The names of institutions and individuals vary but the commentary is strikingly similar these days from conversations with a range of university presidents: “the gap is widening between my board and my faculty.” I sense concern in the cadence and visual expressions of these university leaders. No institution can be better than its faculty; no institution can be better than its board. Universities need a harmony of understanding between these two groups and consistent efforts in bridging the gap.
So what is a university president to do, confronting this widening gulf?
- Reinvigorate your focus on the mission. Institutional cultures are each different so you must find the best ways of making things work within your own setting. Lack of mission understanding and failure to recruit trustees and faculty based on mission account for many of the problems institutions face today. Perhaps this topic is worthy of a personal retreat for a long weekend so that you can contemplate—in solitude—your pathway.
- Remind trustees that they are participants in a marathon; remind faculty that—in the current environment—it is sometimes essential to sprint for 100 meters. Trustees often come from backgrounds in which change happens quickly, so their patience is exhausted with the slower pace of higher education. Faculty are often skeptical of rapid change, but circumstances have altered in recent years. The president must balance the expectations and rhythms of the two groups.
- Create opportunities for trustees and faculty to get to know each other. Perhaps you could arrange receptions prior to board meetings to allow faculty and trustees to interact or host other events to promote the strengthening of relationships. Build respect through building relationships.
If you are reading this as a university president, please remember that you are not alone.
Effective higher education leaders focus on the mission and bridge the gap between trustees and faculty. FaithSearch consultants bring over 130 years of cumulative search experience in faith-based executive search. If you’re in the market for new leadership that will have a lasting impact throughout your organization, on your people, and in your community, FaithSearch excels in securing leaders for higher education organizations.