Presidents

Reflections on Inside Higher Ed's 2017 Survey of College and University Presidents (essay)

The most recent Inside Higher Ed survey of college and university presidents illustrates a disconnect between what presidents believe is occurring at their institutions and what is actually happening just below the surface among our student populations. Despite presidents’ impressions of the day-to-day experiences, all is not rosy, and student affairs administrators can provide presidents with a reality check when it comes to the good and the not-so-good circumstances and events that are transpiring.

Some of the issues that concern presidents most -- and those that we who work in student affairs believe should, in fact, concern presidents the most -- are often related to student behaviors and experiences outside of the classroom. Those are the areas of knowledge and responsibility housed in student affairs offices, and we can assist with the topics most associated with our field -- including equity and diversity initiatives, promoting anti-bias on campus, student engagement, and issues tied to student success, recruitment and retention.

The key to mining our expertise, however, is to have a realistic understanding of our areas of responsibility, and a plan for best accessing our expertise and our close connections throughout the institution. This allows presidents to make the strongest and best-informed decisions possible for their campus communities.

For example, the Inside Higher Ed survey found that “the vast majority of presidents describe the state of race relations at their college as either excellent (20 percent) or good (63 percent). More than three-fifths of presidents describe race relations at American colleges in general as fair.”

I’ve used the analogous data points from last year’s presidential survey when speaking to members of NASPA, the leading association for student affairs professionals, over the past year -- data that, the survey notes, are relatively unchanged from last year to this year. Not surprisingly, I’ve received a mix of gasps and chuckles, with many student affairs professionals hoping their presidents can realistically assess the status of race relations on their own campuses. NASPA’s survey of senior student affairs officers has consistently shown that diversity and race relations are among the top issues and concerns. It would be fascinating to see how students -- especially students from diverse backgrounds -- would rate their institutions, but I can safely bet that the “vast majority” would not rate them as “excellent” or “good.”

It is important to note that a lack of protest on a campus does not mean students and other community members are satisfied about race relations there. We shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security that we are meeting students’ needs solely because we haven’t faced protests. The absence of activism may simply mean those students aren’t activated yet. Student affairs administrators can help their presidents proactively engage with all students so that they have an accurate picture of the true state of the student body and its general satisfaction with the current campus climate.

The ways in which student affairs professionals can contribute counsel to a president are not limited to race relations or underlying diversity unrest. The survey shows that presidents are also worried about attracting and retaining all students, including underrepresented ones, and making dollars from tuition and state appropriations stretch farther than ever before. With only 52 percent of presidents “confident about their institution’s financial health over the next 10 years,” higher education will likely face additional cuts in the future.

If presidents are considering reducing support for student affairs functions, they do so at the potential peril of their retention efforts and to the detriment of their student satisfaction and graduation rates. When cutting costs, presidents should prioritize efficiencies and preserve the core opportunities and experiences associated with a college degree. They should turn to data to determine which experiences are contributing to students’ success and refrain from wholesale elimination of the programs and services that keep students moving toward graduation. Presidents should make changes to increase impact and maintain personal contact and engagement, which are key parts of the institutional experience.

A Gallup survey found that students were 1.6 times more likely to strongly agree their education was worth the cost if they were “extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations,” 1.9 times more likely if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their “goals and dreams” and 1.4 times more likely if they had a “leadership position in a club or organization such as student government, a fraternity or sorority, or an athletic team.” Student affairs professionals can make a difference in keeping our students on the path toward graduation and satisfied with their investment.

This weekend, the American Council on Education and NASPA kick off their respective annual meetings. With a preponderance of attendees of the ACE meeting holding the title of president or chancellor, I encourage them to think through how they can better tap the expertise housed in student affairs and make use of the experiences of their senior student affairs officer. The survey results from Inside Higher Ed aren’t surprising, but they tell me that student affairs officers need a seat at the table to provide perspective and advice as presidents tackle myriad difficult topics on behalf of today’s students.

