Saturday, February 23, 2013

University Presidents A Bunch Of Boring Technocrats

University Life

An article, by Scott Sherman, in The Nation says that presidents of colleges and universities today are, generally, little more than fund-raisers, corporate boosters and technocrats, a far cry from what they ought to be. Sherman writes, asking a valid question, criticism implied in its posing: "Think about it: When was the last time a college or university president produced an edgy piece of commentary, or took a daring stand on a contentious matter?"

He continues:
Recently the old concerns about higher education leadership were revived by controversies concerning two Ivy League presidents: Ruth Simmons of Brown and Lee Bollinger of Columbia. Not so long ago, both were seen as public-spirited, visionary leaders: Bollinger, when he led the University of Michigan, spearheaded the fight for affirmative action in college admissions; and Simmons, in 2003, initiated a far-reaching investigation into Brown’s historic connection to slavery and the slave trade. (She stepped down last year.)
Those actions won praise, but serious questions have since been raised about what these people do in their spare time. In 2010, the Times reported that Simmons had served on the board of Goldman Sachs and was partly responsible for a $68 million pay package awarded to its chairman, Lloyd Blankfein, in 2007. (Simmons ultimately left the Goldman Sachs board with stock worth $4.3 million.) In June, Bollinger, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s board of directors, defended the right of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, to remain a member of that same board, despite the fact that Dimon’s bank had contributed money to Columbia. Those who thought Dimon should resign, Bollinger reportedly said, were “foolish.” Criticism came quickly: economist Simon Johnson, in blog posts for the Times, lashed Bollinger for serving on the Fed’s board, for sidestepping an obvious conflict of interest and for lacking the credentials to serve. (Bollinger’s term ended December 31.)
Nice work if you can get it. Or is it? Most academics neither desire such a position of CEO nor would describe themselves as an ideal candidate for it, given the politics of such a position. Small wonder then that most, if not all, presidents seem like boring technocrats. It takes a certain individual with the right blend of character traits to successfully maneuver through the minefields of both academia and the business world. Truly, it's not an easy job.

Corporations have long influenced university boards; it's just now more prevalent and public, and now it seems the relationship is also moving in the other direction. This is the way it is today, since universities in need of funds for special programs, research centres and new buildings are looking to private business as their primary source of money. Both universities and society in general benefit, since much of the money is today earmarked for applied research, notably in the health sciences. In return, corporations expect more than a name on a plaque on the wall. Sorry, that's just business. Nothing personal.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Nation]