred to Friday’s feline qualities: No matter how you throw him out the window, he said, Bill Friday always lands on his feet.
While he did not wear a catcher’s mask as president, his preferred mode of operation was a behind-the-scenes one, keeping in constant touch with all the key players and never surprising them. It was what Stan Ikenberry, former president of the University of Illinois and head of the American Council on Education described as a personalized approach to the presidency.
Friday would come in by 7 a.m. every day and would hand write notes of congratulations or appreciation on his embossed note cards with “William Friday, Chapel Hill, NC” at the top. He was constantly on the phone but always seemed to have time to chat with visitors. On occasion, when he had to, he stood between the base runner and home plate, defending the university against outside interference.
In 1972 a new and complex university system was formed in North Carolina. Bill Friday was the obvious choice to be its first president. The system consisted of a new governing Board of Governors and an amalgam of the “old” six UNC campuses, which Friday previously headed, and ten other regional institutions, each with its own board of trustees. The six UNC institutions included two research universities (UNC at Chapel Hill and NC State), a former woman’s college, a master’s granting institution, and two small baccalaureate level campuses. Nine of the remaining campuses included five historically black institutions (HBIs), some with appallingly neglected physical plants, three regional campuses, and one with great ambitions for expansion. The last institution was the nation’s only publicly supported conservatory, the NC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, which also had a high school.
Unlike the California systems, with the universities and colleges under separate administrative arrangements, the new North Carolina structure not only put all the campuses under one umbrella, but each retained its own local board as well.
The system’s first challenge was to make sense of this diversity and make it function effectively. Friday’s national reputation -- he already was like a Statue of Liberty in and around North Carolina -- enabled him to assemble a talented group of associates.
By Friday’s own choice, the original central staff, which would remain in place throughout his tenure, consisted of a handful of senior administrators. More importantly, Friday’s inaugural Board of Governors was uniquely impressive, top to bottom. Exceptionally influential, the board included the most formidable and thoughtful men and women in North Carolina.
Challenges came right away: the new board had to get to know its president; the central board needed to decide what to delegate to the 16 local boards besides parking and honorary degrees; the private colleges wanted more state money; ambitious regional institutions in growing population centers wanted new doctoral programs and medical and law schools; the tenure and personnel regulations of many campuses had to be written from scratch; a comprehensive management information system and planning process had to be created; institutional missions had to be developed; a new budgetary process needed to be established.
And if this wasn’t enough, the federal government came after the UNC system. Because they couldn’t figure out how to “bus” university students to achieve “desegregation,” they instead demanded that programs be moved from one campus to another, suggesting, for example, that the engineering school at NC State in Raleigh be relocated to North Carolina A&T, a historically black, master’s granting institution in Greensboro. Editorials in the great American newspapers and television news shows took the new system to task for centuries of racial discord and neglect. It was not an easy time.
But skill and hard work made it work. Within a few years, administrators from other states routinely would visit the UNC headquarters as they were developing their own systems. By the system’s 10th birthday, in spite of two serious economic recessions and an oil embargo, the physical plants on the historically black campuses had been transformed and the UNC campuses had the fastest growth of minority-presence enrollment in the South.
Bill Friday had unusual gifts and traits that made him a superb administrator. One was his extraordinary interpersonal antennae. He could sense what others were feeling, what was troubling them, what they wanted, much as Robert Caro has written about President Lyndon Johnson.
Friday’s childhood influences and early mentors were undoubtedly influential in the development of his social skills. He remembered the conflicts and the suffering of the Great Depression. When he would go back home to the Dallas and Gastonia areas, he would recognize people still there who, in his words, “were not able like me to get out of this place and get an education. I could be one of them. They just didn’t have the chances I did, and I will never forget that.”
This background, along with the moral influence from his maternal grandfather and from his predecessor at UNC, Frank Porter Graham, colored his approach to freedom and accessibility to opportunity for all those who worked hard. The same principled concerns that led Friday and his “brother,” Father Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame, to create the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, were evident early. As sports editor of the NC State student newspaper, he would frequently exhort his classmates to act civilly toward their “brethren” from Chapel Hill at upcoming football or basketball games.
Clark Kerr once told me he couldn’t relate to classmates who sat around in college and wasted their time. Friday told a similar story: “I was an old man when I got to college. I wanted to get things done. I didn’t have time for all the partying and carousing.” His beautiful wife of nearly 70 years, Ida, a student at a nearby women’s college in Raleigh whom he met on a blind date, confirmed his seriousness of purpose: “I think I was the only girl he ever dated. So it wasn’t love at first sight, it was more like love at the only sight.”
