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Articles: Leadership

Gwendolyn Boyd is Alabama State University’s first female president.

Gwendolyn Boyd has begun her tenure as Alabama State University’s 14th (and first female) president, succeeding William H. Harris, interim president and president emeritus. Boyd was previously an engineer and executive assistant to the Applied Physics Laboratory chief of staff at Johns Hopkins University, where she had worked for the past 33 years.

The challenges for executives operating state-wide higher education Systems and the flagship research universities within those Systems have grown more baffling with each passing year. From UMass and UNC to LSU, Wisconsin, and Oregon, we hear regularly about frustrated and embroiled leadership.

Universities, research institutions, academics and scientists have increasingly been under the bright light scrutiny of the legal system. While not unprecedented for courts and litigators to pull questions of science and research into the courtroom, public debates and high stakes litigation have recently forced some academics and scientists to center stage.

As a frontline supervisor in Facilities Management, I often think about succession planning in our various organizations across the globe. I ask myself a lot of questions like; what would happen if our director won a million dollars or was offered that ultimate dream job? What would happen if our management team decided to relocate to other institutions? What is going to happen when the management decides to retire?

Spencer Parker had a plan: Take his high school volleyball stardom to college, spend a couple of years at a smaller school to develop his academic and athletic skills, then move on to a larger setting. Become a volleyball star on a bigger stage. But the nagging desire to play college football, the lingering effect of a successful season as high school quarterback, was relentless.

Innovation in higher education often involves change, but for many people, that is an unnerving prospect. Effective change management happens when you meet those people on their terms and focus on aligning the benefits that technology will provide with what they value as individuals.

Leon Botstein says of college admissions: “It’s not an objective process. It’s completely subjective.”

Bard College in New York made news last fall when President Leon Botstein announced that prospective students would no longer be required to submit their grades, SAT or ACT scores, teacher recommendations or the typical personal essay. Instead they will now be able to apply to Bard by writing four analytic papers—10,000 words total—chosen from a variety of weighty, thought-provoking topics.

In today’s competitive higher education market, colleges and universities must prove the value of the degrees they bestow to graduates each year. Traditional measures, such as graduation rates, grade point averages, and cohort default rates, have become only a few of the ways colleges and universities are evaluated. Students and their parents want to be assured that their investment in a college education will pay off in the form of a self-sustaining and financially-secure career path.

Jim Clements will become president of Clemson on Jan. 1, after five years leading West Virginia.

Jim Clements will begin his tenure as the 15th president of Clemson University (S.C.) on Jan. 1. He announced his departure back in November as president of West Virginia University after five years in office. Under his leadership, WVU set records in private fundraising, enrollment and research funding. He helped raise nearly $1 billion for capital improvements. Clements is replacing James Barker, who announced in April that he was stepping down after 14 years.

Shirley Reed is the founding president of South Texas College.

As the founding president of South Texas College, Shirley Reed has had her share of challenges in an area of high poverty with many families, recently immigrated from Mexico, who might only dream of sending a child to college.

Since 1993, Reed and STC have made tremendous inroads on changing that.“The students I see are all motivated, hungry for a better life. More than 70 percent of our students are the first in their families to attend college, meaning they don’t know exactly how to attend college at first, but they know it’s the path to a better future,” she says.

For the first time in history, a woman has been appointed to chair the Federal Reserve—among the most important economic policy-making positions in the world. In her new role as the Fed Chair, Janet Yellen now faces the dual challenges of mitigating post-2008 monetary policies, while stimulating economic growth and reducing unemployment—all that in the midst of a “jobless recovery.”

In my experience as president of a university where liberal arts and professional programs serve as complements, I have found that engaging students—both before they arrive on campus, and while they are completing their studies—is vital to creating the overall college experience that students are seeking. The more connected prospective and current students feel to the university early on, the more likely they are to feel a positive connection through graduation and beyond.

From the perspective of a retired university president, the expressions of concern from most of America’s higher education leaders about President Obama’s proposed “Plan to Make College More Affordable” are a lot like looking a gift horse in the mouth. My former colleagues are portraying the plan as another potential serious intrusion on the historic autonomy of America’s colleges and universities.

Challenged by high expectations and a sense of urgency to hit the ground running, newly appointed leaders are prime candidates for performance derailment even on day one. Compounded by insufficient or less structured on-boarding, leaders with the potential to succeed simply don’t. Worse yet, they don’t know what hit them.

William G. Bowen is the founding chairman of ITHAKA, a nonprofit organization focused on technology.

William G. Bowen is a name familiar to anyone who works in higher education today. Bowen was president of Princeton University from 1972 to 1988, and president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where he served for nearly 20 years.