Friday, December 12, 2008


Quote of the Day

From yesterday's New York Times article about the faculty at the New School passing a vote of no confidence in their President, former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, who has churned through four chief academic officers in seven years:

Like Mr. Summers, who is now President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be chief White House economic adviser, Mr. Kerrey was recruited in part for his star power and management acumen. And like Mr. Summers, he has often found university politics more difficult to navigate than electoral politics.

I liked that. Earning a purple heart in Vietnam, getting elected governor, dating Debra Winger, doing two terms in the U.S. Senate, and reaching the point of being shortlisted as a Vice Presidential candidate? No problem! But academic administration? Now that's a challenge!

For reasons I still don't understand, people from outside academia often fail to understand that the culture of academia is fundamentally different. Better in some ways, worse in others, but markedly different. That's not to deny that it needs to change in some fairly fundamental ways, but those changes will have to be facilitated by people who understand where it's starting.

The guy was briefly among the dozen or so people most often mentioned as possibly running the country someday, and he can't even run a university.

If he's looking for work, I hear that Illinois needs a governor...

I too am amazed at how many folks think that a star politician or executive can just slide in and run an academic institution. Our most recent past president was the CEO of a big utility company. He was brought in by the Board to make our college, "run like a business" (how many of you have heard that one?). He never understood the dynamics involved and thought that as the Head Guy, he could just bark out orders and everyone would jump. It was a constant source of wonder to him that rather than jumping, the faculty confronted him at every turn. He created a 'cabinet' of new pricey VP hires and was shocked when his faculty criticized him for mis-spending. Worst of all (for me), he convened a monthly administrators' meeting where we were assigned the latest fad business book ('Good to Great, 'The One-Minute Manager', 'Execution:The Discipline of Getting Things Done', etc.) to read and discuss.

I will always remember the day he asked me to lunch in order to inform me that he did not consider me to be a, 'trustworthy' employee. I was puzzled, because I consider myself to be highly trustworthy, i.e. you can depend on me to do what I say, and tell the truth. Only then did I learn his definition, which was, 'having the President's back'. After surviving two 'No Confidence' votes, he moved on to become the head of our state board for CCs. We hired a new Prez from another college, how now at least understands his role in the institution.
Only then did I learn his definition, which was, 'having the President's back'.

I suspect that it was more "trust to do what I want, without question".
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