Where’s the Manual?
Putting together the book, “Leading Colleges and Universities: Lessons from Higher Education Leaders,” has been a pleasure, though not a simple undertaking: the issues facing higher education today are profound and plentiful. Some days the task of assembling a list of important topics seemed it would never end: finances - of course; Title IX - no longer simply an athletic matter; tenure - while it is difficult to pass judgment on a colleague, the new question is whether or not it should even exist; governance – faculty share responsibility but now students and the news media seem to want a voice in decision making, as well; and so on. The list grew long and intersected. We wanted to offer two voices for each issue and wished to have balance between large and small institutions, publics and independents; gender equality, long serving and newer to their positions. The chart was beyond what fit on the back on an envelope. But finally the grid came together and the wealth of professional experience our authors reveal is candid and often witty. We asked for and got anecdotes and examples, not precepts or advice which all too often are as common as recommendations to floss daily.
The contributors also provided answers to the following questions:
What do you wish you had known before you took the job?
What do you wish you had done that you didn’t do?
What do you wish you hadn’t done?
What do you wish you didn’t know now or when you left?
How did you know or will you know that it’s time to leave?
Our authors’ singular approaches combine into advanced lessons in leadership. It takes strength of character, experience and steadfastness to stay the course and our contributing authors have all three.
An earlier book, “Presidencies Derailed,” (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, (coauthor by Stephen J. Trachtenberg, Gerald B. Kauvar and E. Grady Bogue) describes lessons learned from the case studies of college and university presidents who lasted only a few years on the job. The book explores people who have risen in their careers to a top position, selected for their jobs by earnest and hard working search committees, welcomed on their campuses with high expectations and a certain amount of fanfare, only to come to a crashing halt sooner than anyone expected – especially the presidents!
Leading Colleges and Universities offers a compendium of voices and leadership examples; it provides food for thought but no prescriptions. Reading it won’t guarantee a successful presidency or a wise selection of a president. But it is capable of informing discussion and action in every sector higher education and should be a useful text for those pursuing degrees in the field.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is the president emeritus of George Washington University and a University Professor of Public Service. Gerald B. Kauvar is the special assistant to the president emeritus and a research professor of public policy and public administration at George Washington University. Together, they are the coauthors of Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It. E. Gordon Gee is the president of West Virginia University and the coauthor of Law, Policy, and Higher Education.