Kevin Kruger is president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

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Protests (clockwise from top left) at U of Missouri, Claremont McKenna College, U of Iowa, Amherst College and Ithaca College
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Tuesday, March 14, 2017
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College Keeps President, Despite Scandal

The Board of Trustees at Niagara County Community College in New York voted last week to keep its president, who is allegedly at the center of a bid-rigging scandal and a federal investigation. Faculty members are shocked by the board's decision, according to WKBW News in Buffalo.

The college is currently conducting an internal investigation to determine if its president, James Klyczek, attempted to influence the bidding process for contracted work -- valued at $25 million -- on a culinary institute in nearby Niagara Falls. Potentially incriminating emails obtained by The Buffalo News suggest Klyczek might have broken the law by manipulating the bidding process.

Klyczek has declined to comment on the allegations to local reporters.

“Like everyone else, I was pretty stunned,” said Lori Townsend, president of the college’s Faculty Senate, about the board's decision to keep Klyczek. Townsend said she expected the board to vote to put him on administrative leave while the investigation continues, because “it's just good for the president and good for the investigation to have him basically out of the building.”

The vote to keep Klyczek in his position was not unanimous, according to a statement from the college, but they did not achieve the necessary six votes to put Klyczek on paid leave, either. The final tally was 5 to 4.

“The decision leaves the administration in place, maintaining consistency at the college and helping ensure students receive the same strong education they have come to expect from NCCC,” the statement said.

Townsend said the faculty support the Board of Trustees, but there will always be a lingering question about whether Klyczek interfered with the internal investigation. Instead, they are hoping for a fair and independent federal investigation.

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Texas-San Antonio President Quits Over Embraces

The president of the University of Texas at San Antonio resigned Friday for his “inappropriate” behavior around women at the institution.

In a statement, President Ricardo Romo (right) apologized for his actions and announced his early retirement from the UT System.

“I have been made aware that the manner in which I embraced women made them uncomfortable and was inappropriate,” Romo said in the statement. “I understand and respect Chancellor [William] McRaven’s concerns about my behavior, and I deeply apologize for any conduct that offended anyone.”

Romo announced last fall that he intended to retire about a year later, in August 2017, but his departure from the UT System will now happen immediately.

“This will eliminate the possibility of any distraction or disruption of the great work going on at UTSA,” he wrote.

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Reflections on Teresa Sullivan and Hillary Clinton's shared leadership style

The same day Donald Trump assumed his office, another public official, in a college town two and a half hours southwest of Washington, D.C., confirmed plans to leave hers. University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan announced Jan. 20 that she will step down when her contract ends in summer 2018.

Sullivan’s tumultuous tenure as UVa’s first female president is worth reflecting on now, in the aftermath of nationwide women’s protests and the failed bid of our country’s first female presidential nominee from one of the two major parties. The difficulties Sullivan weathered during her presidency reveal much about prevalent attitudes toward female leadership -- and about how we pigeonhole and punish women with power.

Sullivan made national headlines in the summer of 2012 when she survived an attempt by university’s governing board to oust her. On June 10, 2012, Helen Dragas, then rector of the Board of Visitors, sent an email to the UVa community announcing Sullivan’s resignation. Dragas provided no stated rationale for the ouster, nor did she name a replacement. Two weeks of protest from faculty members, students and alumni followed. In the end, the board reinstated Sullivan as president, with Dragas joining the vote with an “unequivocal yes.”

Sullivan had arrived at UVa less than two years before the board tried to sack her. She was an outsider to the institution. Cerebral and reserved, not a Virginia native or an alumna of the university, she was the first woman to hold the presidency -- in all, a marked contrast to her predecessor, the charismatic John T. Casteen III, a Virginia native who held three degrees from UVa and served as president for 20 years.

UVa students and faculty sometimes mention Sullivan in the same breath as Elizabeth Warren. The two women, who differ greatly in public presentation and rhetorical style, were colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin and co-wrote two books on middle-class debt.

The more fitting analogy, however, may be between Sullivan and Hillary Clinton. The backlash against Clinton’s candidacy followed some of the patterns I observed in 2012 as an editor at UVa’s Cavalier Daily covering the attempted removal of Sullivan. In Sullivan’s case, the same traits that allowed the sociologist to rise to power as an administrator -- her caution, her technocratic approach to leadership -- were qualities her adversaries on UVa’s governing board abruptly held up as weaknesses. The recoil against Clinton was more complex, but certain affinities between the two cases are worth examining.

