Faculty Vote No Confidence at U of the Pacific

Faculty at the University of the Pacific passed a vote of no confidence in Pamela Eibeck, president of the university, on Monday. Fifty-eight percent of the faculty participated, and of those, 93 percent supported a vote of no confidence. The vote followed a resolution of no confidence by the Academic Council -- the university’s faculty senate -- and student protests calling for Eibeck’s removal in the wake of campuswide budget cuts.

In response, Kevin Huber, chair of the Board of Regents, said that the "regents will review and discuss the information and provide a response to the Academic Council."

As of Wednesday, the board remained steadfast in its support of the president. In a letter to staff, faculty and students, Huber wrote that the board “strongly and unequivocally” supports Eibeck and the administration.

Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

A key reason behind presidential resignations involves shared governance (opinion)

Campus Leadership

Over the last few years, a startling number of college and university presidents have suddenly lost their jobs. The trustees and faculty members at Pennsylvania State University, Michigan State University and, most recently, the University of Southern California have all seen their presidents resign. Other campuses have also experienced similar eruptions.

A handful of well-publicized downfalls by college and university presidents doesn’t necessarily suggest all of academe is in similar danger. After all, with more than 4,600 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States, trends rarely apply to every sector. Still, the resignations suggest something different from the norm is at work in academe.

So what went wrong at those institutions? Conjectures abound, but many of them don’t hold up to scrutiny. Here are four often-blamed factors that don’t cause the downfall of university presidencies:

The structure of the board. After every resignation, recommendations for reform have focused on reshaping the Board of Trustees. At Michigan State, for example, the board was said to be too small and insular; at USC, too large and opaque. At Penn State, the board was accused of being asleep at the wheel. Looked at as a whole, no discernible pattern emerges -- a clear sign that a structural flaw in the academic system did not cause the problems.

Conflicts among the faculty, board and administration. At some colleges and universities, the governing groups have contentious relationships. New board members might want to oust a president to pursue a different path for the institution. Faculty members might distrust the president and come across as being out for blood. Such was not the case, however, in any of the recent governance controversies. Indeed, a claim could be made that the opposite was true: faculty members were largely compliant, raising no warning flags about their leaders. And the boards either had no idea of the problems that existed or simply thought the president was doing a great job.

Problematic presidential personalities. Penn State’s president was often lauded as a model to emulate. Lou Anna Simon received plaudits for her leadership at Michigan State. USC’s Board of Trustees gave its president a $1.5 million bonus a year before firing him. How is it possible that a leader can be popular and supported by their boards and the faculty one day yet then relieved of duty the next?

Presidential abuse. In all recent cases, the presidents were peripheral to the controversies rocking their institutions. At Michigan State, a trainer committed a series of crimes. At Penn State, a former football coach was the guilty party. At USC, a medical school dean, and then a gynecologist, were the individuals at the center of the storm.

What, then, are we to make of this string of presidential resignations? Distinct issues in each of these institutions’ cultures played important roles, but a key common problem has to do with a lack of shared governance.

Colleges and universities are interpretive communities where individuals make sense of actions and policies through a shared discourse that gets enacted by way of governance. Shared governance, however, on each of these campuses, was weak. Boards of trustees and faculty members ceded far too much power to administrators to make decisions.

Many institutions see a clear benefit to consolidating power: speed. A continual drumbeat in academe has been that higher education is plagued by slow decision making -- a lethargy that could doom academic institutions in an age defined by the speed of social media. Faculty members are said to prevent institutions from acting nimbly; if college presidents had more leeway, colleges could achieve more, more quickly, goes the argument.

Such arguments have been winning out. The result is that boards and faculties have largely ceded their roles in shared governance to the president and the administrative minions -- with disastrous consequences. The lack of shared responsibility can be seen in each of the institutions that lost their presidents.

The way forward has to be an acknowledgment that “shared” governance suggests that faculty members are active decision makers. Faculty members will see issues differently from administrators or the board -- and that is not a bad thing. Different perspectives enable creative conflict to occur, and out of that comes more informed decision making and more involvement from all constituencies.

