Pay and seniority gaps persist for women and minority administrators in higher education

Women and minority administrators are paid less than others and disproportionately occupy lower-level roles, a new report finds. Experts are divided over whether the current pandemic will close the gaps or throw them open wider.

Coronavirus outbreak adds urgency to searches for new college presidents

The pandemic has thrown a wrench into searches for new college presidents. Some who'd planned to retire are staying a little longer, while colleges that need to hire new presidents are taking meetings online.

College Presidents Expect Layoffs, Admissions Trouble

A survey of 285 college presidents found that most are planning employee layoffs in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

ABC Insights conducted the survey with help from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the rpk Group. It received responses from presidents across all institution types and sizes.

Pay Cuts for University Presidents, Coaches

University presidents and athletic administrators are among those who have begun taking pay cuts amid the pandemic and recession.

How boards and presidents should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (opinion)

Those of us who were college presidents on Sept. 11 understood that our larger society would be changed in significant ways. But even as we all feared an unknown future, including possible new terrorist attacks, we nevertheless sought to help our campuses both mourn the victims of that horrendous act and come together even more deliberately as a community. Simply put, we sought to enhance our connections with one another. Although we worried about our short-term financial health, I think that most of us were not concerned about the survival of our institution or of other colleges and universities.

The coronavirus is a far more significant inflection point, as our sense of community is being shattered. Students sent away from their campuses and scattered over the country and even the world are understandably distressed at losing their connection to one another and to faculty and staff. Many faculty members are struggling with the demands of teaching online for the first time. Some faculty and many staff members worry that they will lose their jobs. Some already have. A number of colleges and universities fear that they will not survive financially.

The fact is that higher education institutions are contending with daunting challenges and forces over which they have little if any control. Endowments are rapidly losing their value. Unless the market makes a huge and reasonably immediate rebound, colleges are going to have a problem going forward funding financial aid and operations that depend both on endowment income and also on tuition, room and board.

Tuition, room and board revenues will also go down if enrollments decline further, as they very well may continue to do. The huge downturn in the stock market will inevitably affect the choices of many students and their families going forward. For a number of years, we have recognized that the sticker price for tuition has discouraged many students from applying to or enrolling in the higher education institutions of their choice. We have also seen the perceived value of higher ed come under serious attack. Families who are experiencing a dramatic shrinkage of the money that they put aside for college will inevitably rethink what they can afford.

Most institutions will be hard put to provide additional financial aid to compensate for the diminished ability of families to afford tuition at its current levels. With an average tuition discount of 52 percent nationally, and many institutions discounting much more than that, some colleges and universities are already failing to earn sufficient net tuition revenue. I know of way too many institutions that already have unsustainable annual structural deficits in the millions -- and even some with deficits in the tens of millions.

There is also evidence that growing numbers of future and even current students will choose to attend colleges close to home or want to live at home. A senior administrator at one of the nation’s most selective colleges tells me that it is receiving an unprecedented number of transcript requests with notes from students saying that they love the institution but want to be closer to their family in the future.

In this time of enrollment uncertainty, many institutions will be even more reluctant to make tenure-track appointments. Some institutions are already extending the tenure clock in an effort to support tenure-track faculty. Others may postpone tenure decisions for a year as a wait-and-see tactic so that they can better determine their staffing needs going forward. And even greater numbers of adjuncts will confront increasingly precarious employment situations.

ACT and SAT are postponing tests, and that will create havoc in terms of the timing of admissions decisions unless additional institutions go test optional immediately -- which won’t make parents of high-testing students happy. It will also require a new thinking about admission standards on the part of institutions that have previously continued to value standardized tests.

Lots of places don’t have the technological capability or faculty expertise/experience to teach online courses effectively. (I wonder how many students encountering ineffective online courses will decide to transfer to online universities that they believe know how to do it better.) Some institutions are viewing the new reliance on online learning as an opportunity and are planning to expand their online offerings. Moving to online courses has also led some campuses to switch to pass-fail grading, which may affect how graduate programs and employers make choices. At the same time, some students are returning to homes that don’t have sufficient or any Wi-Fi capability. Nor can they rely on local libraries, which generally are closed.

And of course, fixed costs are fixed costs. For example, even if fewer students enroll and/or live on the campus, colleges will still have to maintain buildings and pay the debt service on those for which they borrowed.

