Presidents

Professors at Loyola Chicago object to president's top-down leadership style

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Faculty don't think they are being listened to -- especially on health insurance.

UNC System's Interim President Will Only Stay Through June

The interim president of the University of North Carolina system will not seek the job on a permanent basis, he said Wednesday.

Instead, Bill Roper will continue as interim president through June 30, 2020. The decision about his future comes a day after the controversial chair of the system’s Board of Governors, Harry Smith, announced plans to step down from the chair position at the beginning of October.

“After serious contemplation and consultation with others, I believe that setting a clear time frame is the right course of action to give our system the time to plan for a successor,” Roper said in a statement. “This additional time in service will allow me to reach the goals and obligations set when I began the role of interim president. This will also give the Presidential Search Committee the time it requires to find a permanent replacement, and I have no plans to seek that position. I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve and I thank the UNC Board of Governors and our institutions for their continued support.”

Roper, who was dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care, became the system’s interim president after Margaret Spellings resigned from the job. Spellings decided to resign in October last year, with her last day coming months later.

The UNC system already has a confidential presidential search under way.

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Why college leaders must always do their homework (opinion)

If you set your sights on a career in academic administration, even on the top job, you always have to do it, advises S. Georgia Nugent, who suggests some places to start.

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After U of Wyoming ousted its last president, it needs to get the next one right

The University of Wyoming is looking far and wide for a new president and is taking unconventional steps to receive input.

Concrete advice for presidents who still teach in the classroom (opinion)

Teaching Today

It can make for a grueling workweek, but the insights gained from students make teaching worth it, writes Martha D. Saunders, who offers advice to other presidents who still crave the classroom.

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A number of mistakes brought down the University of Southern California (opinion)

This month, the University of Southern California paid the University of California, San Diego, $50 million and apologized for poaching its faculty. The scandal is only the most recent that has rocked USC’s campus.

In July 2017, the Los Angeles Times published a jaw-dropping story about the dean of USC’s Keck School of Medicine that involved drugs, prostitutes and criminal behavior. Thus began a string of scandals, any one of which would have brought disgrace to an institution.

The person who replaced the medical school dean was removed for disreputable behavior. A doctor was alleged to have molested nearly 100 young women. The dean of the school of social work allegedly participated in a pay-to-play scheme with a politician and his son, running up a $40 million deficit. And an administrator and three coaches in the athletic department received bribes to help unqualified students gain admittance to the university.

In another series of embarrassing incidents, the interim president replaced the business school dean for his alleged failure to monitor sexual harassment -- and then encountered dozens of business leaders rallying to the dean’s defense. A member of the Board of Trustees even hired a lawyer to help the dean sue the university. When the chair of the board scolded the trustee, other members reprimanded the chair. The faculty publicly rebuked the board, and in turn, a trustee criticized the faculty as a know-nothing mob.

These scandals and fights are all the more remarkable because the university had seen a spectacular rise over the past 20 years. The president had led a $7 billion capital campaign and opened a $700 million new campus in the fall of 2017. The quality of the faculty and student body had surged. The institution had risen in reputational rankings.

What caused such a dramatic string of scandals, and how might they have been prevented? What might other colleges and universities take away from these scandals to avoid similar disgrace? What were the warning signs?

On July 1, Carol Folt became the new president of USC. The institution is now searching for a new provost. If we look to the past events, what lessons might be learned?

The university president ignored the faculty. When Donald Trump was elected, a wide swath of faculty members tried to get the university’s president to engage the larger community on the many troubling issues that were arising. The point is less about whether or not the president agreed with the faculty; he simply ignored them and failed to meet with anyone.

After the first scandal in the medical school, the president squandered an academic year instead of cultivating goodwill by meeting with faculty to seek their advice. He made no explicit or informal overtures to the faculty. When the health center issue arose, he had no reserve of goodwill among the faculty.