Shared decision making takes time, but it need not be interminable. Some decisions require a rapid response, but what is really needed for the vast majority of issues is agreement on an agenda and time frame. Faculty members tend to focus on processes; administrators like to make decisions. What we need going forward is active faculty and board engagement with issues and policies in deliberative forums that make decisions rather than just debate them.

Colleges and universities certainly need to acknowledge a more competitive academic environment framed by digital technologies that require faster response times than in the past. But to ignore the failures of governance is to welcome further problems in other institutions, and ultimately, threaten the excellence that has defined higher education.

William G. Tierney is University Professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education in the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and the co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education.

Editorial Tags: 
Image Caption: 
Former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Why presidents have such short tenures (opinion)

Campus Leadership

Announcing recently that he plans to retire in 2019 after eight years at the helm, the president of a flagship research university observed that had he already served longer than the median tenure for CEOs of similar institutions.

Indeed, reports from the American Council on Education and other presidential associations confirm that the median tenure of presidents at four-year institutions is declining. Many factors account for this trend. It is reasonable to assume that the rising number of extremely short tenures is lowering the median.

In the past two years, I have researched the profiles of 34 presidents who served for three years or less between initial appointment and resignation or termination. One member of this group resigned following a felony indictment, another perished in a car accident and three resigned due to unexpected health crises. The remaining 29 presidents resigned for job-related reasons -- sometimes voluntarily, sometimes under pressure from system heads and trustees or from internal constituencies.

Combining research from available public sources, analysis of press coverage and personal interviews, I tried to understand why and how such early resignations occurred. And I looked for patterns of decision making by the presidential appointees and the recruiting institutions.

Available documentation and personal recollections suggest that the very short tenures cannot be attributed to flawed search processes. Nearly all institutions that experienced early resignations or terminations had followed standard procedures in their quest for new CEOs: the appointment of sizable search committees, co-chaired by trustees and campus leaders; leisurely search timetables, typically six to 18 months; and the engagement of executive search firms.

Two words, however, kept coming up both in the written sources and in interviews: “mismatch” and “misalignment.” Two words, but perhaps only one concept. Resignations or terminations came about when one or both of the parties to the presidential contract concluded that they had different ideas about the job itself and/or different goals for the institution.

Three Examples Examined

Under any circumstances, short presidential tenures are highly disruptive and very expensive. Trustees and campus leaders cannot shield their institutions from unpredictable accidents or health crises. But they can and should look out for potential causes of “mismatch” or “misalignment.” The following three examples illustrate how these problems occurred and what the recruiting institutions might do to avoid them in the future.

At all three institutions, the chosen candidates served for less than two years from initial appointment. The early resignations did not occur in the context of major controversies or scandals. All three searches were conducted in compliance with applicable laws and academic customs. The preferred candidates fit the lengthy briefs prepared by the search consultants in collaboration with representative committees. Why, then, were their presidential tenures short-lived?

At one institution, a small, selective liberal arts college, search committee and trustees embraced an able and very loyal “member of the [college] family.” Able and loyal he was. But was he ready to implement drastic cuts in the operating budget? Was he ready to grapple with the nearly 50 percent tuition discount rate that had sustained the college through many years of flat enrollments? Were the preferred candidate and his wife ready to put down roots in a community quite different from the one where they had lived for more than a decade?

At a second institution, a large public research university, the search committee recommended the appointment of a candidate who could advance the university’s standing among its peers. Strongly qualified for this assignment he was. But did he understand the complexities of a campus and a system with competing centers of power and layers of bureaucracy? Did he know enough about the legendary political complexities of the state in which he was invited to live and work?

A third example of early exit occurred at a midsize, respected technological university. The institution was stable and financially sound. But its aging faculty showed little interest in updating the science curricula developed in the 1980s and 1990s and even less interest in cross-disciplinary teaching and research. The trustees understood that their university slowly but surely was losing its competitive edge. The new appointee had impressive research credentials and had managed scientific institutes and laboratories. But did she appreciate the difference between setting new expectations for a traditional, somewhat skeptical, faculty and supervising teams of untenured, mostly junior scientists and technical personnel?