Mr. Friday’s ability to deflect conflict, seek common ground, and to work with anyone was well-known. Former N.C. Governor Jim Holshouser, one of many governors who frequently benefited from Friday’s counsel, would say that Friday could disagree without being disagreeable. Friday’s work to reinvigorate the Fulbright program by collaborating with former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms was emblematic of his ability to cobble elegant solutions working with former adversaries. Government officials who increasingly complain about gridlock and intransigence in Washington could learn a thing or two from Friday.
Helms and Friday could not have been more different. One was a conservative right-winger, a rabid Republican who frequently complained that Reagan was too liberal, the other a liberal Democrat. On several occasions, particularly during Helms’s period as a popular, ultra-conservative commentator on a local TV station, the discord between the two men could have easily escalated. Even when Helms suggested that the new state zoo should be located in Chapel Hill –“All they need is to put a fence around the place”—Friday remained respectfully and publicly quiet.
When Friday and his longtime friend, the historian John Hope Franklin, were recruited to revive the important Fulbright program, Friday successfully turned to the then-chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations committee, Senator Helms, for political and financial support. He didn’t do it with mirrors, as one consultant once said about his successful tenure. He did it by appealing to common interests and traditions and by positively sticking with the issues.
His abilities to put people in touch with their humanity, either through his inspirational public speaking or through more personal appeals, were renowned. The little known case of David Thompson is an example. Thompson is arguably the best college player to come out of North Carolina. Another North Carolina superstar, Michael Jordan, worshipped Thompson throughout junior high school and high school. Thompson’s professional career was terrific but it was also marred, by Thompson’s own admission, by drug use, financial difficulties, and knee problems.
Thompson’s fortunes had bottomed out when Bill Friday stopped by my office one winter afternoon in 1987. He said that it was distressing to read about David’s personal difficulties, especially when he had done so much for racial relations in North Carolina. Finally, he said simply: “We need to bring him back home, Art, where people care about him.” Then he left.
A few phone calls later to Jimmy Valvano, the NC State basketball coach, and Charlie Bryant, then director of the Wolfpack Club, and the process to bring David home was on its way. A few weeks later, David was invited to Syracuse, N.Y., to watch the Wolfpack play Florida in the NCAA regionals. Thompson came home the next year as director for community relations for the NBA team in Charlotte, a few miles away from his hometown of Shelby, N.C. In 2009 Thompson was the speaker at Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Louis University has voted no confidence, 35-2, in the university's president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Faculty leaders are angry over a recent proposed post-tenure review policy that they say would have effectively gutted tenure protections. Many faculty members say that the administration has stopped consulting with them on key issues. The university "has now become a place of tyranny," said Timothy Lomperis, a political science professor. The administration declined to comment on the faculty vote.
The New Hampshire Attorney General's office said Friday that allegations from this summer that Dartmouth College trustees steered the college's investments toward their own firms did not merit further investigation and that the office had found no evidence of wrongdoing. An anonymous letter to the office earlier this year alleged that at least 10 Dartmouth alumni who sat on its board of trustees and investment board had made investments that were good for them but bad for the institution's long-term financial health. "Based on the unsupported nature of the allegations in the Complaint, the content of the Responses, and our review of the college's most recent financial statement," the office wrote in a letter to the college's general counsel Friday, "we find no basis to conclude Dartmouth's Trustees have violated state law by engaging in related party transactions involving the investment of a portion of Dartmouth's endowment."
“The Attorney General’s finding that these anonymous and baseless allegations are without merit speaks to the rigor of Dartmouth’s policy and practice," the college said in a statement. "As we have said previously, Dartmouth meets or exceeds all the requirements of New Hampshire law with regard to its endowment investments and for investments with firms managed by trustees or Investment Committee members.”
William C. Friday, who led the University of North Carolina for three decades and was as close as anyone to being the prototypical college president who was also a national leader, died today at 92. Friday's long and storied career touched most of the major issues in higher education, from academic freedom to integration to big-time college sports, and his personal grace and political instincts proved formidable tools to enable him to handle them deftly. More on Friday's life and career will be published Monday.
Update: Robert A. Kennedy announced his resignation this morning as president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education in Connecticut. Kennedy said that controversy around decisions he had made had "become a distraction" to the work of getting the new system off the ground.The board's chairman, Lewis Robinson, said in a statement of his own that he had accepted Kennedy's resignation.
Pressure built on Thursday for the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system to resign, the Connecticut Mirror reported, amid two weeks of intensifying controversy and confusion over leadership in the higher education system. Robert A. Kennedy, the first president of the recently created system, has been closely aligned with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and has carried out an aggressive reform agenda that included a contentious plan to remake developmental education at public colleges. Last week, though, system leaders clashed with presidents of some of the state's community colleges over their future employment, and that paved the way to revelations that Kennedy had approved big raises for some system leaders.