So what should boards and presidents do in response to all this? As a starting point, I suggest the following:

  • With the president’s involvement, the board chair should create a crisis response committee of some of the board’s most strategic-minded trustees, including some with financial expertise, to work with the president and the finance staff to project the economic implications of various scenarios. Depending on when groups can congregate again and when the campus can reopen, this committee needs to consider such factors as enrollments, the numbers of students living on campus and fundraising. For example, they will need to make a recommendation to the entire board about the level of endowment payout, which itself will depend on what happens with their endowment over the coming months. If appropriate, they will need to review bank covenants. They will need to make decisions about moving forward on pending capital projects and other major new investments. They should work with the audit/risk committee of the board to discern any other unusual risks. Members of this crisis response committee will need to determine the various financial runways for the institution depending on which scenarios prevail and make the decisions, such as employment decisions, that these circumstances call for. Everyone involved will also need to be nimble, as it is likely that many institutions will not have a clear understanding of their fall enrollments until classes have actually begun again, and fundraising is likely to remain uncertain for at least the near term.
  • Presidents and key trustees should work with senior staff to determine how, if at all possible, to continue to pay and provide benefits for employees and, if that is not possible, to determine how the institution might best help those it must lay off. This latter response won’t be easy financially, but it will be an ethical one.
  • Under all circumstances, presidents and other campus leaders should do everything possible to sustain a sense of community. They should make it a priority to send regular communications providing as much information as possible to students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and appropriate members of the larger community. Faculty members are meeting with their classes online but might want to set up ongoing chat rooms for students to talk with one another outside class. They might want to schedule book clubs or meetings on current topics. The staff might encourage leaders of student organizations to form video or audio chat groups with regular meeting times. Institutions that are canceling commencement ceremonies might try to create a virtual commencement complete with a compelling commencement speaker and, yes, even the playing of "Pomp and Circumstance."
  • Presidents need to create additional teams, some populated with those with expertise in specific areas (e.g., enrollment, financial aid, fundraising or facilities) and others that might include faculty, staff, students and trustees to do scenario planning for as many possible circumstances as they can imagine. Ultimately, they would make recommendations to the president, who would, in turn, recommend any strategic, policy or significant budget matters to the board. Teams might also devote themselves to considering the impact on admissions, on hiring, on campus services and on how courses will be taught under various circumstances.
  • More than at any other time, trustees need to set a philanthropic example -- something that may be difficult for some in light of what is probably happening to their own financial portfolios. They also, more than ever, need to be ambassadors not only for the institutions that they serve but for higher education in general. For example, they might follow the advice of the American Council on Education and other higher education associations to ask Congress to support students and institutions in this time of crisis. They might write op-ed pieces explaining the value of a college education or volunteer to help recruiting students by making calls and hosting events.
  • The advancement team might reach out, as some institutions already have, to alumni to provide support for students from low-income families who might not be able to go home if their campus has closed, as well as for additional financial aid for students for the fall.
  • The academic vice president or provost should work with the faculty to develop contingency plans for curricular offerings and any new hiring for the fall.
  • Institutions might make it clear to current students that if they should choose next semester or next year to attend a college closer to home, they would always be welcome to return later without having to reapply.
  • Campuses in line for accreditation visits should consult with those organizations immediately to consider a new schedule.
  • Finally, in the event of the truly unhappy reality that some institutions will no longer have the financial means to remain open, the board and president need to fairly quickly make a series of truly devastating decisions: when to notify the campus community, whether a partnership or merger with another institution is possible in such a short time frame, what severance faculty and staff will receive, how to provide teach-outs to current students, what to do with the campus, and what to do with any remaining endowment. The closing of a college campus, as we all know, is traumatic. Arriving at this place abruptly and in today’s current economic climate will be even more so.

I began this piece talking about community. Sadly, in recent years, our larger society has experienced a breakdown of community that has also become manifest on some of our campuses. In this difficult time in which we are required to be physically separated from colleagues, friends and even family, we nevertheless will need to work together in the best of faith so that we make the best decisions we can for our students and institutions.

In good times, our colleges and universities have been wonderful examples of diverse and effective learning communities dedicated to producing educated citizens who will make a difference in the world. In this worst of times, we must continue to do just that.

