Excellence in Leadership,
Science and Education

Great things are done by a series of small things.


Many higher education institutions are considering and implementing radical transformative strategies to address current challenges. For example, the rate of consolidation and mergers in higher education has tripled in the last four years, as state funding shrinks and enrollments plateau. A barrier to successfully navigating these complex changes is finding the right leaders – those who can operate in extreme ambiguity, who can understand and accept multiple perspectives, who can effectively manage extreme multitasking and project management, and who are fearless, yet compassionate and approachable (more on this in this blog in the weeks to come). Identifying these ‘right leaders’, however, takes time and patience as they are generally rare commodities.


There are few organizations as complex in terms of mission, structure and stakeholders as a university. And while shared governance is clearly an operational necessity in higher education, administrative leadership is also required to produce optimum outcomes for students, faculty, staff and the broader community of an institution. Among many other duties, leaders in higher ed (and beyond) advocate for the institution and its mission, articulate a future-oriented vision internally and externally, ensure the highest quality of support, and assure the fiscal and organizational integrity of the institution. However, we must understand two features of leadership. Firstly, leadership is not just about title or rank, and it certainly is not just about “the top.” Leadership, and the need and opportunity for effective leaders, occurs at every level of an organization. This is especially true of a university, where faculty and staff leaders play an integral part in its governance.


The past few weeks have seen many college campuses riled by student protests. And although this erstwhile student activist welcomes this rise in student engagement, albeit narrowly focused so far, one also wonders how to also get the younger generation involved in our electoral process. As we approach another general election in 2016 we once again face the continuing discussion of whether to make it easier (usually a Democratic initiative) or more restrictive (generally a Republican strategy) to vote. However, and more importantly for the countries democratic health, voter turnout in the general elections of 2014 was the lowest since WWII. Just 36.4% of the voting-eligible population cast ballots this past November, although admittedly it was a midterm election, which generally have lower turnout than term presidential elections.


We have often stated in this and other venues that the US as a whole, and each state in particular, needs to accelerate the growth of college-educated graduates in order to meet the demand of its industries and remain globally competitive. A rallying cry that echoes what many other advocates have been saying. And now we have a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) providing us with an update on how we, or at least the state of California, is doing... and the news isn’t good. The analysis estimates that the state will fall about 1.1 million college graduates short by 2030, a significant workforce skills gap.


I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Amit Mrig, founder and CEO of Academic Impressions, an organization which, for more than a decade, has been providing higher education professionals with practical, experience-based tools and information to help them succeed in an increasingly challenging fiscal, cultural, technological, political, and academic environment. Our conversation was wide ranging and stimulating — Amit is a passionate advocate for improving higher education in the U.S., and ensuring access and success to the widest possible student population — as am I. Part of our conversation centered on the (then) upcoming rankings to be provided by the federal government and the increasing emphasis on the use of rankings by many consumers. And so we asked - Are these rankings fair or are they biased? Are they an accurate measure of the value of a university? How about the quality of an education? And we concluded, emphatically, “No.” To understand why we responded this way we should consider a few facts, and three important issues facing higher education today.


Two recently released reports provide an enlightening picture of the state of higher education for Latinos in the United States. While there have been encouraging developments over the past 10 years, Latinos remain underrepresented and underserved across virtually all post-secondary education sectors, with many barriers to Latino higher education attainment — and the accompanying life-long, generation-spanning benefits that could accrue — remaining stubbornly in place.


The digital snapshot seen round the world depicted a brief handshake between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. It became a fitting symbol of the historic nature of this year’s Summit of the Americas held in Panama this past April and signaled the promise of a new era of cooperation among the nations of Central, South and North America. Along with the first-ever participation of communist Cuba, the seventh summit hosted the first meeting of the Forum of University Rectors of the Americas — an opportunity for university presidents from throughout the region to exchange ideas on how to strengthen and expand higher education in the Americas. The theme of the forum was “Prosperity and Education: The Challenge of Co-operation in the Americas — The Role of Universities.” I was fortunate to be invited to attend.


Last fall, for the first time in our history, America’s public school students were likely NOT majority white. If U.S. Department of Education projections are accurate, white students numbered 24.8 million and non-white students 25 million. So the college student pipeline is now majority nonwhite. In an earlier blog post, I explored some of the ramifications to higher education of our changing student body. Today, I’d like to discuss the faculty side of the equation. Full-time college faculty, in contrast to students, were nearly 80 percent white in 2011, the latest data available. Full-time professors were even more homogeneous at 84 percent white. So the college faculty pipeline is overwhelmingly white.


Recently, Dr. Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California (UC) system, in presenting the 37th Pullias Lecture at the Pullias Center for Higher Education at USC, argued passionately that the state’s Governor, legislators and voters need to recognize “the unique role research universities have played in making California a bastion of innovation and a world leader in its own right.” Making the case for increased funding for the UC system, she offered this startling fact: The “University of California is funded by the state in constant dollars at the same level as it was in 1997,” while at the same time educating 75,000 more students than in that year — the equivalent of having added two more universities the size of UC Berkeley.


I recently gave a lecture on “Vision Setting and Strategy” to a mix of middle managers and faculty leaders at the university where I am president. I commented that while setting strategy, it is critical to simultaneously develop metrics, as one cannot improve, certainly not in a planful and deliberate manner, that which cannot be measured. In short order, I was challenged by a member of our humanities faculty, who argued that we can improve conditions for the better without being able to measure them. He gave critical thinking and civic engagement as examples. Taking up the challenge, I suggested there are many examples of parameters that initially appear unmeasurable, but with purposeful reflection are found to be measurable ... including those in the liberal arts.