The president’s enablers cut off communication. The president surrounded himself with handlers whose goal was to enact his agenda rather than facilitate dialogue or support faculty governance. Since the president was so successful at raising money, he no longer had time to talk with those who might slow him down -- or offer a different viewpoint. When times get tough, a president’s handlers ought not close ranks so that no one with a contrary view meets with the president.

During a crisis, the provost, not the general counsel and powerful businesspeople who reinforce an imperial style of governance, should meet with the president regularly and deliver hard messages. A general counsel is concerned with liability; a provost has to keep academic values paramount. The reappointment of a dean, the aggressive nature of poaching faculty from other institutions and circumventing faculty decision making are all areas where a provost has to deliver messages in a way that a general counsel won’t.

The trustees were just cheerleaders. The president handpicked a significant number of board members, and they had genuine affection for him. One lifetime trustee served as his lawyer. A handful of trustees consulted with the president regularly after he had been removed with the hope that he might be reappointed. One hired a lawyer to sue the university. Nothing was illegal, but these sorts of arrangements make effective governance difficult.

As a result, the board was blindsided when the scandals arose. At one point, they were not even clear about what they had agreed to when the president said he would step down. A board needs to provide oversight rather than be a handmaiden to the president.

The Academic Senate was asleep at the wheel. It had been for the most part a do-nothing body for well over a decade. A catch-22 scenario existed where faculty members who could have played more of an oversight role stayed away from it because it did nothing. In turn, faculty members who were unable or unwilling to criticize the president ended up serving on what had become a charade.

Even when the scandals erupted, the senate acceded to whatever the administration said. Confidential reports usually went to the Board of Trustees, not the faculty; supervision rested with the administration. Only at the 11th hour -- when a vocal group of faculty members forced its hand -- did the senate register a vote of no confidence. It then played an irrelevant role during the ensuing scandals.

Senior faculty members wore blinders. Many senior professors, especially the most decorated, ignored all of the warning signs that existed. Successful in their own academic fields and comfortable with their perks and privileges, they all too frequently shrugged off institutional problems as “above my pay grade” or were unwilling to risk their own privilege. After the initial scandal occurred and the president did not seek advice from even the most respected leaders, they should have demanded input. When senior faculty members are unwilling to look out for the welfare of the entire university community, then that community is at risk.

The community acceded to complacency rather than fostering creative conflict. For over a decade, the formula for the university was remarkably successful. The president had an astounding ability for fund-raising. He thought his periodic formal and scripted remarks to the faculty served as successful communication. The Board of Trustees apparently looked at his fund-raising prowess and saw little else. The Academic Senate more or less accepted whatever the administration told it. The president’s enablers kept him isolated. Senior faculty members went about their research and came to identify more with their department or unit than the university as a whole. The administration sent a consistent message that they managed the institution and everyone else should stay in their lanes.

Successful academic communities don’t look at disagreement as a nuisance, try to paper over differences or silence the people who disagree. The former president has yet to acknowledge the cascade of mistakes made under his watch. The Board of Trustees and Academic Senate are making stutter steps at reform -- for instance, the chair of the board created a committee to investigate board reform a year ago, but it has thus far not come forward with significant recommendations. People seem unable to acknowledge the structural rot that enabled these problems to fester for years and then explode.

Successful shared governance ought to be a noisy democratic conversation. Different constituencies will have different opinions on matters that are crucial to the university, and disagreements will be aired. Conflict, however, need not be seen as bad or detrimental to progress. A university with a board that exerts oversight, a senate that actively participates in decision making, a senior faculty that engages with the decisions of the university and a president who encourages disagreement and does not have a gatekeeper to guard the door would avoid the string of scandals that brought USC to its metaphorical knees.

The failures of USC need not have happened. It is insufficient to simply say “mistakes were made,” as if no one was to blame. This was a systemwide failure that should provoke soul-searching for the entire community -- while also providing meaningful, albeit cautionary, lessons for the incoming president, as well as college and university leaders everywhere.

