CIC Announces Navigating a New Culture Pilot Workshop

Director of Peace Corps operations in Thailand, chair and CEO of a major life insurance company, mayor of a Michigan city…these are three of the more surprising professional backgrounds of recently appointed CIC presidents. And the vitae of some vice presidents for development, finance, and enrollment (among others) at independent colleges and universities include similarly unusual prior positions. “We are excited to offer a pilot workshop, Navigating a New Culture, for recently appointed member presidents and other senior campus leaders whose previous experience has been outside independent higher education,” remarked CIC President Richard Ekman.

While the most common path to the presidency and other senior positions at an independent college or university remains through the academic ranks, increasingly trustees select presidents and presidents appoint candidates to cabinet positions who may never have pursued a doctoral degree or served in a faculty position but have honed their leadership skills in business, government, nonprofit organizations, the military, or other professions. “These appointments,” Ekman said, “while not always welcomed by the faculty, make sense as the leaders of independent colleges today find themselves having to respond creatively to fiscal, demographic, technological, and cultural challenges to their institutions. These new leaders are sometimes expected to have solutions to problems they have not yet even identified. And how they handle the issues they confront early on is critical to their long-term success.”

The agenda for the July 28–29, 2016, workshop in Washington, DC, is designed to facilitate better understanding of the distinctive features of independent higher education leadership—in governance; relations with students, faculty and staff members, trustees, and alumni; finances and business models; fundraising and development; communication with local communities; and the realities of life in a fishbowl. “With its fairly narrow agenda and participant focus,” Ekman explained, “this workshop is intended to serve as a helpful extension, not as a replacement of CIC’s New Presidents Program” that is offered annually preceding the Presidents Institute. “We are sincerely grateful for the support of this pilot program by the Henry Luce Foundation and the American Academic Leadership Institute,” Ekman expressed, “that will make it possible for about 20 competitively selected campus leaders to participate in the interactive discussions at a minimal cost to their institutions.”

Sandy Ungar, who worked as a journalist and directed Voice of America before starting a successful tenure as president of Goucher College (MD), will lead the workshop as CIC senior advisor. “When I started at Goucher,” Ungar reflected, “I was fairly confident that I knew what I was getting myself into. But I quickly realized that most of my instincts and work habits were really shaped by the decades I had spent as a print and broadcast journalist. In other words, I came from another culture.”

Sessions will be facilitated by current and former CIC presidents who understand the early challenges of leading a small to mid-sized private institution and  who transitioned into their roles from professional experiences outside independent higher education. They include Tom Chema, president emeritus of Hiram College (OH), who once chaired the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, ran the Ohio Lottery, and founded a sports facilities consulting company; Juan Olivarez, president of Aquinas College (MI), who served as president of Grand Rapids Community College for ten years; Melody Rose, who became president of Marylhurst University (OR) after stints as the chancellor of the Oregon University System and in several roles at Portland State University; Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund and former president of Dillard University (LA), who for 12 years served as chair of the board of commissioners of Fulton County and aspired to become mayor of Atlanta; and Owen Williams, now president of the Associated Colleges of the South and formerly president of Transylvania University (KY), who left behind a highly successful career as a Wall Street investment banker. “It is truly gratifying,” Ekman said, “that these and other CIC presidents were immediately willing to share their experiences and lessons-learned with their colleagues.” “We expect to learn a lot,” Ungar added,” but also will have a lot of fun as a group doing it.”

The application deadline for senior campus leaders is March 15, 2016; the application deadline for newly appointed presidents is April 15.