Susan Resneck Pierce is president emerita of the University of Puget Sound, president of SRP Consulting and author of On Being Presidential and Governance Revisited.

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UT Arlington president steps down after an investigation into improper financial dealings

Vistasp Karbhari disputed the third-party report, which found an improper relationship between the university and an online program management company.

An advancement officer shares lessons from serving as an interim president (opinion)

Hugh Porter shares his perspective and provides advice for both advancement officers and new presidents.

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College of Saint Rose President to Step Down

Carolyn Stefanco, president of the College of Saint Rose, will be stepping down from her position by the summer, The Times Union has reported. She has led the college since 2014 as it has struggled with significant financial challenges.

Stefanco’s tenure at the college, which is located in Albany, N.Y., has not been without controversy. Part of her work has included closing a $9 million budget gap. After she cut 23 faculty positions and 12 academic departments in 2016, faculty members voted no confidence in her leadership. In 2017, faculty called for her to be ousted, alleging she created an “atmosphere filled with fear of retaliation.” Later that year, several trustees resigned from the college’s governing board in response to what they said was Stefanco’s poor leadership style, strained relationship with trustees and faculty, and secretive nature.

The Times Union reported that trustees praised Stefanco this week, noting that under her leadership the college has developed 20 new academic programs, conducted a national student recruitment effort and emphasized diversity and inclusion.

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The implications of the changing nature of the president's job (opinion)

Unexpected resignations, sometimes shrouded in mystery. Shorter tenures on average. Controversial contract renewals. Difficulties in putting together executive teams. What is happening in the world of college and university presidents?

As they try to make sense of a complex picture -- to identify some common threads that might bind individual stories -- scholars and pundits alike ask the same question: Is the president’s job today more difficult than in the recent past?

I don’t think so. The responsibilities of the job have not changed appreciably in the past 20 years. Presidents are still expected to provide ethical and intellectual leadership, to muster and manage resources, and to build successful relationships with internal and external constituencies. What has changed is the environment in which presidents meet those responsibilities.

Within and outside academe, observers have described the new environment as “the corporatization of higher education.” “Corporatization” is a clumsy and imprecise term that I prefer not to use. Yet a significant literature has grown around both the concept and the practice.

Since the 1990s, we have heard legislators and private donors including alumni, from the perspective of investors, argue that colleges and universities should be managed like businesses, with attention to markets, outcomes and costs. We have heard students make similar arguments from the perspective of consumers.

In the process, the list of qualifications and attributes that drives most presidential searches keeps getting rearranged. Financial savvy, political skills and fundraising experience are now at the top of the list. Ethical and intellectual leadership still get perfunctory mention in job descriptions, but not necessarily in presidential employment contracts. The rearrangement of priorities in pursuit of maximizing resources and managing efficiently has had consequences, some intended and some not.

To attain an initial appointment and to continue in office, presidents must be attentive to the expectations of their trustees, who in turn respond to their institution’s investors, or their legislators, donors and alumni. Trustees do not look at quarterly reports of earnings, unless, of course, they oversee for-profit institutions. They do, however, look for evidence of responsible financial management, reputational rankings and customer satisfaction.

And like their counterparts on corporate boards, most of higher education’s investors are more comfortable with uncontroversial projects likely to yield quick results, like a new building or endowment gift, than they are with projects requiring sustained and long-term efforts, such as new program design or major reorganizations of academic units.

At the same time, presidents must be no less attentive to the expectations of their institution’s primary consumers, the students. Here again, the trend is to accommodate urgent requests by the most vocal constituents, whether or not such requests are consistent with the strategic priorities and long-term interests of the institution.

Another important and most probably unintended consequence of corporatization is the central role of executive search firms. Higher education’s governing boards recognize that they need help to conduct presidential searches, but it is not clear whether they also recognize the pitfalls of the current system. Many executive search firms benefit directly from the trend toward shorter and shorter presidential tenures. The greater the churning in the presidents’ world, the greater the opportunities to sign new contracts. A related problem is that executive recruiters sometimes work for the boards that retain their services and, at the same time, look after candidates they have pledged to place in top institutional positions.