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.

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The need to improve the partnership between boards and presidents (opinion)

Presidential departures are once again in the headlines. The news this week of the abrupt departures of four presidents focused very much on those individuals, the timing of their stepping down from office and the lack of transition. The story centered on the presidents, yet such decisions involve multiple parties -- most centrally, the board.

While we do not know the details of each -- and the causes of such endings can be many -- we do know that the board had some type of say about the decision itself as well as the transition timing and process. It is common wisdom to acknowledge that boards and presidents act in a type of leadership and governance partnership. It is this partnership, however, that quickly can become tricky, as it seems to be constantly changing.

The word "partnership" is often used as a shorthand to describe the relationship between presidents and their boards. But a partnership can mean anything from an afternoon doubles tennis match to a lifelong matrimonial commitment -- complexity, nuance, interdependency and pivotal are all words used to describe this dynamic. Without the hard and fast rules of tennis or the intricacies and commitment of marriage, when this relationship works, it's great, but when it doesn't, it creates problems not only for the president and the board, but also for the institution.

There's no shortage of speculation as to why we've recently seen so much turnover early in a president's tenure as illustrated not only in these four cases, but also beyond. However, it appears broadly that a confluence of events and factors are at play, including: 1) these are especially trying times for higher education, making it difficult to lead and govern successfully, 2) more business people are serving on boards who are comfortable cutting ties quickly with a president who doesn't live up to increasingly high expectations, 3) boards are becoming less deferential to the president, and 4) the means of governance are changing, and boards do not know how to respond constructively.

In a nutshell, boards often are more anxious about their institutions; in turn they are more active (if not activist) in their roles as fiduciaries, which leads to increased strain on the board-president relationship. At colleges and universities where the relationship sours, there is a "loss of board confidence" (especially at public institutions), and the president is fired.

The fact is that boards sometimes make poor hiring choices, and presidents sometimes make mistakes. Other times, however, circumstances change and require different leadership, and it is this third situation that demands more attention. As institutions and contexts change, boards and presidents may need to work differently -- they may need, in short, to pivot to a new direction. But before we discuss how boards and presidents should do that, we want to describe three fundamental elements in the president-board relationship.

Three Functions

Presidents and boards have a complex, multidimensional relationship that crosses three spheres of work. The first dimension involves accountability. For all intents and purposes, boards are the supervisors of presidents. They hold the president accountable for setting and reaching targets and goals, and they influence what those targets and goals are. Words that often describe the board's role in this part of the relationship are overseer, boss and evaluator.

The second dimension, or function, is strategic. Boards can help presidents think through direction, strategy and priorities. Common descriptors used to capture this board role are colleague, strategist, collaborator and corroborator.

The third function is that of supporter. The job of a presidency is difficult and intense, full of contradictions and trials that test an individual's resilience. The presidency can be a lonely job, and boards can provide essential moral support. The words reflecting this function are coach, confidant, safe port and sounding board.

Many boards and presidents don't explicitly recognize the breadth of their collaboration. And the challenge for many presidents is that the board has a greater disposition toward one or two of these functions or isn't skilled equally across them.

Many presidents and boards think accountability first and do not pay attention to the personal dynamics of the relationship, for instance. These are the boards that drive the oversight and accountability agendas. We see other examples in which boards are all support and little challenge. They operate as cheerleaders, not supervisors. In the former case, presidents may feel isolated and overwhelmed -- not just by the nature of the presidency but also by the unrelenting focus of the board on performance metrics. In the latter case, boards may not give sufficient attention to accountability. If and when something goes awry on the campus, boards that have not attended to their oversight role sufficiently may find a mess on their hands.

These examples are extreme -- typically, two of the three aspects of the relationship are done fairly well. But it's always best if boards and presidents can develop the skills and knowledge to work across all three functions intentionally and well, and adapt over time.

