Institutional administration

How to work with constituencies with conflicting demands (essay)

How can you as a senior administrator best handle situations in which you're caught between important constituencies with very conflicting demands? Barbara McFadden Allen, Robin Kaler and Ruth Watkins explore a hypothetical situation along those lines.

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ACE panel discusses diversity and safe spaces on campus

At American Council on Education annual meeting, three university leaders discuss freedom of expression and student demands for inclusive environments.

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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ACL Summer Insititute for Collaboration Leaders

Date: 
Sun, 06/25/2017 to Wed, 06/28/2017

Location

Claremont University Consortium 101 N Mills Ave
Claremont , California 91711
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San Francisco Higher Ed Solution Showcase

Date: 
Tue, 03/07/2017

Location

221 Main St. Suite 1000 - 15th Floor
San Francisco , California 94105
United States

Forward Together

Date: 
Thu, 04/20/2017

Location

Atlanta Marriott Marquis 265 Peachtree Avenue
Atlanta , Georgia 30303
United States

Q&A with author of book on rise of for-profits in a new economy

A new book argues that the focus on credentials and growing inequality led to the rise in for-profit colleges. 

Financial insecurity could keep some community college students from completing

New survey of community college students reveals financial insecurity, including rising housing, food, transportation and child care costs can keep them from completing. 

The New Clinical Trials Regulation and Regulatory Affairs Aspects 2017

Date: 
Thu, 06/15/2017 to Fri, 06/16/2017

Location

Hilton Zurich Airport
Zurich 8152
Switzerland

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