Dennis Barden’s significant essay, “Your Next Few Leaders,” describes how the leadership pipeline in academe has become leaky at best. As he notes, the traditional path to the presidency through the academic ranks has become increasingly ill-serving and even intimidating for promising leaders. The pressures of academic leadership, from the level of department chair and up, often drive people screaming from those offices.
Likewise, the political and financial demands of the modern presidency are maddening. At my institution, the president must raise the equivalent of a faculty member’s salary every two days to maintain our baseline budgeting levels. At some research universities, presidents must raise salaries of entire departments each week. And don’t forget the complications of dealing with state legislatures or other political entities.
Succession planning is going to change higher education. We will likely enter a new era, for good or for bad, when academics no longer lead academic institutions. The banking system is going to speed that up: already, many private institutions are finding that their creditors are demanding detailed succession plans. Board members are following suit, having seen presidential searches go awry.
I predict we will begin to see a groundswell of support for succession planning from the faculty at many institutions. If you don’t see the need for it, ask a colleague at a frail institution that has experienced the stresses of leadership failure. What’s more, succession planning will likely change administrative contracts, with positions no longer built on year-to-year, “at-will” contracts but with longer terms of service built in.
So, what should we be doing about the leadership pipeline in higher education?