Both Sullivan and Clinton are wonkish and guarded. They espouse a leadership style grounded in collaboration and analytical rigor rather than force of personality, as Sullivan confided about herself to Fortune magazine. Both faced claims that they lacked charisma, especially in comparison to their (male) predecessors. They are nearly the same age: Sullivan is 67; Clinton is 69. Their voices carry Arkansas inflections: Sullivan grew up in Little Rock, and Clinton lived in the state for nearly 20 years. They even favor a similar fashion aesthetic: the blue pantsuit.

A more telling resemblance, however, consists in how the governing board treated Sullivan during UVa’s leadership upheaval and how voters -- both Republicans and voters in the Democratic Party’s left wing -- regarded Clinton during her campaign. Both women were described, and dismissed, as incrementalists, even when such a characterization failed to align with the facts. The details of each backlash differ greatly, but a recognizable pattern of thought -- the drive to repudiate the incrementalist figure -- marks both cases. (That incrementalism is among the tamest of the charges that Republicans leveled against Clinton need not distract us from this observation.)

During the recent presidential campaign, pundits repeatedly cast Clinton as an incremental leader, juxtaposing her pragmatic approach against Bernie Sanders’s more idealistic vision and Trump’s bold, anarchic style. That framing made it easy to forget that Clinton was running on arguably the most progressive platform in American history, an agenda that included provisions for public child-care programs and tuition-free education at public colleges and universities for households earning up to $125,000.

Similarly, Sullivan was tagged as an incrementalist during the campus coup. Dragas, her most forceful opponent on UVa’s governing board, faulted the administrator for a culture of “incremental, marginal change.” This passivity was most evident, Dragas claimed, in Sullivan’s alleged failure to seize opportunities in online learning. The charge of incrementalism was captured in a piece of jargon that, for many observers, verified the view that the university’s leadership crisis was a clash between old-school academe and corporate-style governance: Sullivan, one of her critics suggested, lacked “strategic dynamism.”

Sullivan, in a move both diffident and perplexing, accepted this incrementalist label. “I have been described as an incrementalist,” she said in a speech on June 18, 2012, at the height of the governance crisis. “It is true … [but] being an incrementalist does not mean I lack vision.”

But how incrementalist is she? Sullivan’s stewardship has not radically transformed UVa. Yet it is not clear that she is any more incrementalist than leaders of UVa’s peer institutions or less “strategically dynamic” than UVa’s previous presidents whose tenures were of comparable length (such as Robert M. O’Neill, who served as president from 1985 to 1990). During her presidency, she worked to redesign the university’s internal budgeting scheme, opened a UVa office in Shanghai and added new majors and interdisciplinary research centers. By the time the board tried to unseat her, in part because of fears that UVa was moving too slowly on online education, the university had already begun talks with the online-education company Coursera.

Sullivan’s tenure has been marred by crises of unusual magnitude -- among them the murder of a student, the bloody arrest of a black student by white alcohol-enforcement agents, and a now-discredited Rolling Stone article alleging that a gang rape took place at a UVa fraternity. It is difficult to evaluate the full potential of a presidency so often mired in damage control.

I do not intend to act as Sullivan’s PR agent. But I do wish to question the assumption that her leadership has been atypically or problematically incrementalist. This same assumption, in a different but recognizable form, helped to dampen enthusiasm for Clinton’s candidacy. I leave aside the question of whether it’s bad to be an incremental leader -- although this matter, too, seems far from straightforward, when we weigh the relative harms of stewardship that is responsible but somewhat subservient to the status quo against disruption that might be either visionary or reckless.

Where does the “incrementalist” label come from, given the reach of each woman’s agenda? The accusation of incrementalism seems to respond, at least in part, to a certain tilt of personality, a certain way of proceeding in public life, rather than a set of administrative goals.

