Saturday, March 20, 2010

"So you think you can do it better"

So someone asked me recently what I would do if I were President of the university since I have leveled so much criticism at the functioning of the Board of Trustees and past presidents. I took the "so you think you can do it better" question quite seriously and have given much thought to what I would do as the President of CSU. Some of my ideas/plans/decisions would be controversial AND that is just the nature of the beast. Or we might have discovered they are good ideas had not the last presidential search process been so horribly handled.
First, I would clearly articulate to the campus community the role of my office and my duties. Having an open door policy is great as long as my open door policy doesn't undermine my subordinates and create mistrust within the campus community. I don't believe I am there to oversee the day to day operations. Rather, I am there to champion the university, to raise money, to speak to, educate and lobby the elected officials who determine our funding and our future, and to raise money. As you can see, raising money is critical to the long term success of the university. I would also relentlessly push the Board of Trustees to raise money for the university as well. The process of raising money also builds relationships that strengthen the university.
Second, I would meet with faculty regularly and hear from them what they needed from me for our academic endeavors to be successful. Listening is the key, not dictating based on whatever whim catches my fancy. As faculty I understand how much knowledge, experience and wisdom faculty bring collectively. In short, I would actualize the ideas of shared governance. I would have no tolerance for administrators who paid lip service to this important principle of academe.
Third, I would share my vision of the university, its role in the community, the city, the state and the nation. I would want to hear from the other visionaries on campus and then articulate that vision publicly and loudly. Part of my vision does involve being a builder president. There is however, only one building I would be investing significant energy in and that is a new state of the art science building. Not being an architect, scientist or engineer I can only estimate that the cost for such a building would be around 150 to 200 million dollars. Of course this is a bold vision. It is by being bold, taking risks and achieving that the institution moves forward. Building relationships in the private sector and working to get scarce resources from the federal government would be a top priority. The science faculty at this university are outstanding. Given the low level of infrastructure support here, they manage to conduct cutting edge research, teach at a high level and expose our students to possibilities unimagined before entering this university. One of the real down sides is that we do not have a College of Engineering. For the past 19 years Terri Young has done a truly remarkable job in managing the Engineering Studies program. Her success has in some measure been a double edged sword. The preparation that her students have received has created opportunities for them to succeed in earning degrees in engineering from other universities. Simply put the university's excellent Engineering Studies program hurts our retention and graduation numbers because we know at the front end those first time full time freshmen will not graduate from CSU because there is no College of Engineering at CSU. It seems it is time to fish or cut bait on this program. As President I would commit to the creation of an Engineering College to be housed in the new sciences building with the College of Pharmacy. Of course it will be difficult and expensive and the cost of not doing it is so much higher given our student body and what we are capable of. The university proved it can handle new programs. The College of Pharmacy is an example of what happens when the right people are hired, encouraged to do their jobs and allowed to succeed.
Fourth, I would work tirelessly to address the two problems that have plagued this university for decades namely poor communication and absence of an accountability culture. The communication deficiency can be attributed to any number of technical issues e.g. poor email system, antiquated telecoms etc. Yet it is my belief that a deficit so systemic originates from the top of any hierarchy. The belief that open and transparent communication comes from the President's Office. Accountability is the same way. The university doesn't have a culture of accountability because there has never been a Board of Trustees and President who have demanded it. Firing those that need to be fired does not indicate accountability. Rather it indicates picking the low hanging fruit. Accountability is about taking responsibility for ones' choices, their consequences, (intended or unintended) and the cost of the choice. It is also about living up to agreements. I view accountability as relational not punitive. It isn't a word to be thrown around to prove who is in charge. And I don't assume everyone has the same understanding of accountability that I have. I have sat in enough meetings in the last 18 years here to know that after a 2 hour meeting there might be no agreement on who is to do what by when. Things fall through the cracks and then everything becomes a crisis with administrators responding like 911.
Finally, I would put a management team in place that is prepared to move the university forward in the way that successful universities move forward. It is imperative to me that everyone on my team would have demonstrated an ability to be a servant leader. Because I say I am doesn't mean that I am. The proof is in the service not the words. Administrators seem to be so focused on managing that they forget or don't know about leading. Leadership is what the institution has been lacking since I've been here. Succinctly stated, I would lead.
Of course serving as the President of a university is a difficult job. Of course there are a thousand things I don't know about the responsibilities. And I believe I couldn't possibly do as bad a job as the last two presidents have.
And for the record, I have absolutely no interest in being a university president anywhere at any time.

1 comment: