Presidents Explore Resilience and Innovation at Annual Institute

The 2018 Presidents Institute took place January 4–7 at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. The Institute’s theme, “Pathways to Excellence: Resilience and Innovation,” built on messages that emerged during workshops CIC held last year in support of independent higher education and the liberal arts. The Institute considered issues facing independent colleges and universities and the ways these institutions can become even more agile, flexible, innovative, and resilient. Sessions examined how presidents can guide their institutions to embrace challenges and opportunities; choose among innovative programs and approaches; cultivate nimble, adaptive, and culturally responsive leadership on campus; and weigh the benefits of aggressive innovation against the durability of long-standing institutional mission and tradition. In addition, sessions helped leaders prepare students for civic responsibility and explore the challenges of diversity, civility, and free speech on campus.

The Institute again marked the largest annual gathering of college and university presidents in the United States, with more than 330 presidents, 175 spouses and partners, and a total of 769 registrants participating. CIC welcomed international members from Canada, France, Greece, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates. And for the fourth consecutive year, the Institute welcomed a delegation of private university rectors and higher education leaders from Mexico.
David Leonhardt, op-ed columnist and founding editor of the New York Times’s “The Upshot,” delivered the keynote address “What’s at Stake for Independent Colleges in Our Turbulent World?” that delineated challenges and opportunities for presidents to guide their institutions in this volatile period. With a distinguished career as a civic leader, business executive, and attorney, Valerie B. Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, discussed the role independent colleges and universities can play in renewing the nation’s commitment to a robust democracy devoted to civil discourse and inclusive democratic engagement; Carl J. Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College (PA), moderated the discussion. Michael D. Rhodin, former senior vice president for Watson Business Development at IBM, explored how technological innovations could—and should—influence independent colleges and universities.
In the closing plenary session moderated by Christopher C. Morphew, dean of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, a panel of accomplished CIC presidents exemplified approaches to exerting resilient and innovative presidential leadership. Panelists included Mary B. Marcy of Dominican University of California, Kevin M. Ross of Lynn University (FL), and John I. Williams, Jr. of Muhlenberg College (PA).

“As always, I found the Presidents Institute informative and engaging and most helpful to my work,” Andrea Chapdelaine, president of Hood College (MD), remarked. “I’d like to thank CIC for all it does to support member colleges and universities.”

During its annual awards banquet, CIC presented the 2018 Award for Philanthropy by Individuals to Ronda E. Stryker and William D. Johnston, whose engagement has strengthened social justice issues nationwide and whose generous contributions have advanced dialogue, teaching, and student success at Spelman College (GA) and Kalamazoo College (MI), among others, in transformative ways. The Newman’s Own Foundation received the 2018 Award for Philanthropy by an Organization for its generous support of programs and endowed scholarships at many CIC member colleges and universities, including Kenyon College (OH) and the University of Hartford (CT). CIC presented the 2018 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service to Ernesto Nieto, president and co-founder of the National Hispanic Institute, who has dedicated his life to serving the future leadership needs of the Hispanic community. The Allen P. Splete Award, supported by Jenzabar, was presented by Robert Maginn, chair and chief executive officer.

In conjunction with the Presidents Institute, CIC also offered again the New Presidents Program and the parallel program for spouses and partners of new presidents; the Presidents Governance Academy; and the Institute’s Presidential Spouses and Partners Program. “Thank you for the wonderful New Presidents Program,” reflected Elfred Anthony Pinkard, president-elect of Wilberforce University (OH). “I cannot adequately express how valuable the information, insights, collective wisdom and networking opportunities were for me. What a gift as I prepare to assume my presidency in March.”

Videos of most of the plenary sessions and banquet addresses as well as presentations and handouts from many Institute sessions are available on the Presidents Institute website.

Richard Ekman and Thomas Hellie stand with the four awardees holding their framed awards Richard Ekman, president of CIC; Robert Forrester, president and CEO of the Newman’s Own Foundation; Ernesto Nieto, president and co-founder of the National Hispanic Institute; Ronda E. Stryker and William D. Johnston, founders of the Stryker Johnston Foundation; and Thomas L. Hellie, CIC chair and president of Linfield College (OR), during the 2018 Awards Banquet.