Sullivan and Clinton make evident some of the challenges that high-achieving women born in the middle of the 20th century continue to face. These are oft-embattled women who have smoothed their edges and lowered the pitch of their voices to make it in a man’s world, only to be rejected later for their alleged lack of effusive charm or progressivism. The caution and the box-checking diligence Sullivan and Clinton acquired in order to ascend the rungs of two competitive environments -- academic administration and politics -- emerge, in this entrepreneurial moment, as handicaps.

The backlash against Sullivan failed, and she regained her office. Clinton was not so fortunate.

This election has prompted us to reflect on what we can and should demand from women in positions of leadership. As Clinton moves on from her presidential bid and Sullivan prepares to leave her post, we need to think about what “incrementalism” might be code for.

Charlie Tyson is a doctoral student at Harvard University. He served as executive editor of the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Campus presidents should be civil and measured in speaking about national politics(essay)

Almost all colleges reflect the breadth of political opinion of the country as a whole, although not in the same proportion. While most are more liberal than their surrounding communities, they are far from politically homogeneous. For that reason, we as presidents have to be careful in how we present our personal political views.

To be sure, just as for the average citizen, we enjoy the right and privilege, under our Constitution, to speak our minds on any subject we wish. But with that freedom comes the responsibility to recognize that, however much we may want to speak only for ourselves, we nevertheless do so with the title “President” in front of our names -- which means our comments will be linked to our campus.

Most of us see ourselves as stewards of a sacred trust, upholding the traditional values of higher education -- which includes protecting every person on our campus from discrimination and arbitrary abrogation of rights and privileges. Understandably, we may meet threats to abridge such rights, even from the nation’s president in the absence of a clear and present showing of need, with reactions ranging from skepticism to studied opposition to outright rejection. For the most part, however, we should put our emotions aside and carefully consider how we should be reacting, especially in today’s divisive and rancorous political environment.

How should college presidents balance their personal views with the need to model best practices for our students?

Consider three recent events.

First, President Trump’s executive order that suspended travel of nationals of seven Muslim-majority nations. College presidents immediately responded. Many focused on reassuring the students and faculty members who were the targets of the executive order that they would be supported and protected by the campus to the best of its ability. My response was in that category: a statement of reassurance to the Roger Williams University campus that our commitment to religious freedom -- the hallmark of our namesake -- would be unflagging. I deliberately chose not to characterize the executive order itself.

But quite a few presidential comments were directed at the executive order, and, by extension, Trump, who, of course, promulgated it. Some presidents used particularly strong language: Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College in Minnesota, called the executive order “cowardly and cruel,” and he urged other college presidents to speak with “particular force” as they responded.

Second, the campus speaking tour of Milo Yiannopoulos, until recently an editor at the Breitbart alt-right news network. His remarks were so provocative that many of his appearances were picketed (University of Minnesota), interrupted (DePaul University), prematurely ended (University of California, Los Angeles), a cause of violence (University of Washington) or canceled (University of California, Berkeley). In the last situation, Nicholas Dirks, the Berkeley chancellor, explained his decision to cancel the Yiannopoulos speech in a letter to The New York Times, saying that he did so “reluctantly” and “only after determining that both the speaker’s and the public’s safety was highly endangered” -- citing concerns about “more than 100 armed people in masks and dark uniforms who used paramilitary tactics to engage in violent destructive behavior” coming from outside onto the campus. (Yiannopoulos, the Heritage Foundation and even Trump promptly issued news releases or tweets condemning the cancellation -- and Trump threatened to end all federal funding at Berkeley.)

Third, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway’s contention that statements by Trump that the news media have determined to be false are “alternative facts.” Conway’s characterization has invoked strong reactions throughout the country. President Patricia McGuire of Trinity Washington University, for instance, publicly criticized in her president’s blog the part played by Conway, a Trinity alumna, in “facilitating the manipulation of facts” on behalf of Trump.

These three situations reflect different ways to deal with the emerging political agenda of the current administration. They also underscore the need for each of us as presidents to determine the approach that we think is best for our institution and our students.

For my part, I submit that this is a time to be moderate in our responses and to endeavor to create bridges across the widening chasm between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. In fact, if we college presidents cannot play or are unwilling to play this role, I despair for the future of our country.