Other individual and institutional profiles I analyzed presented variations on this theme. Sound search processes, extensive and professionally prepared briefs, highly qualified candidates … and very short tenures.

The common thread in most of the profiles I reconstructed? From start to finish, participants in the search process focused intensely on the candidates’ personal attributes, less so on relevant work experience, and least intensely on the specific challenges that awaited the most skilled and personable candidates in the pool. Search consultants and search committees produced the results they were charged with producing: legally and academically sound processes and qualified candidates who fit the institutional briefs. “Mismatches” and “misalignments” occurred at the next stage in the search process, when the decision makers -- trustees and system heads -- paid too little attention to the onboarding of their appointees.

In a general sense, the new CEOs were well qualified for presidential responsibilities. But they were not well prepared to understand the distinct cultural and political environments and to tackle the specific academic and financial challenges of the institution.

Professional associations that serve college and university trustees have been aware for some time that higher education needs more effective onboarding practices. Models are available not only in the corporate world but also among major foundations, nonprofit hospitals and so forth. We in higher education need to revisit this issue and the applicable models.

Some system chancellors and trustees acknowledge the high cost of overlooking the importance of onboarding practices. Presidents who have recovered from painful experiences, or who are now retired, are also willing to share what they learned. Let us take advantage of these resources and thus reduce the probability of future “mismatches” and “misalignments.”

Clara M. Lovett is president emerita of Northern Arizona University.

Editorial Tags: 
Image Source:
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

What changes in the roles of presidential spouses and partners signify (opinion)

The traditional role of the supportive helpmate has been recast in significant ways to fit the times, writes Clara M. Lovett.

Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Show on Jobs site: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 

Advice for presidents on how to balance building consensus with unilateral action (opinion)

How can campus leaders achieve the best balance, Richard M. Freeland asks, between building consensus and taking more swift, unilateral actions?

Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Show on Jobs site: 
Image Source:
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 

Southern Illinois President Survives Board Vote

The president of Southern Illinois University stayed on the job Thursday when the system's trustees deadlocked in a vote to place him on administrative leave.

Trustees were voting on a proposal to place President Randy Dunn on leave for six months while outside legal counsel investigated his conduct. But they split 4 to 4, meaning the effort did not pass and ending plans to consider appointing an acting president, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The showdown follows weeks of tumult surrounding Dunn's presidency. Trustees had planned a meeting earlier this month to discuss removing him, but it was called off at the last moment.

Two trustees who led efforts to oust Dunn wanted him removed because he allegedly worked behind the scenes to support legislation to dissolve the Southern Illinois system, they revealed Thursday. It previously hadn't been clear why Dunn was on the hot seat. The change in question would have separated campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville.

Evidence suggests the president helped to draft state legislation to separate the two campuses and concealed information about the proposal from the board, said one of the trustees, Joel Sambursky. He called Dunn's actions indefensible.

But the chancellor at Edwardsville, Randy Pembrook, said he was glad Dunn would be continuing as president.

Tensions within the system were already running high over the distribution of funding between campuses.

Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Essay on emerging culture of patronage at Michigan State

Later in his life, Jonas Salk began thinking, writing and speaking about various aspects of the human condition. In 1985, he went to New York University to discuss his most recent, and what turned out to be his last, book, Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason. He spoke about changing societal institutions in terms of metamorphosis, with a focus on two powerful ideas.

First, Salk said that our institutions evolve constantly. Second, he stated with great confidence that more often than not, we fail to recognize these transformations as they happen. One very powerful example he gave linked the closing of state mental hospitals to homelessness, which in turn became linked to both the crack cocaine epidemic and then to the emerging HIV/AIDS crisis. Only in hindsight, Salk said, did we begin to understand how these were, at least in part, related events.

While it may seem like a broad leap from Jonas Salk’s evolving institutions to the crisis at Michigan State University, there are early signs that what is happening there may be an early indicator of public higher education’s metamorphosis -- and not in a good way.

In an almost reflexive response to the televised sentencing of Larry Nassar, the elected MSU Board of Trustees accepted the resignation of the long-serving president, Lou Anna Simon, and awarded her a platinum parachute. To many -- not all -- that made sense.

