Bottom-Line Leadership

Written by: Jeffrey L. Buller, Ph.D.
Published On: April 5, 2014

A friend of mine posed a question that I’ve been grappling with: “Why are so many college and university presidents so … bad?” The question caught me off guard since many of the college presidents I meet are hardworking, creative, dedicated leaders. But I knew exactly what he meant. Increasingly, the faculty and even many midlevel administrators at colleges and universities are finding themselves dealing with presidents and chancellors who appear to view faculty members as though they were the enemy, micromanage colleges and departments within an inch of their lives, alienate one group of institutional stakeholders after another, and then depart from the institution after five or six years, leaving others to pay the bill for the damage they’ve done. The fault lies, I believe, in something I call bottom-line leadership.

Make no mistake about it: The period from late 2007 onward has not been a good time for higher education. In state after state, public institutions have seen their funding cut by activist governors and legislators who see the role of the university solely in terms of job creation and the production of marketable research. Private institutions suffered similarly, at least temporarily, from the decreased value of their endowments and the reluctance of donors to make contributions during such uncertain economic times. Some attention to the institution’s bottom line was long overdue and, when it came, it came with a vengeance. A new type of administrator began to emerge (or if they didn’t actually emerge, they at least began to appear in larger numbers) who sought to “run the university like a business” and apply management practices developed in the corporate world to colleges, universities, and research institutes.

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