For example, I see no advantage for college presidents to respond to initiatives such as Trump’s executive order regarding refugees with language that has the result of raising the temperature around the issue at hand. Words like “cruel” and “cowardly” are not said with an eye toward promoting a civil conversation -- and someone has to commit to civility if we are to avoid even greater polarization in our nation. Unilateral declarations by college presidents do very little to prompt a fruitful debate, let alone to change the minds of those on the other side of the matter.

Similarly, in my view, while McGuire was correct to challenge Conway’s casual use of “alternative facts,” she erred when she moved from fact to opinion: stating that such use is evidence of “a thinly veiled autocratic scheme” and that Trump’s executive order amounts to a “cruel and unreasonable war on immigrants.” In response to those comments, she received accolades from the left and brickbats from the right, but she changed no one’s mind (read the 100 comments posted in response to an Inside Higher Ed article on the topic). In such cases, an opportunity to spark a civil discussion is often lost, elbowed aside by the use of needlessly inflammatory language.

There is a real danger should presidents, as leaders of our campuses, speak out in judgmental terms about the wisdom of an administrative action, because we will be seen as effectively endeavoring to end the debate before it begins. Rather than creating the opportunity for students individually to listen to two sides of a matter and come to their own individual conclusions, we will be seen as deciding for the students and presenting the answer as a foregone conclusion.

The current moment presents a wonderful opportunity for presidents both to encourage the discussion of vitally important issues with their students, and to do so in a manner that reflects the civility of discourse we both honor and endeavor to instill in our students while they are part of our campus communities. For example, the executive order on immigration and the canceled speech at Berkeley are the type of events that, if managed well by college presidents, can be consequential in rebuilding community, both on campuses and nationally.

In response to the executive order on immigration, statements of concern, a recommitment to core values and expressions of support for those imperiled are all expected and appropriate. One method of modeling best practices for our students -- and allowing them to see the democratic process in action -- would be to create forums on campuses to discuss whether the current level of protection of our citizens from terrorist attacks is sufficient, and if not, what additional steps might be considered, weighing the balance between the degree to which safety would be enhanced versus the degree to which particular actions might actually increase the level of danger.

Reclaiming the Middle Ground

At a national meeting of academics in January, a much-discussed topic was the question of how higher education should act to rebuild the public’s trust in the work of our sector. One way to start might be to recognize that most of America has not ceded to academics the right to decide unilaterally on the wisdom or folly of particular political actions -- and we should stop acting as if they have.

We should remember that, in the days following the issuance of the executive order, a slight plurality of the American public approved of the president’s action, even though a majority of campus presidents who took a position on the matter opposed Trump’s executive order.

Moreover, the movement away from civil conversation has strengthened the hands of those who oppose the very notion of civility. The deliberately provocative words of alt-right spokesmen such as Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer are countered by the so-called black bloc -- the anarchists and anti-fascists who violently disrupted the scheduled Yiannopoulos speech at Berkeley. The alt-right movement provokes violent dissent, and the black bloc anarchists are only too happy to provide violent dissent. The alt-right then claims that government intervention is required to protect free speech, the anarchists celebrate the breakdown of civil order and universities become the unwitting foils in an attack on democratic principles.

If college campuses are being targeted as the battleground between extremists on the left and right, then college presidents have to find ways to reclaim the middle ground. This starts with conversations between the institution’s administration and campus political groups and the creation of forums for debate between representative voices from left and right. A true debate, where students are invited to witness a meaningful presentation of opposing views, is far more interesting and useful than one-sided diatribes.

And, ultimately, that begins with college presidents deciding to use controversial issues as learning moments for our students -- not soapboxes from which we can proclaim our personal opinions.

Donald J. Farish is president of Roger Williams University.

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Faculty, Alumni Criticize Kentucky State Search

Faculty members and alumni at Kentucky State University are unhappy that a search to find a new president resulted in what they see as a disappointing set of finalists that does not include well-liked interim President Aaron Thompson.

The list of finalists for Kentucky State, a historically black university in Frankfort, includes M. Christopher Brown, Said Sewell and Thomas Colbert, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Brown is currently provost at Southern University in Louisiana but previously resigned as president of Alcorn State University in Mississippi after controversial upgrades to that university’s presidential residence, reportedly without legally required bids. Sewell is the provost of Lincoln University in Missouri but was the target of a no-confidence vote from faculty members there last year. Colbert is the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s first black justice but only has two years of experience in higher education -- from 1982 to 1984, when he was assistant dean at Marquette University Law School.