But what happened next, the almost immediate appointment of a former Michigan governor as interim president, without any faculty input or community involvement, led to a vote of no confidence in the board. Salk might have sensed this as an early indicator that a metamorphosis is underway: the transformation of MSU from a meritocracy to an emerging culture of cronyism.

Of course, politicians becoming university presidents is nothing new. In fact, it goes back to the founding of the country. In 1785, Abraham Baldwin, a delegate to both the Confederation Congress and the Constitutional Convention, was appointed the first president of the University of Georgia. More recently, politicians such as John Brademas, David Boren, Thomas Kean, Janet Napolitano, Mitch Daniels, Sam Olens and Terry Branstad, to name a few, have become university presidents after leaving elected office. This list does not include former appointed government officials who also have become university presidents. In their new roles, all received considerably higher salaries and greater perks than they had as elected officials. In fact, as we have stated before, the vast majority of public university presidents are paid significantly more than a governor, a member of Congress or even the president of the United States.

According to the American Council on Education’s American College President Study (2017), the percentage of university presidents coming directly from outside higher education has remained relatively constant since 2001. On the other hand, there has been a decrease in the number of presidents who report their last position as an elected or appointed government official. Nonetheless, the expressed interest and willingness of governing boards to recruit and consider such candidates continues to increase. Michigan State is just the latest example and may well be the canary in the coal mine.

It is worth noting the structure of Engler’s employment agreement. Engler’s salary as interim president is set at $1 less than the lowest-paid president of a Big Ten university. His contract also acknowledges that the board has been notified of “his intent to donate” his salary to “qualified university organizations or entities and that such donation will be at the sole discretion of the interim president.” Of particular interest, however, is that the language does not appear to create a legally binding obligation to do so.

Although Engler declined health care and retirement benefits, he did accept other benefits such as access to a car and driver for “official university duties” as well as a vehicle such as those "furnished to other senior executives." In our review of over 200 presidential contracts, it appears that most provide a car, but this is one of the very few that also provides a driver. There are other significant benefits that he also will accept -- spousal travel, tickets for his family to attend cultural and athletic events, and being permitted to continue serving on several corporate boards -- where he appears to have received over $600,000 last year in director’s fees and stock awards. By contrast, Lou Anna Simon does not appear ever to have held a paid corporate directorship.

The local news media detailed Engler’s first spate of appointments at MSU. These may foreshadow the full metamorphosis of MSU into a political pool for patronage. To start, he appointed Carol Morey Viventi, who served as his deputy chief of staff 25 years ago and since then has spent her entire career in state government. According to the Macinack Center, her last reported state salary, in 2016, was just over $135,000. She now holds a newly created position of vice president and special counsel at MSU with a reported salary of $250,000.

Engler’s former press secretary, John Truscott, was hired on a three-month contract at $325 per hour, to handle crisis communication. On an annualized basis, this hourly rate totals more than $675,000 per year.

Engler also hired Robert Young Jr., former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, at a discounted rate of $640 per hour ($1,331,200 annualized) to coordinate various legal matters. Young initially was appointed to the court by Engler in 1999.

Two of the most recently announced appointees, Kathleen Wilber as executive vice president for government and external relations, and Emily Gerkin Guerrant as vice president and university spokesperson, also are Republican loyalists. Wilber served for 12 years in Engler’s gubernatorial cabinet. She will be paid 30 percent more than her predecessor. Guerrant spent the first seven years of her career as a Republican staff member in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Finally of note, Engler hired his predecessor, former governor James Blanchard, through the law firm DLA Piper. The engagement letters for the $50,000-per-month retainer, $600,000 for the first year, provide only a general description of the services to be provided. These also allow for the possibility of additional billing at an unspecified hourly rate once any official investigations begin, such as the one recently announced by the U.S. Department of Education.

Beyond Engler’s prior relationships with these individuals, there is no evidence that any of these personnel appointments or contracts went through an open and competitive search or procurement process. Rather, using the Nassar crisis, it appears that the board has suspended normal business practices and permitted an interim president to reward members of his former staff and other colleagues with highly paid positions and lucrative, potentially long-term contracts.

