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College Presidents who are not academics?

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Replies to: College Presidents who are not academics?

  • MAandMEmomMAandMEmom Registered User Posts: 1,381 Senior Member
    The president coming from a pure academic background should be the least of your worries when selecting a college. Yes, there will be turmoil in the first two years, but that will happen regardless.
  • rosered55rosered55 Registered User Posts: 4,062 Senior Member
    I think it might be okay for a college president to not previously have had an academic position, but I also wouldn't assume that people with business experience will be good at dealing with the business side and paying the bills. In my state, people are being appointed to the board of regents as payback for supporting the governor, not because they have proved themselves as competent CEOs.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,618 Senior Member
    MWolf wrote:
    President Wilson was the president of Princeton before he was the president of the USA..

    But Wilson was an academic first and a politician later. He got his undergraduate degree at Princeton and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, then taught at Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Wesleyan, and Princeton before being appointed President of Princeton. He was later elected Governor of New Jersey and finally President of the United States.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,618 Senior Member
    A possibly cautionary tale: former U.S. Senator Bob Kerry from Nebraska was appointed President of The New School in 2001. He raised a lot of money and expanded the faculty and student enrollment but ran into a lot of faculty and student opposition to what was perceived as an autocratic leadership style, spending priorities that he imposed on the school without much faculty or student input, an ambitious reorganization plan, again imposed top-down without buy-in from faculty or students, and what many perceived to be an exorbitant presidential salary, the highest in the country at the time. The faculty gave him a vote of "no confidence," but the trustees backed Kerrey. That was followed by a series of student occupations of buildings, demanding Kerrey's resignation, but he held on until 2010.

    Regardless of who you think was right (or less wrong) in those particular disputes, sometimes there's just a basic culture clash when a hotshot non-academic comes in at the top, thinking he's the CEO of a corporation in which everyone must jump when he cracks the whip. Our academic institutions don't usually work like that. There are strong traditions of co-governance in which faculty, and to some extent students, have substantial opportunities for input, though not the final say, in major institutional decisions. And resentments boil up when people feel those traditions aren't respected, and they're being treated as mere underlings whose job is to just shut up and follow the orders of a boss who doesn't himself have intimate knowledge of and experience with the academic world. That doesn't always happen, of course, but it's a risk, more so with a non-academic at the helm than with an academic.

    At the other extreme, Dwight D. Eisenhower was pretty unsuccessful as President of Columbia University for quite different reasons. Eisenhower seemed to view the position as an undemanding and largely honorary one that would allow him to devote his energies to more important pursuits, like building NATO, advising the government on defense policy and the merger of the Departments of the Army and Navy into the Department of Defense, promoting the virtues of citizenship, and golfing. He didn't devote much time to fundraising or administration, and by all accounts the university suffered for it. As an outsider, he simply didn't understand what the job entailed, though a more charitable interpretation is that he was misled in this regard by some trustees who sold him on the job by arguing it wouldn't interfere with his outside interests. They apparently thought the prestige Eisenhower would bring to the university as arguably the nation's preeminent war hero would more than compensate for any shortcomings in his skill set or his lack of interest in the actual demands of the job. Many people at Columbia say he was the worst President in the school's history.
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 37,117 Super Moderator
    I already posted: "MODERATOR'S NOTE: I deleted a few off-topic posts. Please stick to the post's original topic." Moderators' instructions aren't to be taken as optional. Please stay on topic. I deleted a few posts and issued warnings. Please don't make our job more difficult than it needs to be.
  • ILMom13579ILMom13579 Registered User Posts: 341 Member
    @Corinthian - to answer your question - I would not have a problem sending my D to a college with a non-academic president. Actually, I think because he is a Hope alum will serve him well because he know what the school is all about, what they value and what kind of students are drawn to the school. In this day where smaller schools are increasingly having a tough time filling in their classes and raising money for scholarships, his finance background will be helpful to keep Hope on the map. And he seems pretty down to earth from what little I've read, so he may be very well suited to being approachable by staff, faculty and students.
  • QuantMechQuantMech Registered User Posts: 7,854 Senior Member
    Thanks for the information about the Eisenhowers as college presidents, correcting my previous error. I did not know that.

