There was a time when being selected as a college or university president was a reward for years of academic service to an institution. The recipient was viewed with respect and admiration by their colleagues – being selected “president” was the final step in an outstanding career in academia.
How things have changed! Today’s college or university president is faced with issues previously designated only to presidents of business organizations. College presidents are now confronting personnel issues, monetary issues involving tuition, fund raising, skyrocketing operational costs and the ever present issue of faculty tenure. Couple all of these together with the task of satisfying multiple constituents (alumni, trustees, students, parents, state leaders, co-workers) and you have a position few really seek. Their lives are not easy, as evidenced by the relatively short average time as president being slightly under five years.
Over the past 25 years, in working directly with numerous college/university presidents, I have seen a gradual, but substantial, shift in the criteria being written for a presidential position. Where in the past the Ph.D. degree was mandatory, it usually now is listed as “preferred”. This is not a condemnation of the degree, but more of a required need for a leader with a broader exposure, to a candidate possessing a background more in line with the demands of a president in the 21st century. In reality, being president of a college or university is equivalent to being the CEO of a major business, carrying with it all of the responsibilities of leadership in an even wider range of areas.
Since 1988 it has been my privilege to work with several institutional presidents on a wide variety of issues. As they have commented, many times it helps to have an outside view of their organization as well as insight into the various operations. We have assisted in financial development programs, admissions and financial aid operations, trustee relations, as well as overall institutional management issues.
Sitting in the president’s chair isn’t easy (been there, done that) — and it’s always good to have someone to periodically take a look at your procedures, as well as to offer guidance in critical areas of concern.