Finding hope in the bleak outlook of the college presidency
- University of Puget Sound President Emerita Susan Resneck Pierce writes in Inside Higher Ed about the challenges of the contemporary college presidency, and where to find hope in an industry known more for shrinking resources and relevance than its essential role in driving workforce capacity and improving the human condition.
- Pierce said that even in the face of shifting challenges of financial stability and technological innovation, along with varying demands for campus support of free speech, personal identity and all of the above being driven by promotion on social media, the presidency is a career that demands fairness, confidence and intuition built by listening to campus stakeholders.
- She advised that all presidents consider finding a sounding board with a higher education professional in whom they can confide and that other time should be spent connecting with the institution's stakeholders, becoming engaged in campus activities, and establishing clear goals with board trustees about their respective roles in times of crisis.
Pierce shares ideal insight for presidents, but missing from those reflections is how certain campus cultures do not allow for the ideal implementation of coping and connecting with the campus. Colleges and universities differ in the ways in which they hope for their president to lead, in areas ranging from the role of presidential spouses to the minutiae in the expectations trustees and donors have in the president's fundraising behavior.
Seemingly, it is up to potential leaders to ask the questions about campus culture, to broach conversations about specific expectations and how trustees' personalities, campus traditions and civic obligations all shape the presidential identity.
These questions should all lead back to one central theme: sustainability. As several higher education officials shared with Education Dive, developing strategy around sustainability leads to honest discussion about finance, culture and expectations that, if done honestly and openly, can transcend clashes over personality or management style.
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