Given that MSU will be dealing with the fallout from the Nassar scandal for years to come, it is possible and perhaps likely that these appointments and contracts could extend well beyond Engler’s tenure and be worth millions. Seven years after the Sandusky scandal broke, Pennsylvania State University has paid nearly $60 million in legal and public relations fees, and the meter is still running. In less than a year, MSU already has racked up more than $12 million in fees to their own attorneys and PR. In addition, MSU recently announced that it will pay $500 million to Nassar’s victims ($425 million to the 332 victims in current litigation plus $75 million in a trust fund for potential future plaintiffs), plus an unknown amount to the victims’ attorneys.

There are many differences between being elected to office and being appointed as a university president. For politicians, “to the victor go the spoils.” They get to make a raft of new appointments at every level of government, from personal staff to agency heads to commission members. Past association and loyalty are often essential qualifications to land a position in a new administration. In many cases, these individuals make a personal sacrifice by accepting substantially lower compensation in order to serve. Not only is it clear that there is a new culture of cronyism and patronage being built at MSU, we are learning that it also very lucrative.

Time will tell whether or not the MSU Board of Trustees will survive. But what does seem certain is that the interim president’s appointees will be there for years to come and are the first to cash in on the tragedy that befell Nassar’s victims. Given this new culture of cronyism, we should not be surprised if the metamorphosis taking place results in something more like a character from Kafka than a beautiful butterfly.

James Finkelstein is professor emeritus at George Mason University. Judith Wilde is the chief operating officer and a professor at George Mason's Schar School of Policy and Government.

Image Source:
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

The value of co-presidencies both in and outside of academe (opinion)

They could offer significant benefits and are not rare if one looks beyond academe, argue Karen Gross, Chris Forrest and Brandy Forrest.

Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Show on Jobs site: 
Image Source: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 

How presidents today must deal with problems they didn't create and can't control (opinion)

I’ve been receiving an unprecedented number of calls from presidents across the country asking me to “talk [them] off the ledge.” Most of those conversations have been with presidents whom I judge to be effective and emotionally grounded. Yet each person has been distressed in ways that I didn’t find common during my earlier years in higher education.

In her recent novel, The Devil and Webster, Jean Hanff Korelitz says of her fictional president, Naomi Roth:

From the beginning, she had characterized the job of a college president as, first, doing no harm to the institution, second, improving the institution if at all possible, and third, getting out in one piece. There were bells and whistles, of course, myriad responsibilities, drudgery, absurdities, little challenges like speechifying and remembering names and riding the general rocket that was 21st-century selective admissions in a helicopter parent culture, but at the end of the day the job boiled down to these three.

Like Roth, I was, as the Tacoma News Tribune noted in announcing my appointment in 1992 as president of the University of Puget Sound, “a divorced Jewish woman.” We both also had daughters in college.

But despite those similarities, what struck me most about the book were the differences between my presidential experiences from 1992 to 2003 and those of my contemporaries, on the one hand, and those of Naomi Roth and the many current presidents with whom I talk, on the other. Simply put, although my contemporaries and I often exchanged our own war stories about unhappy moments back then, on balance most of us genuinely took great pleasure in our work. We, too, made lots of speeches, tried hard to remember names, encountered helicopter parents and were sustained by a sense of the absurd, but most of us did not find our work, as Roth does, to be “drudgery.” And I know that I was not alone in being sustained rather than disheartened by my interactions with students, faculty and staff.

It was also a far gentler time. Even as we grappled with perennial matters like admissions, retention, budgets, our physical plants and fund-raising, we didn’t worry -- as current presidents do -- about whether colleges and universities, much less the liberal arts, would survive. The notion of “reputational risk” was a foreign one. Disagreements on campus tended to be confined to the campus.

But that was then, and this is now.

As readers of Inside Higher Ed know, this is a fraught time for many college presidents who are confronting challenges that they did not create and often can’t control.

Many institutions are experiencing financial challenges, often stemming from a cascading decline in enrollments, and the data reveal that these challenges will persist. The number of college-age students in America will continue to decrease for the next several years and will not, in any foreseeable future, return to the numbers we saw before 2011. Growing concerns on the part of the public -- fueled by some elected officials -- that college is unaffordable and/or fails to prepare students for jobs may further dampen interest in college. The “travel ban” has discouraged many international students from enrolling at institutions in the United States.

