Leadership Challenges, Opportunities, Lessons Learned

Dr. Ed Ray

Book Introduction

This handbook contains a collection of essays by accomplished leaders in various fields of higher education. These essays reflect their direct advice to aspiring leaders, new and current presidents and chancellors, instructors, and students in courses on leadership. The authors address higher education issues with a view toward the future, drawn from and grounded in their substantial experience and lessons learned. These essays provide leaders and aspiring leaders in higher education with a “how to” handbook for managing many of the problems they must solve now and in the future. The contributing authors have written on topics that I wrestled with throughout my seventeen years as president of Oregon State University and twenty-two years of leadership before that at The Ohio State University. There are no star turns to be found here. No one provides a glossy image of their leadership experience. Their essays provide a candid appraisal of problems solved and unsolved, the lessons they learned in the process, and opportunities for leadership that lie ahead. Each essay is focused on providing perspective and, where possible, substantive advice regarding the topic at hand. While many of the essayists are present or former presidents or chancellors, the essayists also include leaders from areas such as student affairs, finance, and administration, offices of diversity and inclusion, athletics, fundraising, offices of research, and other areas in colleges and universities as well as national higher education associations. The essayists are accomplished experts on the subjects they write about.

Each of the authors has signed on to this project as a labor of love. They are motivated to speak truths to leaders, aspiring leaders, instructors, and students of leadership as a service to those who will follow them into higher education leadership roles in the years ahead.

Given that each topic in this collection is of common concern for many leaders, one could ask why there is a need for a collection of essays like this. For me, the simplest answer is that over my many years of leadership and of dealing with existing and emerging issues within and external to higher education, the demands on leadership are ever increasing, and yet two constants could be observed. College and university leaders rarely obtain practical training to do their jobs effectively, and they almost never ask for help unless their leadership is in jeopardy, which is always too late to do much good.

This collection of essays provides current and aspiring leaders with information and advice on a set of topics that all institutions must address. Each chapter includes recommendations on and insights into how to navigate forward with the subject at hand. One can pick specific chapters to get ideas and advice on how to pursue new initiatives, consolidate successes, manage contemporary and future challenges, and better understand areas of responsibility, such as budgets, safety on campus, faculty development, managing athletics programs, and fundraising. Overall, the book provides a set of readings for courses in higher education leadership. At the same time, instructors and students of leadership courses who want to understand the opportunities and challenges that successful leaders must address can use these readings as a set of case studies in launching successful ventures and problem-solving that reflect the breadth of issues that leaders in higher education face. Readers can examine the effectiveness of their own leadership models in different circumstances.

This book is an open education resource textbook provided without cost electronically to all users in order to maximize its availability to leaders in higher education and instructors and students in leadership courses. Hard copies are available at duplication costs, which is much less expensive than traditional textbooks.

The book consists of twelve chapters, most of which include two essays. One chapter is written collaboratively by two presidents. Two chapters include three essays for a total of twenty-five essays. Chapter headings reflect the wide range of topics covered. Several examples are: “Selecting and Assessing the Leadership Team,” “Budget Policy and Long-term Planning,” “Access, Affordability, and Student Success,” “Research and Service,” “Creating a Safe Community,” Fundraising from Soup to Nuts,” “Big-Time College Athletics,” and “Passing the Baton.”

Essays probe the topics they cover more deeply and with specific areas of focus. Examples of essays are: “Budgeting Strategically,” “Who’s the Boss? Shared Governance and the Future of Higher Education,” “Redesigning Higher Education around Student Success,” “The Future of Faculty Development and Developing the Faculty of the Future,” “Research as an Enterprise,” “Institutionalizing Courage to Create a Safer Community,” “Big-Time Athletics—The Collegiate Model at Risk,” and “To Tell the Truth: Crisis Communication in a Post-Truth Era.”

Each chapter begins with a brief overview of common questions and topics for consideration in the leadership area under discussion and provides broad observations and questions specific to the topic at hand that often confront leaders. The questions and concerns posed are ones that every leader and aspiring leader should be thinking about. These observations were shared as prompts for the authors to provide their own perspectives regarding the most compelling questions and concerns to be addressed without expecting authors to exhaust all that can be said in any one volume. While authors are well aware of and address the changing landscape facing leaders in higher education, no one knows what the greatest challenges facing higher education leaders will be five, ten, or twenty years from now.

Each of the twenty-five essays begins with an abstract of the material contained in the essay as a quick guide for readers regarding the relevance of each essay in providing readers with insights for which they may be looking.

