College presidents increasingly serve shorter tenures because the heads of educational institutions are not always adept at responding effectively to crises and controversies, University at Albany Vice President of Communications and Marketing Joseph Brennan and Communications Counsel owner Mark Weaver write for University Business.
Brennan and Weaver said it was vital for presidents to be prepared to react quickly if there was a controversy on campus, as crises that may not have previously spread beyond a college and neighboring city can now become national stories in hours due to social media.
The duo also advised presidents to ensure that colleges do exhaustive debriefs examining everything that was done right and wrong in response to a crisis, adding that they should not be afraid to make changes in the event that a response was unsatisfactory.
College presidents’ own views on how they should approach their role has changed over time, with recent hires seeing their primary function as being an operational leader and fundraiser, while presidents in longer tenures tend to consider themselves academic leaders. The difficulty of presidents’ focus on fundraising is that it can remove them from campus life, inoculating them from students’ concerns. In the event of a controversy, a president who has previously been absent from the scene may seem inauthentic to students who desire someone they believe can speak for and to their concerns. College presidents need to find a way to remain present in the lives of students even as the need for fundraising takes them beyond campus.
In an Education Dive interview with a handful of presidents on how those in the role can be successful, many noted that the inflexibility of school boards could invite trouble, especially if the president was unable to be a transformational leader. Many of the controversies that have engulfed college campuses became more inflamed by a response from college administration that seemed locked in a "status quo" method of responding to crises. College presidents need to ensure that they can find ways to be reactive to a response if the institution's board is unlikely to move as fast.