In response, to attract students, many colleges and universities have had to increase their tuition discount significantly, thereby reducing their net tuition revenue. In 2016, the average tuition discount exceeded 49 percent, compared with 38 percent in 2003.

Institutions that once had prided themselves on collegiality are now divided over matters that previously had not been contentious, such as free speech and academic freedom. Campus events that would previously have been considered standard fare can now quickly become highly politicized and can even present safety concerns. Declining enrollments in the liberal arts have led some administrations and boards to make curricular decisions unilaterally that once had been the primary responsibility of the faculty.

Salary and hiring freezes, layoffs and the closing of long-established programs have also led faculty and staff members to distrust presidents and trustees, sometimes those with whom they had once enjoyed positive relationships. And instead of looking forward to conversations with students, many presidents worry that such encounters will become contentious and uncivil occasions for students to demand large societal changes over which presidents have no influence.

Social media has also significantly raised the possibility of reputational risk. Historically, stories about negative events that occurred on a college campus were most likely to be featured only in the student newspaper and the local press. Today, such stories make their way around the world immediately. Think, for instance, of the painful YouTube videos that have gone viral of college presidents, controversial speakers and even faculty members being subject to the vitriol of protesters, some of whom may not even be members of the campus community.

Recent events reveal how presidents and boards can almost instantaneously be at the center of and ultimately impacted by widely publicized stories about destructive actions on the part of colleagues and students. Baylor University, Penn State University and now Michigan State University have all made clear, in cases involving sexual assault, how vulnerable presidents and trustees are to criticism if they fail to fulfill -- or even if they are perceived to have failed to fulfill -- their responsibly for the health and integrity of the institution in their trust.

Dealing With Presidential Angst

I spoke with a number of worried presidents at this January’s annual meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges’ Presidents Institute. This year, as noted in an article in Inside Higher Ed, “a heightened sense of concern underpinned” much of what took place in both formal sessions and informal conversations: “The concern was evident in the institute's programming, which included a notable number of sessions addressing mergers or partnerships between institutions, as well as strategies for taking on financial challenges.”

Even as I worry on a personal level about these beleaguered presidents, I also worry about what it means for higher education. If talented and dedicated presidents wonder, as many now tell me that they do, if the job is even “doable,” I fear that many potentially excellent candidates will refuse even to consider the presidential role.

So what in these troubled times should college presidents do to function effectively and, at least some of the time, enjoy their work?

Presidents should focus in moments of calm on developing a shared understanding with their boards about who is responsible for which decisions, rather than waiting for a crisis to sort that out. Presidents, other senior administrators and trustees should come together to engage in the kind of exercise that Richard Chait advocates in his article in Trusteeship, “Decisions, Decisions,” to determine which institutional decisions are the responsibility of the president, which belong to the president after discussion with trustees and often with the faculty and other members of the campus community as well, and which should be made by the board after discussion with the president.

Trustees, the administration and the faculty should avoid demonizing one another and come to a common understanding of shared governance, including achieving clarity about who in which circumstances has primary (although not necessarily ultimate) responsibility, who should be consulted and who should be informed about which decisions.

The president and the board should clarify how they will communicate with one another. At some institutions, the president and board chair have regular meetings or calls, but they also need to decide on a protocol for moments of crisis. It is also vitally important that the entire board has confidence that the president will immediately inform the chair about matters of risk and that the chair will, when appropriate, engage trustees in thinking with the president about those matters.

The president and other senior administrators should also be sure that they have effective internal communications. Joined -- by representative faculty members, student affairs staff and, as applicable, campus security professionals, they should engage in robust scenario planning about possible crises on the campus and share the results of that planning with the board. While institutions often do that when it comes to natural disasters, many have not adequately prepared for other possible scenarios, such as:

  • Students taking over the president’s office
  • Some in an audience shouting down a speaker
  • Calls for transparency (which often translate to mean full disclosure) by students and others on matters about which the administration must observe confidentiality for both legal and ethical reasons
  • Unsubstantiated but public accusations that one or more people on the campus are racist, homophobic or sexually or otherwise abusive.

