David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Is 10 Months The Gestation Period of a College President?

May 3, 2016

"We learn to walk like you/talk like you/oo-be-doo/think like you" -- James (the band)

The Chronicle of Higher Ed today reports on the University of Dayton's strategy to give its new president 10 months to learn from the out-going president.  It is a strategy that resonates with me as it is a similar model to what occurred for me when I came to Southwestern Michigan College. I had been a Provost at a 4-year private institution, and certainly would have argued that I didn't need a whole lot of "mentoring" in that way, but as I quickly realized, life at a community college is a whole lot different, even if still in a provost role.

Thus, the points made by the out-going and in-going presidents speak well about the attitude behind this strategy.  As Eric Spina, the in-coming president, points out, the transition speaks to a "selfless leadership that . . . is sometimes lacking." He cites "too many [new] presidents . . . are thinking about the institution in a frame around them rather than a frame around the institution."  Amen.  The change agent myth, the idea that a new president must come in and lead the institution through dramatic change, has seized higher education and merely added to the industry-wide chaos higher education has become. 

"We're trying to be adults," Spina eventually says, in describing himself and the outgoing president. 

Thus, I like the strategy, but I have to admit I am disheartened by the visual element when you click on the link.  Two middle-aged white guys in dark suits, with white shirts, and red ties.  Hell, the University of Dayton pins are attached to the left labels in almost the exact same spot.  They certainly didn't need 10 months to get the looks aligned.

The in-coming president has been at Syracuse.  While Syracuse is a little bit larger than Dayton, in other ways, the two institutions seem incredibly similar -- late nineteenth-century established, urban, private, research institutions that participate in Division 1 NCAA sports.  What do these two really have to talk about for the remaining 9 months and 29 days?

Unfortunately, the interview ends with a rather uncomfortable exchange about the president's home that the university has purchased for Spina (for a cool $1.6 million dollars!).  Can not even The Chronicle see the insensitivity of joking about Spina's new home having a guest house?  This exchange comes after the two tagged-team a spin on the selection of the new president's new leadership team. Being "upfront" about the selection of a new team of vice presidents is pretty good lip service, especially when it involves two sets of lip. All of this being done within the frame of the institution, mind you, not the individual(s). 

Maybe now I understand why they say they "are trying to be adults."  It's not easy to be an adult in Disney Land.