Four panelists present from the head table The Presidential Forum on Diversity, Civility, and Free Speech featured Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury College (VT); Frederick M. Lawrence, secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society (DC); Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity College (CT); and moderator Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College (GA) and director of CIC’s Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute.

Participant stands at microphone to ask question from the audience Presidents had many opportunities to engage with plenary and concurrent session presenters.

Participants seated at breakfast roundtables Breakfast discussions provided informal opportunities for participants to share information and ideas.

Jay Lemons presents from the podium to new presidents seated at roundtables The New Presidents Program luncheon session “You Got the Job, Now What?” featured L. Jay Lemons, president emeritus of Susquehanna University (PA) and president of Academic Search, Inc.


NYT Columnist Says Education Is Vital to Lift Living Standards

David Leonhardy presents from the podium
David Leonhardt of the New York Times

David Leonhardt, Pulitzer Prize-winning political and economic commentator for the New York Times, began his plenary address on “What’s at Stake for Independent Colleges in Our Turbulent World,” by discussing family stories. A founding editor of “The Upshot,” a website covering politics and policy, he was previously the Times Washington bureau chief and recently led a strategic review of the Times newsroom to chart its path for the future.

“We all have stories we tell about our own families and ourselves,” Leonhardt said. “My grandfather on my father’s side was named Rene Leonhardt. I only knew about him through family stories.” He escaped the Nazis in Germany, came to the U.S., and worked as a photographer.

Like many people, Leonhardt used online databases to learn more about his family. On a ship’s manifest, he found his grandfather also had been a journalist. “But as a refugee, you find what you can do to make a living.” So his grandfather worked in Times Square every day, not as a journalist, but as a photographer. Leonhardt found the connection remarkable, and he is grateful for the opportunity to work at the New York Times, because of his grandfather and the sacrifices he made.

“When progress like this is the norm,” he said, it feeds on itself. People trust that their sacrifices pay off, and they endure hard times without cynicism and anger. “These stories about my family and your family make people feel part of something larger…. They are miniature stories of the American story, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Leonhardt said.

Then he asked the audience to imagine a different reality. “Your family has known scant progress for decades. You are not richer than your grandparents. You are no healthier than your parents, and your kids are no healthier than you are. Your hard work has gone unrewarded.” Leonhardt called this reality for tens of millions of Americans “the Great Stagnation.”

As he presented U.S. demographic and economic statistics to illustrate his remarks, he noted: Between World War II and 1980 the poor received larger proportional increases in their pay. People were catching up to the rich. “Since 1980, only the very, very rich have gotten very big raises. The vast majority got smaller raises in the last decades than they did before,” he said.

Leonhardt added that mortality rates have fallen in Europe and Canada, while they have risen in the United States. Obesity has tripled. Eight million people spent time behind bars, and it remains all too common for middle class and poor students to leave college without a degree.

Leonhardt cited causes such as globalization and technology. The race between education and technology determines whether students can keep up with their skills and the technological changes in motion, he said. “We have been losing that race,” he said,” and it is the single most important strategy we have to deal with the Great Stagnation.”

“The regions that are doing well are those with lots of educated people—such as Boston and Minneapolis—the single best way to see the value of education is to see this massive natural experiment,” he said.

“To reverse the stagnation, people must recognize the depth of the problem,” Leonhardt urged. “For most of us, our lives have improved over the last decade. It is difficult to realize the frustration of those whose lives have not.” Thinking about how to address those problems is something we all need to do, he said.

“The solution has to be a mix of things, and I think education is first on the list,” he said. “It is the single best bet we have for lifting living standards.” It is vital, he added, that independent colleges think hard about how to increase graduation rates among the diverse students they serve.

Secondly, Leonhardt said, we need to resist the allure of magic bullets, as there are none. He pointed to the recent tax cut for wealthy Americans, and said regression analysis and past history demonstrate that this is not a solution.