Provided they comply with applicable antidiscrimination statutes, corporate trustees can and do conduct confidential CEO searches, usually with minimal input from stakeholders outside the board itself. Despite objections from representatives of the faculty and, less frequently, from student leaders, higher education’s trustees are moving in the same direction. Once the new president has been selected, higher education’s investors and consumers look for short-term successes, especially those that result in favorable news-media coverage. For their part, the new appointees look for a reasonable degree of job security and, whenever possible, for golden parachutes.

Until the 1990s, most presidential aspirants came from the ranks of provosts and academic deans. For them, job security usually meant a tenured faculty appointment alongside the negotiated presidential contract. Whatever the circumstances, at the end of his or her negotiated contract, the president had the option of continuing to serve the institution in a different role. This is still common practice in academe. But as the presidential talent pool has become more diverse professionally, the value of the traditional parachute has diminished. Other incentives are taking its place: higher compensation, perks and bonuses, and generous severance packages following negotiated resignations or retirements.

Here again, the adoption of corporate practices is driving profound cultural changes in higher education, most notably the unprecedented differences in compensation between presidents and most of their faculty members. In this culture, presidential appointees expect, or at least take into account, the probability of a short-term relationship with their employer. As they sign a contract, they remain vigilant and attentive to a possible next move.

If the successful candidates are pleased with the efforts of the executive search firm that placed them in the new position, they have a strong incentive to maintain relationships with principals in that firm … just in case! Frequently, as the new appointees build their executive teams, those relationships generate additional contracts for the favored firm.

The Question of Ethical and Intellectual Leadership

Like all cultural changes, the corporatization of higher education has thus far had both positive and negative impacts. The most positive aspect by far has been the broadening of the talent pool from which college and university presidents are selected.

Candidates from outside academe have brought to many institutions valuable skills and experiences, and often a willingness to ask tough questions about resource management, dated academic programs and dysfunctional decision-making structures. A broader talent pool has also opened up more opportunities for minority professionals, especially those with student affairs, communications, human resources and marketing backgrounds.

But on the negative side, corporatization has encouraged risk aversion and short-term thinking among presidential appointees who feel they have to hedge their bets against possible short tenures.

A less obvious problem, one that requires more thoughtful analysis and discussion, is that presidential appointees are wary of taking public positions on the most crucial issues facing their communities and the nation. This new culture is one reason -- though certainly not the only one -- why iconic 20th-century figures like Father Hesburgh and Clark Kerr have had so few successors willing to speak out in our time.

Can the corporatization of higher education be slowed or reversed? Probably not. We have entered an era of consolidation, with scores of small institutions closing their doors. Whether public or private, today’s leaders in the nonprofit space are complex organizations. We can expect that, like their counterparts in for-profit enterprises, the men and women in charge of colleges and universities will rotate in and out of executive positions as economic, demographic and political conditions change around their institutions -- and as investors and consumers change their minds about who might best meet their needs.

The largest, best managed and most innovative higher education enterprises will do fine in the decades ahead. They are widely recognized, if not always well supported, as foundations of our country’s political, military and economic might.

But who will pick up the mantle of ethical and intellectual leadership that distinguishes educational institutions from all other providers of goods and services in our society?

This is the most crucial and difficult challenge facing sitting and aspiring presidents, trustees, recruiters and all of us who care. Higher education’s sector leaders are blessed with plenty of talent in their executive suites. Successful presidents and their teams know how to manage resources, woo skeptical legislators and donors, recruit famous scholars, plan spectacular buildings, and much more. Those presidential responsibilities have become more complex over time, requiring greater team effort, but they are not inherently more difficult or onerous than they used to be.

The really difficult part of the job lies precisely in those areas where college and university presidents cannot borrow from and adapt corporate values and practices that most easily respond to investors and consumers.

Will the responsibility for modeling ethical and intellectual leadership revert to thinkers and activists outside academe who are not responsible for managing our institutions and thus are not directly beholden to investors and customers? Will this responsibility be embraced more fully and formally by concerned citizens within our colleges and universities -- especially distinguished senior faculty who can speak with authority about issues such as war and peace, climate change, the global economic system, public health, and others?

Is it time to unbundle a multifaceted and idealized role that few presidents are able and willing to perform in the current environment? We need to find answers to these questions sooner rather than later.

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

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