Imagine hiring a President that enjoys faculty, enjoys and is capable of participating in faculty governance. Couple that with a Board that is aggressive in supporting shared governance, and that continues to seek faculty input. Imagine a President that enjoys the academic model of governance. I think that which I am asking you to imagine is a healthy functioning academic entity. We have an opportunity to achieve that. We do not need a President who sees his/her assigned task that of controlling the faculty. We need a president who has the ability to tap into the energies and spirit of the faculty, who is capable of bringing the best out in individuals.
Before the advent of President Benjamin, after the retirement of President Moore, there existed strong indications that the Board felt that the faculty were out of control and that a president had to be found that could control the faculty and lead the institution forward. During the interviewing process, our current President was asked how he would judge whether or not he was doing an effective job for the institution. He responded that if the Board was pleased with his performance, that would be his indicator. It appeared to many that he soon felt answerable only to the Board. Terms such as forced march would not have been spoken if the President had not felt that they were Board approved. In the initial years of his Presidency, I do feel that the President felt that both his substance and his style were Board endorsed.
Previous presidents had kept the Board at arms length. They had not formed a co-partnership with the Board in determining the University agenda, nor the time-frame for goals. Previous Presidents had amassed the academic experience, and the judgment to lead, and did not utilize the Board to shore up, to defend their positions. Rather, they had engaged the faculty and administration, had achieved buy-in via debate and constant, extensive interaction. They were concerned with their perception among the faculty. They carried for faculty; faculty carried for them. While they kept the Board well informed, they were not attempting to submerse/submerge the Board via a nurtured relationship. They were individually successful to the extent that they could amass support among the University community for the direction they were taking the institution. Effort had not been spent demonizing the faculty.
e present Board demonstrated in November that it understands the necessity for reaching out to its constituencies, understands the necessity for uniting the University. I thank the Board for listening to the University Community, and reversing the decision concerning the finalists visiting the campus. This is momentous. The Board has sent us a message that is designed to start the healing process. They have demonstrated sensitivity to the culture of the institution. Our new President is not to be divorced from the faculty or the administration, and united solely with the Board. We have a fresh beginning.
We need a President that trusts the faculty. And to achieve that, we need a Board that trusts the faculty. One will not happen without the other. At one time or another, we have all been witness to a model where the President is dissociated from the faculty and the administration. The Board seems to understand that this should not happen. Please, never again. If the President trusts and enjoys the faculty and administration, she/he will achieve trust and be enjoyed. A president does not have to have every one of his/her positions endorsed to be a capable leader. But the President must be capable of developing sufficient good well among the faculty via personal relationships, via charisma, via persistent interaction, that positions, after consultation and modification, may be advanced.
The academic model is a healthy model, but it must have, at both the Board level and the Presidential level, individuals who see the intertwining of shared governance, of input at all levels, both administrative and non-administrative as a positive mechanism for growth and buy-in. It does take abnormal skill and character not to be frustrated at the various levels of input that need to be achieved. But those leaders do exist. And I am so pleased to see that the Board is speaking to the value of achieving buy-in even through it may, at times, be less efficient in the short run. We need their trust and respect and in turn, we must give ours.
Steve Lamb is Chairperson of the Analytical Department in the ISU College of Business, former Chairperson of the ISU Faculty Senate, and a long-time member of AAUP. This article is based on his presentation to the ISU-AAUP's Fall Forum on November 28, 2007.