In the wake of those revelations, leaders of the state board distanced themselves from Kennedy on Thursday, saying that they had not been informed about some of the system's decisions. That prompted a flood of news reports including non-supportive statements from Malloy and outright calls for Kennedy's resignations from legislators in both political parties. The system's board is scheduled to meet today.
King's College, in Pennsylvania, recently announced layoffs that will eliminate 11 full-time non-faculty positions, with the goal of eliminating a deficit, Citizen's Voice reported. Officials said that tuition discounting through financial aid exceeded what the college could afford, forcing the cuts. (This language corrects an earlier version.)
Today, nonprofit higher education is under threat like never before. Costs for higher education are rising at a rate that simply may not be sustainable over the long term. For-profit universities have provided platforms that enable individuals, especially those in the work force, to obtain degrees with an ease and convenience formerly not possible. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are looking for ways to provide quality online education at a fraction of the current cost. Some of them even question the value of a college education: One entrepreneur (Peter Thiel) is actually paying students not to go to college and to start businesses instead.
As costs to colleges and universities rise, state legislatures have been cutting allocations in the public sector in a way never seen before, while at the same time constraining the rate at which tuition may rise; low interest rates reduce returns on endowments; newly limited funding of grant proposals reduces income through indirect costs; and philanthropy is constrained in many cases by flat or even falling personal incomes. What’s to be done?
We in the higher-education sector can learn a lot from the Swiss watch-making industry. In the 1980s, the Swiss watch industry was in serious trouble. The Swiss watch-makers — who had dominated the industry for decades and, in some cases, for centuries — were being routed by Japanese watch-makers who were producing watches that could do much more than the Swiss ones, and at a fraction of the cost. Why pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a Swiss watch that told the time and possibly the date when you could get the time, day, and date from a Japanese product, not to mention additional features such as stopwatch, alarm, and multiple-time-zone features, and sometimes more? Even worse, the Japanese quartz (battery-operated) watches often were more accurate in telling the time than were the Swiss hand-wound or self-winding models.
The Swiss watch-making industry might have gone bust — in much the way some of us fear for the newspaper or magazine industries today — except for their creative redefinition of what it means to own a Swiss watch. Recognizing that the Japanese were out to capture their market, the Swiss watch-makers set out to redefine what it meant to own a Swiss watch. The Swiss watch was to become what a classical stringed instrument had become — the symbol of quality. Research suggests that it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish the sound of a Stradivarius from that of a well-made modern instrument, but musicians are willing to pay a huge premium for the perception of quality in the classical instrument. Swiss watch-makers similarly capitalized on their brand equity, knowing that they had only a limited amount of time effectively to do so before becoming irrelevant. They needed users of their products personally to identify with their products — to see their Swiss watches as extensions of themselves.
Different watch-makers emphasized different images. For example, Rolex Oyster watches present a bold image of luxury and privilege. Patek Philippe watches, generally even more expensive than Rolexes, tend to present an image of the highest quality accompanied by understated elegance and durability of a single watch over generations. Blancpain watches typically are even more understated, with an emphasis on each being handmade by a single maker. Tag Heuer has become a symbol of the young achiever on the way up. Longines offers quality at a more modest price, while Swatch watches are funky and relatively inexpensive.
What are the lessons in brand equity to be learned for higher education?
1. Waiting to see what happens does not work. The Swiss watch-makers could not tarry or their market would have been gone for good. Neither can higher education today wait around and hope for the best. Some newspaper and magazine publishers waited; you can see how well it worked out for them! There are too many threats to nonprofit higher education to adopt a stance of wait and see. You can’t wait to change while your market share steadily evaporates.
2. Quality institutions will survive only if they effectively market their brand. The Swiss watch brands had (and still have) a worldwide reputation for superiority. The watch-makers, however, needed to persuade their customers that quality matters. This was no easy task. Many products today, such as personal computers, have become largely mass-marketed products of generic quality. Some manufacturers, such as IBM, left the business, recognizing that relatively few PC customers would pay a premium for quality. With a cheap watch, you can buy hundreds of them before you reach the cost of a good Swiss watch. Moreover, all the watches tell time. The Swiss watch-makers, therefore, needed to persuade customers that their product was a statement about the wearer — much like a piece of jewelry. (Indeed, some non-Swiss brands, such as Cartier and Bulgari, are known primarily for their association with jewelry.)
You may be thinking that you would never seek to purchase a premium watch. But how about some other product that is more luxurious than you really need — a premium car, bicycle, house, home appliance, television, cell phone, garment, or even branded rather than generic food or drugs? Most of us seek a premium product for something because for, whatever that thing is, we want better quality, or at least, our perception of it. With higher education, students often feel their choices are limited, relative to their resources, when it comes to price.