This group also needs to decide what relationship campus leaders should have with local law enforcement officers and who speaks for the institution under which circumstances.

Presidents, boards and senior staff should also have a clear understanding of the role of the president in times of crisis. Some experts argue that the president should not be front and center but should delegate interaction with campus constituencies to a vice president. Others believe, as I do, that the president needs to play a visible leadership role, articulating the values of the institution. At the very least, presidents should be fully informed about the circumstances of the crisis, agree with what is being proposed and speak at key moments on behalf of the institution.

Every president should have at least one person knowledgeable about higher education to whom they can turn to discuss such fraught moments confidentially and constructively. Although I would have given similar advice years ago, it is even more vital today that presidents establish relationships with confidants. Those confidants should not only listen and provide moral support but also engage in creative problem solving with the president.

Presidents should intentionally establish and maintain relationships with members of the faculty and staff who will candidly share, both in normal circumstances and moments of crisis, what they think and what they are hearing from others.

Even in the midst of charged and uncertain moments, presidents should exhibit the following characteristics: an unwavering commitment to fairness, a sense of confidence in the strength of their institution and its people, graciousness even when being unfairly attacked, and, if appropriate, empathy for those who believe themselves wronged (which may include parties on all sides of an issue). Presidents should view their role as one of strength but not rigidity and of listening and being responsive. And because most people at the institution will be attuned to their moods and demeanor, presidents should project calm.

Finally, presidents, in both good times and bad, should connect with their campuses. As a matter of ordinary practice, they should take as many walks around the campus as possible, talking informally with students and faculty and staff colleagues. I know of some presidents who have formed strong bonds with people at their institution by dedicating free lunch hours to eating in the school dining hall, joining students, faculty or staff for impromptu conversations. They also attend as many events as possible, such as concerts, plays, lectures, art exhibits and athletic events. Indeed, the best presidents I know view these interactions as one of the perquisites of the job.

My wish for presidents in the current environment is that they become anchored in the life of the campus. Doing so will remind them of the importance of and the reason for the work that they do. It will also enable them to achieve not just President Roth’s goal of “getting out in one piece” but also the fulfillment and pleasure that will sustain them through the challenges as well as the successes.

Susan Resneck Pierce is president emerita of the University of Puget Sound and president of SRP Consulting. Her most recent books are On Being Presidential: A Guide for College and University Leaders, (Jossey Bass, 2012) and Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Administrators and Faculty Can Help Their Colleges Thrive (Jossey Bass, 2014).

Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

President Resigns After Discrimination Complaint

The president of Rowan College at Burlington County has resigned. Paul Drayton was placed on leave last year when the college launched an investigation into a discrimination-based complaint, the Burlington County Times reported.

In a special meeting Friday, trustees voted unanimously to accept Drayton’s resignation, effective Sept. 1.

“We accepted Mr. Drayton’s resignation for health reasons. We wish him the best, and that’s basically all I can comment on,” George Nyikita, board chairman told the Burlington County Times Friday.

Drayton will continue to receive his annual salary of $203,206 until his leave is up on Aug. 31.

In August, Drayton was placed on administrative leave when the college started an internal investigation into a complaint submitted by an employee to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handles cases of workplace discrimination and harassment.

Drayton defended his presidency in an interview with Saturday. "I've lived my life on opening doors. The last thing I would do is discriminate against anyone," Drayton said.

Michael Cioce, vice president of enrollment management and student success, was named acting president in Drayton’s absence. Rowan has yet to appoint a permanent replacement.

Drayton, who became Rowan's president in March 2015, oversaw the multimillion-dollar renovation of the college's Mount Laurel campus and a partnership with Rowan University in Glassboro.

Drayton's career has previously been clouded by some controversy. In 2010, when he was named Burlington County’s administrator, Drayton's failure to pay $3,000 in child support surfaced, the Courier Post reported. Drayton also resigned from his role as executive director of the Delaware River Port Authority in 2003 after commissioners attempted to oust him, according to

Editorial Tags: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 


Subscribe to RSS - Presidents
Back to Top