The solution also has to involve health care, addressing family breakdowns, and providing more income through the tax code to poor and middle class people, Leonhardt explained. Although progress has been made on a number of fronts, he said he is not optimistic. “Real progress has to mean assuring that a large number of Americans enjoy a rising quality of life. Doing so means better, more equal schools, a tax code less favorable to the rich and the upper middle class, criminal justice reform, and a bigger emphasis on better-paying jobs.”

“Unless we can make progress against the Great Stagnation, all of our other problems will be harder to solve,” he concluded. The moral case for a fairer society is clear, but there also is a case driven by self-interest. “If the recent trends continue, the United States will become a worse place to live for all Americans, no matter how insulated we may feel today.”

Jarrett Recommends How to Prepare Students for Civic Responsibility

Valerie Jarrett and Carl Strikwerda seated in chairs on a stage
Valerie B. Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, and Carl J. Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College (PA)

“College presidents have a wonderful opportunity to engage their students and to help them appreciate their responsibilities as citizens…. You can incorporate into their college education this need and responsibility of civic engagement. [It may seem like] it begins with voting, but that’s just the minimum,” remarked Presidents Institute plenary speaker Valerie B. Jarrett.

Jarrett—the longest-serving senior advisor to President Barack Obama, has had a distinguished career as a civic leader, business executive, and attorney. The session, moderated by Elizabethtown College (PA) President Carl J. Strikwerda, explored such questions as how college presidents can lead their institutions to prepare graduates who are committed to justice and equality, free expression, and a relentless pursuit of evidence-based truth.

The many opportunities to foster civil discourse and civic engagement on campus, Jarrett said, include campus policies, the curriculum, faculty and staff members, students, invited speakers, alumni, co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and others.

Because campuses have become centers of debate and dispute, Jarrett emphasized the importance of teaching students how to analyze news and information, engage with others, and communicate their ideas effectively. “As college presidents, you have a unique platform to create opportunities for modeling positive and healthy behavior and to encourage students to do the same.” She urged presidents to find campus speakers whose viewpoints differ but who avoid incendiary speech or elicit visceral emotional responses. “You can form panels of people who disagree with each other but who model good behavior…people who disagree in an agreeable way.” Campus leaders can embolden students to moderate the conversation, coach them when they go off kilter, and help them appreciate how stimulating it can be to have a debate with someone with whom they disagree. “People can be passionate and emotional without being hostile,” and that is an important exercise for students to practice.

Jarrett added that campus leaders can help facilitate discussions and debates among student clubs and groups—for example debates between Republican and Democratic student groups—but that faculty members also can play a role. “They should…encourage young people to have an open mind and help them realize that it’s okay to change their minds. [Students need to] learn how to grow and evolve and to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”

Presidents also can help facilitate an inclusive, civic-minded atmosphere through college admissions policies—as admissions offices play a key role in populating colleges with people who will enrich each other’s lives—and through faculty member recruitment. Jarrett said, “Presidents have an appropriate role in determining the qualities of the people they bring to campus. Do the [faculty members] see their role narrowly in terms of just providing academic education, or do they appreciate that they can touch students more broadly?”

She suggested another way to encourage an inclusive and engaging, civically minded campus “is to share a best practice that you’ve developed yourselves—part of the purpose of this Presidents Institute.”

Taking a long-term view, Jarrett said it is best to get students volunteering and caring about civic duties early in life and to start with something easy—like voting or volunteering for a cause they care deeply about. She urged the audience to “find out what students are interested in and direct them to organizations that link up with their interests. If they start with [something they are passionate about], that passion will grow.” Similar to those who begin voting at a young age, those who volunteer or become civically engaged at a young age may form a positive habit. Jarrett reflected that she might not have become civically involved without being exposed to it when she was young, which opened her eyes. “If it hadn’t been put in my face, I might not have seen it. It’s your job [as college presidents] to put it in front of students, let them see it and make it easy for them to get started.”

She also noted that students’ employment or volunteer work during the summer and between semesters is incredibly important for civic engagement. “Presidents can talk to their board about helping to support programs that allow students to have [relevant] work opportunities while in school and during breaks.” If they are paid positions, that is even better.

