The Academic Leader as Guru

To most people in the west, the term “guru” often conjures up a stereotypical image of a wise old hermit, living at the top of a mountain and dispensing cryptic but sage insights into the meaning of life. Indeed, those of us who have spent our lives in higher education have probably all known presidents, provosts, or deans who were nearly as inaccessible as if they had lived on a mountaintop, appeared briefly and often unexpectedly at formal functions to dispense a rare word of greeting or announce a new policy, and intervened with sudden intensity to overturn a decision or launch a new initiative. But the widespread stereotype of the guru tends to exist only in the popular imagination, and those disengaged administrators we’ve all met almost never succeed as genuine academic leaders. In reality, “guru” is a Sanskrit term of profound respect that is nowadays applied to teachers of all sorts.

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