When students pay the high and, in some institutions, astronomical costs of a college education today, they understandably feel like they are paying a premium price, whether they want to or not, and they expect to get their money’s worth. You might think that the premium branding strategy applies only to elite institutions. But today, because students perceive almost all of higher education as commanding premium prices, they want a product that delivers. Having a strong value proposition applies to all institutions, not just elite ones. Thus, institutions of higher education need to market their brand to bring pride of ownership and belonging to their students. They need to develop personal identification with the brand. Generic institutions without a clear and differentiated value proposition are the ones most likely to be hurt.
3. Quality is, in part, in the eye of the beholder. How does one actually know that, say, a Rolex or a Patek Philippe is a superior watch? For the large majority of buyers, that knowledge is gotten through the superior functioning and durability of the watch and through the watch-maker’s reputation. It is not enough to be good: The customer must be persuaded, as Detroit automakers are learning today after many lean years in which they saw their brand equity decimated. You not only need to excel, you have to be recognized for your excellence. Good marketing and good public relations are necessary but generally not sufficient to persuade stakeholders of quality. Thus colleges and universities need transparent systems of accountability that will persuade stakeholders of the quality the institutions claim.
4. Institutions will succeed to the extent that they identify, pursue, and market their unique niche. Institutions at the top of the reputational heap — the Yales and the Stanfords, say — have marked out their niche, trying to be the best possible in a wide variety of disciplines. Most institutions of higher learning, however, have neither the financial resources nor even the will to become the best across the board. Instead, they need to do what the Swiss watch-makers did — find a niche in which they excel and then sell themselves as powerfully as they can to those who identify with what they have to offer.
At Oklahoma State University, for example, our brand derives from our land-grant mission — that we seek to educate ethical citizens and leaders who will make a positive, meaningful, and enduring difference to the world. As part of our value proposition, we have a Center for Ethical Leadership, leadership-related courses and student activities in all colleges, a popular leadership minor, and an ethos of developing servant leaders. We are in the early stages of planning to start an "ethical leadership track," to be administered jointly by academic and student affairs, to be readily and freely available to all students — undergraduate and graduate. It will combine the study of ethical leadership in the academic sphere with activities developed by student affairs that immediately apply what one learns in the classroom to one’s activities on campus.
In this way, we hope better to integrate the academic and student-affairs sides of our university, a task that is not always easily accomplished. In particular, certain courses will be identified as participating in the track, and will include within them principles and case studies in ethical leadership as applied to the particular discipline being studied. Thus, students will not have to take additional courses, but rather will elect courses and course sections relevant to the track. They will see directly how ethical leadership cross-cuts academic disciplines. And through their student-affairs activities, such as community service, student government, athletics, journalism, or whatever, they will apply what they learn. They then will be accountable in the academic work for showing how they applied what they learned on the academic side to the student-affairs side.
Other institutions might brand themselves differently. What is important is that the brand identification accurately and excitingly reflects both the mission of the institution and the graduates it produces.
5. You need consistency in quality and in messaging. For the best watch-makers, every watch is of superb quality. There are few or no duds, and if there is a dud, it is quickly replaced, no questions asked. Moreover, the watch-makers deliver on quality: There is an active market for quality Swiss watches dating back to the early 1900s. If the old watches are serviced, they still work and keep accurate time. And they bring high prices, even a century later. Similarly, colleges and universities need to produce graduates who show to employers and other stakeholders in the higher education system that they have the skills and work ethic they need to cope effectively with the work demands of the present and the future.
Similarly, messaging has to be strong and consistent. In earlier times, it was relatively simple to make different pitches to different audiences — to try to be everything to everybody. But with the advent of the Internet, information spreads around the globe literally at the speed of light. As some political candidates have discovered, whatever you say anywhere to anybody is fair game. You can’t afford to be indecisive about what you stand for. Some institutions cannot decide who or what they are: They have too many messages, too many logos, too many moving parts working at cross-purposes to each other. The Swiss watch-makers that have succeeded have been consistent in producing high-quality products and have carried a distinctive and unified brand message, sometimes offering diverse options (models) within the context of that overall message.
To some readers, it may seem offensive to think of a college or university in terms of a construct of brand equity. But in an age of rapid advances and intense competition, institutions of higher learning can no longer afford to be quixotic or otherwise naïve. Enhancement and effective communication of brand equity is what saved Swiss watch companies. It is what will save quality institutions of higher education.
Robert J. Sternberg is provost, senior vice president, Regents Professor of Psychology and Education, and Kaiser Family Foundation Chair in Ethical Leadership at Oklahoma State University. He is on the board of the Association of American Colleges and Universities as treasurer and is president of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences as well as past president of the American Psychological Association. The opinions in this article, however, are exclusively his own.