Does Research Experience Make You a Better College Administrator?

Inside Higher Ed has an article on Amanda H. Goodall, a fellow at Britain’s University of Warwick, and her new book, Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars. Goodall claims that the best college presidents come from traditional academic backgrounds.

There are four reasons for this:

* “Scholars are more credible leaders,” better able to earn the respect of the faculty, and this “legitimacy extends a leader’s power and influence.”

* Scholars who are presidents come into office with “a deep understanding or expert knowledge about the core business of universities.” And that knowledge should inform decisions.

* Presidents set “the quality threshold in a university” and so a president who has an outstanding record in research becomes “a standard bearer.”

* “A president who is a researcher sends a signal to the faculty that the leader shares their scholarly values….”

Goodall also effectively rebuts the idea that fund-raising ability should be a or the primary criterion/a used to pick a college’s new president, and that choosing a good fund-raiser or an accomplished academic is an either/or proposition:

One reason for the popularity of the false dichotomy, Goodall said, is that far too few universities take the time to train talented scholars in management. Academics should be given “short, sharp, focused” experiences with administrative duties, throughout their careers, so they can gain management know-how while also continuing to advance their research agendas.

Definitely a good idea.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.