How to Find the Next NC University’s Network President
Who will be the next president of the 16-campus University of North Carolina?
Some recent news stories have indicated that the selection of businessman, former top White House staffer and US Senate candidate Erskine Bowles is a foregone conclusion.
But Brad Wilson, chair of the university’s board of governors and the presidential search committee, says that the search process will be open and deliberate. He insists that while Bowles’ interest is welcome and encouraging, other candidates could bring qualities and experiences that make them strong contenders.
Wilson points out the careful work of the presidential search committee in preparing a detailed statement of the university’s leadership needs and the qualities the search committee wants the next president to have. This leadership statement is available on the university’s web site at: northcarolina.edu/content.php/pa/presidentialsearch.htm.
‘“The next President of the University,’” according the statement, ‘“must be an uncommon individual who can provide extraordinary vision and leadership for the University as it meets the growing demands of the State and the nation for the Twenty-first Century.’”
Eleven pages of specific personal and professional qualifications follow this ‘short’ summary.
‘“This person must:
‘“* Understand and value the purpose of a public university system and the role it plays both in providing individual education and in promoting the public good;
‘“* Possess the skill and have demonstrated the ability to manage a complex and diverse organization;
‘“* Appreciate the State of North Carolina and its people, the unique roles that the University, through its constituent institutions and affiliated entities, has played in the history of the State, and the University’s value to the people of the State;
‘• ‘“Have the judgment and courage to direct change when needed to ensure the University’s future success;
‘• ‘“Build consensus and establish a singular vision for the University;
‘• ‘“Articulate that vision in a way that is accessible, persuasive, motivational and exciting to diverse internal and external audiences;
‘• ‘“Present the University to the public in a way that when problems arise, the people of the State believe that the University will act for their benefit;
‘• ‘“Have the energy, commitment and intellect to enable the University to flourish;
‘• ‘“Understand trends in higher education nationally and be determined to maintain the University’s national preeminence in higher education; and
‘• ‘“Be a respected leader prepared to accept state, national and international leadership roles in higher education.’”
Finding all these ideal qualifications in a single individual will be a challenge.
Successful leadership at the highest levels of higher education is difficult to put in a neat box.
North Carolina State University professor Arthur Padilla has taken a different approach to the study of university presidential leadership. His new book, Portraits in Leadership: Six Extraordinary University Presidents examines the background and careers of six prominent presidents including UNC President Emeritus William Friday. Others are University of California’s Clark Kerr, Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh, University of Maryland’s John Brooks Slaughter, Princeton’s William Bowen and University of Chicago’s Hanna Holborn Gray.
Padilla’s subjects are different, and they faced different challenges. But he found a number of common characteristics including childhood adversity and hard work, early attention to reading and education and important travel experiences. They had ‘“exceptional intelligences’” and were strong communicators. They found ‘“significant mentors’” and early opportunities to work close to the top leaders in their organizations.
Padilla also lists characteristics they showed as presidents, including strong interpersonal skills, physical stamina to sustain hard work, optimism, perseverance, ability to see from above the fray and reliance on trusted associates. At the top of this list Padilla puts a factor he calls, ‘“connectedness to their organizations.’” All his subjects had a history with the university he or she led. Therefore they were familiar and comfortable with the culture of their university. Padilla writes: ‘“This is perhaps the most striking feature in the ability to achieve extraordinary results’….’”
I hope that the search committee considers Padilla’s conclusions along with its own leadership statement. In the end, as they make the decision that will have an impact on everyone who lives in North Carolina, we have to rely on that committee’s collective good sense and judgment.