Top frustrations for university presidents today

One of the organizations that focuses on leadership in higher education is the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (a.k.a., AASCU).  The membership includes most of the four-year public institutions in the U.S., although few research or flagship universities belong.  At AASCU’s Summer Council of Presidents last week, the AASCU president reported on a survey of member presidents who have served in their positions for at least 10 years.  The goal was to understand how the major frustrations for presidents and chancellors have changed over the last decade.   

Here are the top causes of frustration for presidents these days, as reported by AASCU:

  1. Not having enough funding for the institution.
  2. Dealing with problems inherited from previous leadership.
  3. Working through resistance to change by faculty.
  4. Managing relationships with policy makers.
  5. Difficulty developing leadership in others.

Two issues surprised me on this list.  One is that long-serving presidents are still troubled by problems they perceive as having been inherited.  Considering that the average length of service for a university president these days is seven years, to still attribute problems to one’s predecessor after more than 10 years is a little surprising.  

The other is the suggestion that faculty are uniquely resistant to change.  My experience suggests this may be a communication issue, rather than a cultural one.  I have known faculty who resisted new ways of doing things — just as staff, administrators, students, and alumni sometimes do.  But I have also seen examples of faculty members who provide terrific leadership in new directions.  The challenge for the institutional leadership is to communicate the case for change, emphasizing that the motivation is clear, carefully considered, and will serve the university community well.

When I consider my own list of top frustrations, I am concerned about a national ethos that undervalues education, that considers college a private benefit rather than a public good, and that perceives higher education as training for a job rather than preparation for a life of professional and personal contributions to society. 

And of course I share the concern over the challenge of developing new leadership.  After all, I consider my my writing here as part of my effort to help develop more leadership in higher education!

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