Strikwerda asked Jarrett questions about the mood she encounters when visiting campuses and whether she thinks students are more apathetic or engaged since the 2016 presidential election. Jarrett said that many students told her they were thrown off by the election results, but also that many students didn’t vote. “My message to them is, if you really care, you’ve got to get started. And voting doesn’t just mean showing up on election day and going into a voting booth. It also means figuring out where people stand, what their positions are on issues. It means researching candidates to ensure [you understand] not just their professional opinions but their character, integrity, and track records. When you’re voting for someone you’re betting on what they will do in future, and the best indicator is what they have done in the past.”

She emphasized the importance of a positive atmosphere on campus. “When people hear negative things all of the time, they feel anxiety and then they tune out—it’s a self-preservation technique. They should feel engaged.” She said that volunteering in the community and working on local campaigns can be rewarding and energizing. She asked presidents, “If you don’t feel a certain level of energy and optimism on your campus, then what do you do about it? You don’t want people graduating to feel apathetic about engagement…. Don’t let them be complacent. Drag them out of bed and tell them ‘we’re going to do something.’ Then give them a goal you’re pretty sure will mean a small victory so they have some success under their belt. But even if they aren’t successful, they still have to keep going.”

She mentioned that this era of instant gratification has been challenging in many ways, including that “young people aren’t always aware that things take time, that you have to take the long haul, and that you will have disappointments. Life is about resilience, determination, and effort…. They don’t have that frame of reference yet…. Being bright is important, but resilience, determination, and persistence are more important.”

Jarrett remarked, “The best times in our country are when the most number of people are engaged, caring, informed, and participating in their election. What we see now is an awakening….We see that more people want to run for office—that’s a terrific thing…. I don’t say that with a political ideology, I want everyone to vote and to engage in the process and care about our democracy.”

Rhodin Suggests Artificial Intelligence Can Improve Private Higher Ed and Undergraduate Teaching

Michael Rhodin presenting from the podium Michael D. Rhodin, former senior vice president for Watson Business Development at IBM

How can artificial intelligence (AI) improve how private colleges deliver undergraduate education?

In the plenary address, “Innovation and ‘Intrepreneurship’ for Independent Higher Education,” Michael Rhodin, recently retired senior vice president of IBM, said that technology and artificial intelligence have already influenced teaching and learning in higher education—but that AI is just in the beginning stages. Rapid advances will lead to further disruption, said the 33-year IBM veteran, who founded and led IBM’s Watson business units.

In setting the context for his address, Rhodin said he is the product of a University of Michigan education, and he went to work at one of the largest corporations in the world. But as he considered his children’s college choice, he realized that the high-quality teaching and small classes provided by smaller private colleges offer the best education. And when he saw his children blossom at Roanoke College (VA), Connecticut College, and Reed College, he had a “late career revelation.”

Rhodin then launched a pilot hiring program at IBM where he recruited students with a liberal arts background from private colleges rather than computer scientists or engineers from larger universities. He searched for students with a well-rounded background who had learned how to learn, and he brought 30 of them to IBM for a year-long experiential learning program hand-tailored for them. “We saw leadership coming out of that team and realized it was a worthwhile activity…. It taught me [and others at IBM] to think differently about how we recruit and hire the next generation of leaders.”

With rapid technological innovation and disruptions in many industries, including higher education, Rhodin believes that all colleges and universities need to teach students differently and invest in new education “systems” because “the half-life of a college education today—the amount of time that a college education is valid in the market—is decreasing.” In addition, he noted that “college costs are continuing to increase” and the quality of a college education often depends on the quality of teachers at an institution, which means that “consistency in education cannot be uniformly applied.” New education platforms are likely to come from Silicon Valley unless higher education invests in new education technologies, he cautioned. “What if new platforms enabled you to reduce the cost of college? Change the debt ratio? Lessen the amount of time students spend on a physical campus?... What if a college education is no longer one class and 20 students but one platform and millions of students?”

With challenges such as these, a better understanding of the historical context of innovation and disruption could help campus leaders understand and respond to what is coming. “We are entering the next phase of a centuries-long cycle of innovation and disruption…and history is a good teacher of how that might unfold,” he said.