    The difficulties that non-academic presidents tend to run into with faculty come more from the president not understanding the work of the faculty and lacking respect for them, rather than from the faculty not respecting a non-academic.

    A person whose university experience is limited to undergraduate work, perhaps supplemented by post-graduate work in law school or medical school, will not have had experience with the effort that it takes to generate new knowledge. Degrees such as the M.D. and J.D. are based on learning an existing knowledge structure--not trivial, to be sure, but not the same as adding to current knowledge in a *significant* way.

    A non-academic president who is willing to take the time to understand faculty efforts will come off fine. One who is not is likely to do poorly.

    There are certainly business aspects of running a university. When one regards a university as a business, though, I become concerned. The story is told of a class at the Harvard School of Business, early in the students' programs, where the students are asked, "What is the purpose of a foundry?" After hearing a lot of answers that in fact state the purpose of a foundry, the HBS prof reveals that the purpose of a foundry is . . . to make money.

    The purpose of a real university is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. If that gets shifted into making money, the university will not function properly. Moreover, its status as a non-profit entity would be in jeopardy.

    Some posters have suggested that the academic side of things can be left to the academic Vice President. Countervailing to that, most large universities have a Vice President for Finance and Operations (or a similar title), who is responsible for the "business" side of things. Giving the business side primacy would be of concern to me.

    All of that being said, I don't have a problem with a non-academic president who listens, and comes to understand the nature of the work of the faculty.

    Yet again, I think it will be a long time before Caltech appoints a businessman, rather than a scientist, as its president. You can survey the backgrounds of the presidents of the top universities and draw your own conclusions.
  • rickle1rickle1 Registered User Posts: 1,309 Senior Member
    Running a college, like any other large organization, is about leadership. agenda, priorities and communication. Making sure the mission is clear and getting the right people in the boat to execute the plan. I imagine much of the pure academic side is handled by the Provost.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 72,950 Senior Member
    QuantMech wrote:
    The purpose of a real university is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. If that gets shifted into making money, the university will not function properly. Moreover, its status as a non-profit entity would be in jeopardy.

    However, universities and other non-profits need to pay attention to their finances if they do not want to go out of business.

    Universities under financial stress are probably more likely to have internal conflict because making money or avoiding losing money rises to the top of the priority list, often leading to no win choices, any of which will cause the affected constituents to vocally protest. Non academic presidents may be less likely to anticipate such protests or manage them in less destructive ways when they occur.
  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN Registered User Posts: 2,958 Senior Member
    I would not be worried about a non academic prez at Hope. Hopefully there has been enough bad press about non academic president issues that they would know enough about faculty's view of the importance of shared governance. The U of Iowa has a leader from the corporate world. He previously had served as an adjunct professor but had not been involved in ed administration.
  • QuantMechQuantMech Registered User Posts: 7,854 Senior Member
    Re ucbalumnus #39: I agree that the universities need to pay attention to their finances. Most large universities have a Vice President for Finance and Operations (or some similar title) who could be the highest-ranking administrator responsible for this issue, though. It need not be specifically the President.
  • LakeWashingtonLakeWashington Registered User Posts: 9,305 Senior Member
    Former Congresswoman and now U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was a good president at South Dakota School of Mines. I second that Congressman Marty Mehan did a fantastic job as president of U Massachusetts-Lowell. Other non-academics whom were appointed as a political reward, have been disasters from time to time. New Jersey has a history of this.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 18,018 Senior Member
    Drexel's president, John Fry, is a nonacademic (no PhD) with a long, very successful career as an academic administrator. He was a vice president at Penn under Judith Rodin, and was regarded as primarily responsible for a very successful development strategy in and around the Penn campus that revitalized the University City neighborhood and contributed enormously to improving the atmosphere at Penn. He was then picked to be president of Franklin & Marshall, and did a pretty excellent job there before being recruited to Drexel. He has had a lot to deal with there, including some severe money problems, but he is a very ambitious guy who is good at finding solutions and getting things done. He's not always super popular with the academic faculty, but he's a very impressive leader and I have no doubt he's going to leave Drexel in better shape than he found it.

  • lastone03lastone03 Registered User Posts: 812 Member
    @Corinthian This guy has done an amazing job. No hesitation to send one of ours there.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Trible
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