What exactly is it that we expect from our college and university presidents? We want them to be courageous and visible leaders who will take us in the right direction. Do they need to be national leaders too? Preferably outspoken.
Depending on the size of the institution, the library staff may get to know the president well. My experience is that this tends to happen more at small, more intimately sized colleges. At a large research university, sightings of the president in the library are rare. The larger the institution, the bigger the challenges—such as raising lots of money—so, as long as the provost can handle it, the library stays off the president’s agenda.
Despite infrequent sightings, we still hold high expectations for our presidents. We want them to stand for what’s right, to maintain impeccable standards of honesty while being down to earth and approachable. More typically, our presidents let us down. Even when there’s little to criticize, limited transparency leaves us wishing for more.
Now the higher education pundits ask what has become of the noble president, that larger than life leader who weighs in on important societal issues. It leaves us wondering if our presidents matter at all.