Although the essays in a particular chapter may not answer all of the questions raised in the overview provided, those questions can serve to alert the reader to matters to which they should give some thought. I have often told colleagues that it is never a sign of good leadership to startle oneself. Knowing the relevant questions to ask in any given situation can be helpful in framing solutions.

Consider, for example, Chapter 8: “Creating a Safe Community”. The overarching statement regarding the topic is as follows:” Over the last decade, a great deal of attention has been focused by institutions and state and federal law enforcement on issues of domestic abuse and sexual violence on campuses. Too often, the focus has been on protecting institutional reputations and whether or not a case can be proven in court. Too little attention has been paid to the needs of survivors. In fact, the term “institutional betrayal” has emerged to describe the situation in which victims get little support from institutions sworn to keep them safe. At the same time, the Civil Rights Commission and other federal, state, and local authorities have demanded that colleges and universities do more to punish offenders, protect the rights of the accused, and support victims in a timely way. How do colleges and universities wishing to be responsible respond to those demands? Beyond litigation that may succeed or fail, what can institutions do to better serve the needs of victims? How do institutions respond responsibly to external demands to punish offenders, support victims, and respect the rights of the accused?

As is the case throughout our society, students, faculty, and staff experience problems with physical and mental health, drug abuse, and family needs. Best practices for addressing these fundamental personal and family needs should be developed and shared across the academy. What are the most effective programs in academic institutions to address drug abuse and mental health problems among faculty, staff, and students? What are best practices of a college or university that is serious about providing work-life balance for faculty, staff, and students?

Sometimes, the people who are supposed to protect us pose a threat to us. Police brutality on and off campuses is a too common occurrence in our society. Should campuses rely on local police for protection or have their own public safety programs? What is the most effective way to provide a safe living, working, and study environment for the campus community? Should campus police carry guns? Are there effective training programs for campus public safety?

The point in providing an overview of potential questions and concerns to Chapter 8 and each of the other chapters is to highlight issues and raise questions that leaders should already be asking themselves whether they are addressed in the limited space available to our essay writers. Keeping these questions in mind and developing additional questions of their own, leaders can minimize the risk that they will startle themselves when they must confront opportunities and challenges for which they have no clue how to proceed.

The concluding section of the book provides perspective on the extent to which colleagues have covered the topics assigned to them and the areas in which further work seems warranted. This is not a spectator sport. College and university leaders should constantly ask themselves and their leadership teams “what if” questions. The objective is to anticipate potential problems and have a foundation in place for responding quickly and effectively as new challenges emerge.

Let me provide one example. Over the years, I served on boards of national, regional, and state organizations that included presidents and chancellors as members. From time to time, an institution faced serious charges of misconduct in dealing with issues of sexual assault, financial irregularities, or other matters that led to resignations by the leaders, sadness and disappointment by those who served and loved the institution, and horrific pain and suffering by victims who expected better of their institutions. The first few times this happened, I asked my leadership team why this problem had not occurred at our institution, and we did an internal review to confirm that we did not have that specific problem. Finally, it dawned on me that while it is good to do a gut check when there are problems at other campuses, we could not always rely on things going wrong elsewhere before we examined our own policies and practices. As a result, we charged our office of internal auditing to undertake regular comprehensive enterprise-wide audits on a set schedule and to report findings to me and directly to the Board of Trustees. This does not guarantee that we will never have operational problems, but we will not have lingering problems, and we do not have to wait for another institution to fail in a new way in order for us to remain vigilant. This is an example of not startling oneself. Readers are encouraged to send comments and suggestions to the editor for future consideration.

Finally, let me acknowledge those who made this project possible. First, thanks go to Stefanie Buck and her editorial staff at the Oregon State University Office of Open Educational Resources, whose financial support and editorial guidance made this book possible. LeAnn Headrick and Cindy Huddleston provided me with critical staff support, particularly in contacting and onboarding authors for the essays. Students in my public policy course, Leadership Lessons from Higher Education, convinced me that this book is needed. The greatest debt and thanks are for my friends and colleagues who wrote these essays despite extraordinary demands on their time. The essays are a tribute to their wisdom, good sense, and good hearts. Each agreed to prepare an essay as a service to contemporary and future higher education leaders and instructors and students in leadership courses.


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Leadership Challenges, Opportunities, Lessons Learned Copyright © 2024 by Dr. Ed Ray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.