Do Our Universities Need “Thought Leaders” at the Helm?
File this under the grass isn’t always greener.
The San Francisco Chronicle revealed last week that the University of California–Berkeley paid consultants $200,000 to shape public opinion of Chancellor Nicolas Dirks as a “key thought leader” in order to “increase exposure and awareness” of his “vision for higher education.” This appeared to be done as a sop to potential donors, who might be more likely to give to a university with a visionary at the helm. But given the fact that Dirks decided to step down this week, it’s left the university with egg on its face.
All schadenfreude aside, this incident does raise a bigger question: Who do we want at the helm of our flagship public universities? Do we want noted academics who might have particular insight on how to best educate students or conduct research? Do we want politicians who can navigate the complex web of state and federal government and their often-conflicting mandates for the university? Do we want businesspeople who have experience running the multi-billion-dollar organizations that these institutions have become? Do we want visionary thought leaders (whatever that is) who can chart a new course for higher education in the state?
To be totally honest, I don’t have a good answer to these questions. However, as the state takes the next several months to review how the University of Missouri system is functioning and the essential role that leadership plays in the four campuses that comprise it, deciding who we want at the helm will be important and necessary step.