The final important element related to the above is the challenge of seeking advice. Presidents, especially when new, may be leery or uncomfortable seeking advice from the board. Instead, they tend to either want to try to control the board or to keep it at arm's distance or in the dark. The literature on advice-seeking notes that people often perceive asking for help, particularly from organizational superiors, as a sign of dependency or incompetence. This is a risk many new presidents are unwilling to take. Consider the higher education search process. After the rounds of interviews, the vetting of candidates, the negotiation of contracts, the president surely doesn't want to signal the need for assistance.

Power at Play

A second key dynamic in this relationship is related to power. Most people recognize the power that the board holds -- and can wield -- over the president. The board, after all, hires, evaluates and compensates the president, as well as decides when to fire them. But the relationship has another side: the power that the president has over the board.

The president -- who is more likely to have an academic background than most of the trustees -- has expert power to leverage. The president understands higher education and the culture of the academy and has developed, over time, administrative and management expertise on which the board relies. Presidents also have informational power by virtue of being board's "gateway" to the institution or system. Finally, power comes with the position. The president gains influence at a level that other people simply don't have.

Understanding how these sets of power matter to the relationship and to the board as a whole are important. Power is neither good nor bad until it is invoked. Leveraging different sources of power collaboratively to move institutional and board agendas ahead is greatly beneficial. The reverse can be said about putting them together for personal and not institutional gain. Unfortunately, we see this happen too often, as well.

These sources of power can also come into conflict. For example, depending on the aims of the president and the chair, power battles between them do occur. When that happens, regardless of which individual wins, the institution usually loses.

Further, the dynamics of power between presidents and boards change over time. The longer presidents serve, the more power they accrue, as they gain more knowledge and expertise and have more access to, and control over, information. Things can get especially tricky if a long-term president becomes impervious to feedback and keeps their board at arm's length or in the dark.

When Things Change

In a rapidly changing environment, the most effective boards are those that can evolve. The dynamics today require presidents and boards to understand the situations they face and undertake change when necessary. That change includes how the board works, how institutional priorities shift and the ways in which presidents and boards interact.

For example, the relationship between presidents and boards can change quickly with the election or appointment of a new board chair or the hiring of a new president. A distant relationship can quickly become an intense and up-close one. One that was driven primarily by facts and figures can suddenly become conversational, and one that was future-focused can become more immediate. While presidents and chairs know this intuitively, the realities often take a while to settle in and manifest themselves.

Other changes are more contextual, driving boards to approach their work in new ways and presidents to work with boards differently. The president-board relationship should be one of continual focus and evolution. Problems often occur because of familiarity and comfort that turn into complacency on either side.

To keep the relationship current, boards are well-served to discuss how they can best support, strategize with and hold accountable the president as the institution responds to change. Boards can start by asking a series of questions:

  • How well do we oversee and hold the president accountable? Are we effective strategic thought partners? How well do we support the individual leading this institution (or system)? Are we better at one function than the others? What evidence supports our assessment?
  • What is the balance of time we spend on oversight, strategy and support of the president? Is it the right balance given institutional challenges?
  • Given changing circumstances and institutional needs, what do we currently do that we should keep doing? What should do more or less of?
  • Are we, as a board, asking the right questions on the right issues at the right time?
  • Do we as a board have the self-awareness we need to approach our work differently? Do we have the will to change how we work collectively and with the president? And do we have the knowledge necessary to bring about the change?

Presidents would be well-served to ask themselves questions, too:

  • What do I need from the board to move the institution forward? To what extent am I getting it?
  • What do I need in terms of oversight and accountability for progress on new or redefined goals?
  • In what ways is the board supporting my presidency? Is it providing me the tools, advice and cover needed to make change?
  • How well does the board function as a thought-partner? Do their ideas and insights make it to the boardroom? How willing and able is the board to translate their corporate and other outside experiences and insights into the higher education context?
  • To what extent do I have the relationship with the board that encourages these types of discussions? If I don't, how can I (quickly) build that relationship to improve how we work together?

