Sunday, March 15, 2015

And More Thoughts on the Presidential Search

So a presidential search at a university is a big deal. Its outcome can determine the very life of a university. It wasn’t until I witnessed a failed presidency here at CSU that I saw how much damage one person, unsupervised by a Board of Trustees, could do to a viable university. Thus when the Board announced a search process was beginning I was dubious about both the process and its outcome because the last time the Board engaged in a search, the process was flawed and the outcome disastrous. It appears at first glance that the Board still does not recognize the most valuable asset a university has, namely the faculty. Had a discreet conversation been held and the wisdom emerging from that conversation heeded, this post may be unnecessary. That said, it wasn’t and it is.
First, the formation of the search committee has been problematic. Faculty should always be the largest representative group on the committee. They have the most expertise, longest service and greatest investment in the success of the process. Ideally, the leaders of faculty shared governance instruments should be on the committee. If there is a Senate, the president should be a member. If there is a union, the chapter president should be on the committee. If there is an AAUP chapter, that president should be on the committee. The faculty should have the sole responsibility of selecting the faculty. It should never be a matter of the administration and/or board selecting who they want to serve. It strains the credibility of the process. Administrators should be minimally represented and that representation should be from Academic Affairs or Administration and Finance and most certainly below the level of Vice President. Including stakeholders is usually a wise idea, yet the question must be asked what do “community members” bring to the discussion in terms of what a university needs. The views of the alumni community are likely represented by board members who are ideally alumni, like at the University of North Carolina where 11 of 12 members are alums. Only one student and one Civil Service representative are needed. Ideally this search committee would have 8 faculty, 2 administrators, 1 Civil Service representative, 1 student, 3 Board members, and 1 alumnus/a if no Board member is an alum. This total size of 15 or 16 is manageable and representative.
Second, the publication on the website of the characteristics etc. of the ideal candidate is nice and the committee should be responsible for its creation as it should be responsible for the announcements published in the Chronicle, Diverse Issues and Inside Higher Ed. The committee has knowledge that has been ignored because of the process.
Third, because presidential searches aren’t done overnight and the university needs to prepare for the arrival of the new president, it is usually best if an interim president is appointed. That way a transition plan can be devised and implemented. If the university is in as bad a shape as CSU is, it is imperative that the new president not be expected to rewire the house, replace the plumbing, install new floors, paint and replace the windows. That should all be done before he or she arrives. It is grossly unfair to expect a new president to repair and decorate.
Fourth, the Board has to free itself from the shackles of old thinking that has pervaded the university for decades. In the condition this organization is in, the Board needs a “franchise” president, someone who will be a game changer and put the university on the map. The "franchise" president sets a new normal. Not just high standards, but different standards. I am sure that person would be markedly different from the last three presidents the university has employed. None of the those three (not including the most recent interim) had experience as a president of a university before. That criteria should be at the top of the list. The following people are those “franchise” presidents, proven and tested leaders who I judge would change the direction of the university in fairly short order because of the gravitas they have in the Academy.
First is Dr. Ruth Simmons. The former president of Brown University she was the first African-American woman to head an Ivy League institution. She oversaw a $1.4 billion fund raising initiative that included a $100 million contribution by philanthropist Warren Alpert. Her service on numerous corporate boards and her work with the Obama White House are but a few of her professional accomplishments. If she were interested and available the Board would have to pay her whatever amount she asked for and not blink when the amount exceeds six figures. Her presence would change this university forever. Of course you ask, why would such an accomplished woman wish to take on this monumental challenge. Precisely because she is an accomplished professional. Dr. Simmons would bring an experience to CSU it has never had and quite frankly has never envisioned.
Dr. Rodney Bennett, the president of the University of Southern Mississippi, is another “franchise” president. As the first African-American to head a predominantly white institution in the State of Mississippi, Dr. Bennett brings a wealth of experience from the University of Georgia where he served as Vice President for Student Affairs. At a campus visit during the hiring process in 2013, he responded to a question about working with faculty with these words;
"I don’t know how to be a senior administrator without involving the stakeholders. My natural instinct will be to get a group of people together and to get as many voices in the conversation as we can. If we want shared governance, we have to share in the successes and setbacks of shared governance. It’s an interactive process, and I’ll need everybody to be full participants." A president who appears to understand the underlying premise of shared governance would be a welcome relief.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute since 1999, was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in any discipline from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A theoretical physicist by training, in 2001 Dr. Jackson secured an anonymous gift of $360 million. Last year, President Obama appointed her as a co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. A director on the boards of IBM, FedEx and Medtronic to name a few, she has received 52 honorary degrees. If the university is indeed wanting to bet its future on STEM, Dr. Jackson would lay the foundation to propel CSU into the next century.
Dr. Livingston Alexander is currently the president of the University of Pittsburgh Bradford and Titusville. The Breaux Bridge LA native went to the University of Pittsburgh Bradford after serving as the Provost at Kean University in Union NJ. He oversaw the implementation of a revised general education curriculum that has been noted for its many innovative features. He has written numerous articles and book chapters in the area of cognition, teaching and learning, and leadership.
Dr. Valerie Smith is currently the president at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. The author of more than 40 articles and three books on African American literature, culture, film, and photography, she previously served as the Dean of the College at Princeton University. According to the Swarthmore website, as the Dean she was “the senior officer responsible for Princeton's undergraduate academic program, including all aspects of the curriculum, undergraduate research, the residential college system, and other areas designed to promote the intellectual development of undergraduates, including study abroad and fellowships.” Earning tenure at both UCLA and Princeton, Dr. Smith’s professional and academic accomplishments are beyond substantial. Her academic expertise in African American Literature and culture could elevate the university in ways we can’t envision yet. 
These accomplished presidents are just a few that I discovered in a fairly brief search. All of them could be game changers for the university and anyone who has followed the university knows that it’s losing the current game. These presidents represent what this university should aspire to in its leadership.
One of the unspoken themes about this university is the necessity for an African American president. As a PBI and the long time patronage pit of the legislative Black caucus, CSU has not been well served with its last three African American presidents. It wasn’t because they were African American that they did not meet the university’s expectations. They didn't meet the expectations because upon review they weren't "franchise" applicants. The dirty little secret is that many believe, regardless of race, that CSU is not entitled to the very best. I have heard in my travels, "Well it's only CSU," as if that should explain the university's failings. 
It is important to remember that high quality candidates are out there. Franchise presidents are available or could make themselves available for the right incentives. The scholars I listed above should be the measuring stick by which the next president is brought on board. The Board must be committed to finding them and making CSU something it has never been while preserving what it has always done well. Is this Board up to that challenge?