Thompson became Kentucky State’s interim president last year following the sudden resignation of President Raymond Burse. He is executive vice president and chief academic officer at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Many Kentucky State alumni and faculty members had hoped to see him become president permanently, as did local community members.

The university performed its search for a new president under a $120,000 contract with a search firm. Some faculty members have described the search as failed.

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A list of don'ts for presidential spouses (essay)

A presidential spouse for two decades, Mort Maimon shares what he’s learned along the way.

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U of Wisconsin Sues Former Campus Leaders

The University of Wisconsin System filed a lawsuit Wednesday against its Oshkosh campus’s former chancellor and chief business officer, charging that they oversaw illegal financial transfers and university guarantees supporting five foundation-backed real estate projects.

The suit alleges that former UW Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and former campus Chief Business Officer Thomas Sonnleitner improperly transferred a total of $11.3 million from UW Oshkosh to the UW Oshkosh Foundation, largely for the real estate projects. They also executed what the university system called illegal guarantees pledging UW Oshkosh support for bank loans made to the foundation -- assuring banks that the campus would make debt payments for the foundation in the event the foundation could not meet its financial obligations. But the Wisconsin state constitution and university system policies don’t allow public entities to support a private organization like the foundation.

Foundation projects supported by the transfers and guarantees were an alumni welcome and conference center, two biodigesters, a sports complex, and hotel renovations in downtown Oshkosh. Some of the money has been repaid, but roughly $4.5 million is still outstanding, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Wells (at left) served as UW Oshkosh chancellor from 2000 to 2014, at which point he retired. He supervised Sonnleitner, who was at the university from 2000 to 2016. Sonnleitner stepped down as chief budget officer and vice chancellor in March, then retired at the end of May after being placed on administrative leave.

The university system is seeking reimbursement for investigation costs, plus damages. The suit comes after UW Oshkosh Foundation President Art Rathjen in April informed UW Oshkosh’s current chancellor, Andrew Leavitt, that the foundation might need assistance with debt payments on the alumni welcome center. That prompted a series of investigations.

Leavitt fired Rathjen Tuesday. He also placed an unnamed foundation accountant on administrative leave.

In a statement Wednesday, Leavitt said Wells and Sonnleitner “broke a sacred trust” and described their actions as “isolated behavior.” The University of Wisconsin System said it and its Oshkosh campus cannot be held responsible for the foundation’s expenses or debt service, because the campus could not legally guarantee foundation bank loans.

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Presidents should recognize that a college's success is a group effort (essay)

Roger Martin advises new presidents that, while strong leaders surely make a difference, a college’s success can’t be attributed to any one person.

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Advice to boards and presidents on how to avoid forced separations (essay)

Messy breakups between colleges and universities and their presidents made headlines again this summer. Trustees have accused presidents of poor judgment, unapproved and unauthorized spending, lack of professionalism, and inadequate goals and objectives. The separations played out in public, and many of them required a legal resolution.

But litigation costs are only a fraction of the harm done to both the college and the president in these kinds of terminations.

The reputations of both the college and the president are damaged by the controversies. Stories that portray a board as not supporting its president will probably cause future candidates for leadership positions at the college to think twice about applying. Community supporters and donors may withdraw support from the institution in response to the negative press that often accompanies the termination of employment of top leadership. For their part, presidents who are fired often have trouble overcoming the damage to their careers and successfully securing a leadership position at a different college or university.

Sometimes, the breakups occur early in the president’s tenure. In 2016, the president of Lake Michigan College was ousted after only three months on the job. Others may occur later in the president’s tenure, perhaps after contentious campus issues, difficult financial decisions or the election or appointment of new trustees.

What can trustees, presidents and candidates for presidencies do to reduce the chances of such a forced separation?