Trying times demand trying work. As the old saw goes: when the president is performing poorly, the board fires the president, and when the board is performing poorly, the board fires the president. Most institutions can ill-afford such disruptions. Instead, they should more intentional about the elements of the board-president relationship, being clear about that relationship and its strengths and weaknesses, and how that relationship might need to differ moving ahead. Better communication and intentional dialogue about what presidents and boards need from one another is all the more important when there seems to be little time for it. Our advice: make time!

Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower, Inc., a governance consulting firm. Peter Eckel serves as senior fellow and director of leadership programs at the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. He co-directs the Penn Project on University Governance.This essay is adapted from a chapter in their book, Practical Wisdom: Thinking Differently about College and University Governance.

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Higher ed and ed-tech leaders need to understand and communicate with each other (opinion)

Software and technology have been a part of higher education since the first computers came online. Despite this, many new academic leaders have much to learn about the latest developments in the world of ed tech. Advances in software and new apps raise questions of how leaders should choose the best products, as well as how best practices can be developed.

The world of educational technology was mainly focused on learning management systems when I started my academic career in the late 1990s. Blackboard was new, and soon we would see new entries such as Canvas and Moodle. Then, when I joined the provost’s office at University of Texas at Austin in 2006, it was clear that the campus was going to need a new student information system -- the mainframe version was getting outdated. The efforts to develop data-gathering systems for faculty went through several fits and starts. I recall trying out one of the beta systems that allowed me to put all of the information for my annual review into an online form. But that initial system was abandoned when it didn’t work properly, so my efforts were in vain.

When I became provost at Menlo College in 2015, one of my goals was to learn more about the ecosystem of educational technology in Silicon Valley. Also, as a board member for several organizations that support college-bound students from underserved communities, I became interested in the ways that companies were using educational technology to help first-generation and low-income students succeed in college.

At Menlo, the first step for me was getting a better understanding of the software systems and apps that we used across the campus. I knew that we used one system to gather our student information and another as our customer relations manager for admissions. We were also in the process of adding another data management system for our alumni and donors. The transfer of data from each of these systems could be complicated by data entry errors, and keeping track of the status of students often ran into issues. I also soon learned that there wasn’t a good solution that covered all three components of a student’s passage through the college, and even if there were, it could be prohibitively expensive to try and migrate to a new system.

The imperatives of a changing student body led the college to try various apps for student engagement, particularly those that would work on mobile phones. It was clear that students were rarely reading email and that getting important information to them would require using text messaging. Our student affairs division tried several apps that would not only send important messages but also track student use of services such as advising, the career center and attendance at campus events. Campus security was also a factor, as the need arose to be able to reach students in case of emergency, such as a natural disaster or security threat.

Using Technology to Improve Student Outcomes

Since I left my position as provost last summer, I have been working with several ed-tech companies and attending conferences that emphasize ed tech, such as ASU/GSV or those focused on a tech topic, like one at Inside Higher Ed. Most recently, I started my own company, the Center for Higher Education Leadership, which has a mission of empowering leaders and providing a portal for professional development opportunities. Although we provide support for a broad range of administrative issues, information on the latest in ed tech is an important component of our professional development offerings.

I have become interested in applications that use artificial intelligence to try to improve student outcomes. Several apps are available that can send students text messages with reminders or ideas for improving their class performance. This includes Study Tree, which started off as a way to connect students with peer tutoring and has evolved into a broader approach to student success -- one that helps with studying and access to complementary resources for courses.

About a year ago, I was invited to an event at the Salesforce.org headquarters in San Francisco, and I also attended their Higher Education Summit in Washington, D.C., where student success was a major theme. I learned about the ways that other universities, like Georgetown University, were using technology to reach students in a variety of ways. And I became aware of companies like Civitas that use predictive analytics to track student progress and improve student outcomes.