  2. A correction to Phil's statement in his article, i.e., "I am sure that person would be markedly different from the last three presidents the university has employed. None of the those three (not including the most recent interim) had experience as a president of a university before." Dr Frank G. Pogue was the President of Edinboro University before serving as interim President. He is now the President of Grambling State.

    1. That's why I didn't include Dr. Pogue. He has left Grambling and is now the President at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. He has nearly twenty years as a president and has proven what he could do at CSU. Unfortunately it was the BOT chair who kept him from doing more.

    2. Apologies, Phil, I misread your remark. Dr. Pogue was a great example of the kind of turnaround President you mentioned.

  3. One would think CSU admin might wake up note real winners embrace brilliant opponents like Obama did Hillary.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful contribution to what should be a university-wide discussion on what we need in a president so that she or he can help take us to where we need to go. I quarrel only with the comment about STEM being the future of the university. I think it is a bad idea to overemphasize STEM as is the trend today. Humanities and social sciences are the foundation of a liberal education. Without training in the humanities and social sciences we will create only technocrats. who don't think about how their 'science' impacts the world. They won't be able to understand the role of culture and diverse ways of knowing. The multiple and varied epistemologies of the planet's numerous peoples tend to be marginalized in the 'hard' sciences. Generally, only in the humanities and social sciences do you get even a glimpse into our complex world. STEM without a foundation in humanities and social sciences is like a body without a heart and soul.

    1. I can only add to Pancho's remarks by saying that without the humanities and social sciences, those "objective" STEM scientists will not understand the myriad ways culture shapes their research agendas and the questions they ask. They will not be able to recognize the inherent biases in their own work.

  5. Your ability to redirect focus to optimal vision for university and Academy defines why you as leader university needs and wants. Without 6 figure crony consultant pay, you articulately developed a plan, clearly defined goals and objectives, steps needed to reach them, and offered measuring sticks and solutions. You elevate, inspire, respect faculty and all constituents, abide by ethics and rules, and are transparent. As only best of educators do, you teach through example what a brilliant leader looks like and does.

    Days after their nefarious act to destroy outstanding leader and prof is exposed, all they have to show for their combined millions in salaries is link to Florida search firm? If letter inviting President of Faculty Senate and President of Union on search committee and faculty is not forthcoming, it is time to (again) rally public university faculties together to protest/demand investigation of ethics violations. Why hasn't F.B.I. investigated yet? Do they want to pretend federal laws aren't routinely broken at CSU like they did at Penn State? What do they call tampering with contracts and records and retaliation and discrimination? Administrators bribed students to falsely testify against Willie as retaliation;and where is the federal investigation to get rid of all these people colluding,lying, and covering up?