The first consideration for both the board and candidate is one of fit. From the board’s perspective, it’s important to ask if the candidate is the best choice to meet the needs of the college. When a presidential vacancy occurs, the board should take the time to assess current institutional challenges, problems and opportunities. Before beginning a search, it should review the college’s mission, goals and strategic plan, and then it should agree on the characteristics and capabilities needed in a new leader. The outcome of that review should shape the position announcement, guide the search committee and determine advertising venues, screening criteria, interview questions and questions for references.

Before making a hiring decision, trustees should, where possible and with the candidate’s authorization, consider sending representatives to the institutions or organizations where the finalists are employed to talk directly with people who work with the candidates. Responses to trustee questions can be most helpful in determining fit.

Trustees bring different perspectives to their positions, so they may not all agree on a final choice for president. But the board should try hard to reach a consensus. Any implication of lack of confidence in the choice of a president can present problems for both that person and the college -- and increase the chances of a breakup.

From the President’s Perspective

When applying for a presidential position, the candidates must be as concerned about fit as the search committee and the board. They need to understand the needs and culture of the college, its current challenges and opportunities, and the culture of the community. Too many new presidents have been surprised by financial problems, pending litigation, personnel problems, labor strife or political issues. If problems must be addressed, does the candidate feel they have the experience and ability to deal with them -- and will the board support the president in tackling those difficult issues?

Candidates should view the interview as a two-way assessment and can often get a feel for the issues confronting the institution from the questions they’re asked. They should also talk to people who know the college and its issues, as well as review documents such as accreditation reports, financial audits, board meeting minutes and academic senate meeting minutes. A search for local newspaper or online articles can also be informative.

Candidates also must be concerned about the culture of the community. Some communities are more racially diverse than others. Some have deep religious traditions, while others are more secular. Some are urban, some are rural and some are suburban. Economies and culture can be based on agriculture, manufacturing, energy, chemical processing, tourism, technology, health care, higher education, policy development, mining and many other industries. Some communities are economically depressed or losing population, perhaps with community and state leaders focused on transforming the economy.

In addition, candidates should assess the strength of the college leadership team. Will changes need to be made? If so, will the board support the president in making them? And how does the candidate feel about the board itself? Is this group one that the candidate feels comfortable with? Did the board express a consensus opinion in the selection? If the board was divided, the career risk for the president will be elevated.

Easing the Transition

Some activities related to welcoming a new president should take place before that person arrives. For example, if the board sees a need to remodel the president’s office or to upgrade his or her residence (if one is provided), it is best to allocate the necessary resources before that individual is on the job. If the board wishes to schedule an inauguration to introduce the new president to the community, the board should make the decision in advance of the president’s arrival. New presidents who get involved with the details of remodeling their own homes or offices or of planning inaugurations run the risk of alienating the campus community -- especially during times of tight budgets.

The new president and board should schedule a retreat or workshop as soon as possible after the president arrives to develop a common set of goals for the president. If the board gives the president no direction -- or worse yet -- if individual trustees have different expectations for the president, there will likely be trouble ahead. The board at Lake Michigan College cited inadequate goals and objectives as one of the reasons for precipitously firing its president.

The board should also periodically schedule facilitated retreats or workshops. At those meetings, away from the demands of regular board meetings, trustees and the president can set goals for themselves, evaluate their progress in meeting those goals, and assess whether the college is advancing toward its vision of the future.

Evaluation of the president is one of the board’s most important responsibilities, and an annual formal evaluation is the key way to provide a unified and clear sense of direction. Boards need to understand that presidents must deal with conflicting demands, insufficient resources, hectic schedules and long hours. Progress toward some college goals may take longer than expected, especially when other priorities emerge. And while a president should always strive to maintain a positive institutional climate, the board’s evaluation must be more than a reflection of his or her popularity.

Colleges that have been identified as the best are those with long histories of strong and stable leadership at the board and president levels. Positive relationships between boards and presidents do not develop accidentally. They must be continually nurtured and developed. By understanding the expectations that boards hold for them, presidents can provide the leadership colleges need. And messy breakups can be avoided.

George R. Boggs is superintendent/president emeritus of Palomar College and president and CEO emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges. He is an adjunct professor in the community college leadership doctoral programs at San Diego State University and National American University.

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