The use of data to track and support students has raised some concerns about student privacy and tracking of students in ways that might negatively impact lower-income students. However, it was also clear that these types of data could be used to improve graduation rates, if used properly.

Such concerns led, in fact, to the collaboration among several large research institutions through the University Innovation Alliance. The universities, including my former employer, the University of Texas at Austin, share best practices for using predictive analytics to improve student success, with a focus on improving graduation rates. For example, former University of Texas senior vice provost David Laude, who had been charged with improving graduation rates, encouraged the use of predictive analytics and also developed new practices in his own biology courses that improved student retention. He focused on helping students complete those courses rather than using the big lecture classes to weed out less prepared students.

But before they could move forward with their ambitious agenda, members of the alliance found that they had to go back to their institutions and determine what data resources already existed and develop an inventory of data and processes. Similar to my experience at Menlo College, it was important for campus leaders to gain a better understanding of how different units on campus were using data and software, from admissions to student life to alumni outreach. All of the campuses involved have achieved improvements in graduation rates, but the progress has perhaps been slower than expected.

Laude and other representatives from the UIA presented their results at a leadership forum held at the recent ASU/GSV conference. Many organizations such as Inside Higher Ed are working to bring higher ed leaders together to learn more about the best practices around student success that are happening at places like ASU, Georgia Tech and the University of Texas at Austin. But more outreach needs to be done, and I’m hoping that my own platform and others will be the means of sharing best practices, not only for four-year institutions but also community colleges.

Collaboration can be difficult, even within college campuses, given the varying needs represented by all the academic and administrative units and the demands of accreditation. The burgeoning world of educational technology is working to address many of the issues that college campuses face, but the results are often piecemeal approaches to different aspects of a student’s journey from high school student to alum. It is important to break down the silos across a campus so that institutional leaders can understand the current use of technology, develop plans for collaboration, reduce the redundant use of software and develop a technology strategy that can reduce costs and increase innovation. Meetings of key stakeholders are a vital component to developing these strategies, but it will have to be guided by top leaders and chief information officers who have a handle on the broader tech landscape.

Another takeaway for me has been that higher education leaders and those in the ed-tech world need to work to understand and communicate more with each other. This process must start with education. New higher ed leaders need to take the time to learn about the tech landscape and gain a better understanding of the variety of offerings available. Attending conferences like ASU/GSV or Educause is a good introduction to the world of educational technology and will provide new campus leaders with a quick introduction to the variety of offerings that can help their campuses support students and improve their infrastructure. Our newsletter, Higher Ed Connects, is an additional resource for those who cannot make it to a conference or want the latest on ed-tech issues for administrators.

K-12 and higher education institutions must also collaborate more on these fronts. That could be done through creating more connections between high school representatives who are advising college-bound students and college academic advisers. Finding ways to share information could help students have an easier transition from high school to college. This could be done through existing organizations like NACAC and NACADA, who bring together professionals who work with students in college admissions and advising.

The stakes are high as we work to improve access and provide support for students so they can be successful in college and in their careers. Higher education is an important gateway to jobs that will evolve as technology like AI continues to reshape the working world. As I watch my own son enter college, I hope he will benefit from a liberal arts education that takes advantage of the latest innovations, providing him with a strong background for whatever career he may choose. That includes the latest innovations in educational technology. This is an evolving topic, and I will continue exploring in future articles the ways that campuses across the country are addressing it.

Terri E. Givens is chief executive officer of the Center for Higher Education Leadership. She previously served as vice provost at the University of Texas at Austin and provost at Menlo College.

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Dismissed president sues Saint Mary’s College of Indiana

Ex-president of Indiana's Saint Mary’s College says board chair forced her out and that college has reneged on faculty job it promised.

Lindenwood president fired and reasons remain unclear

Lindenwood president let go after conflict with board, which says he engaged in "conduct believed to warrant" his firing.

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