In today’s astounding pace of change and innovation, long-standing institutions are being disrupted. For example, he said, the taxi industry is disrupted by Uber; small stores lose out to Walmart; Walmart battles Amazon; newspapers (and classified ads and advertising) are disrupted by Google. The changes wrought by these “next-generation” companies are subtle at first, but they are building platforms that can be leveraged to do different things. “Platforms as a concept are a recurring theme in disruption and can really accelerate the pace of change.”

Rhodin cited the Industrial Revolution as the first wave of disruption with the advent of automation. This created a “demand cycle” that “human methodologies couldn’t support, and that demand necessitated change…[which] allowed us to invent new things such as cars.” Automation produced factories, production expanded, and jobs that traditionally went to humans were now automated, leading to fears that machines were taking over. In fact, “different jobs were created—we invented new machines, factories, and construction jobs.” In the early 1900s as production increased, businesses and governments had trouble keeping up with the goods and services being produced. “We had to figure out how to get more raw material to factories. We needed a supply chain, and we needed to create payroll logistics and new financial systems…. Eventually, businesses and governments created pensions and new tax and social security systems.”

With these new systems in place, Rhodin said, we could no longer keep track of wages and business transactions using handwritten ledgers, so entrepreneurs invented new technologies such as cash registers and time clocks and other automation machines to support the new business processes. In fact, IBM (International Business Machines) was founded by combining several companies that provided automation of routine business transactions services such as punch card and card reader systems for government bureaus and insurance agencies. Later the invention of storing information on magnetic tapes led to the invention of computers.

Innovation and disruption in the 1950s and 1960s included new production systems and the concept of big platforms, “which became the basis for the financial, airline, and credit card systems,” leading to multinational corporations and global commerce. “The concept of big platforms is important, because the creator of a platform only has to get it right once, then it can be scaled…and with today’s technology, these systems can be scaled at a rapid pace.” This is what we’re seeing now as technology has become smaller, faster, and intensely connected, he said.

An interesting trend now, Rhodin said, “is the gig economy.” He cited one study that concludes that 40 percent of the workforce will be self employed in the next ten years. “Are we equipping students to move into a world where they will be a small business owner?... If more people are self-employed and not reliant on a company for health care and pension plans, how will they manage?” He posited that this trend will force the U.S. to rethink health care and retirement plans, which increasingly will be managed individually going forward.

Artificial intelligence is the next wave of innovation that will result in massive changes, Rhodin said. After reciting a brief history of how AI was created and evolved, he noted that since 2011 there have been tremendous breakthroughs in AI. “We are learning more about algorithms, we are digitizing data at a dizzying pace, and we have enough computational power now to power new systems.” But, he said, building AI applications is a different concept in which a knowledge base must first be built. “New professions will emerge around this: information sciences, library science, knowledge curation…these will be important skill sets going forward.” Once the knowledge base for an AI application is built, we will need to train the knowledge base to build synaptic connections…which means we will need new approaches to dealing with training.”

Consumers are fueling this drive for AI, Rhodin said. “With Alexa, the way we interact with knowledge systems is becoming more human-like. Alexa is a primitive set of rules on the back end, but it will become more sophisticated over time. This is significant—it is the introduction of robotics into our homes.”

Rhodin recounted technological history to show that the disruption we are seeing today will lead to new professions, systems, and entrepreneurship in the coming centuries. “The new C-level position of chief information officer in companies” is an important example of the new professions being created. “We have to train our students to be ready for change. The tradition of silo-based departments in colleges has to change. The education of students needs to be cross-functional. We need to start thinking differently” about pedagogy and higher education structures.

Institutions are already experimenting with innovative applications, Rhodin said. For example, a Georgia Tech professor built a teaching assistant for his class but didn’t tell the students that it was automated. Students voted it as “the best TA…with 97 percent accuracy.” And IBM has launched classroom applications that provide a 360-degree view of students and help teachers create better lesson plans with new tools and techniques. In fact, he said, “investors are putting billions into education systems.”

Rhodin said the essential questions are: “What will you do as the leader of your institution? Will you invest in a new science building, or a new education system? We have a fragile, costly system today. Our environment is demanding knowledge but we’re not teaching students these new systems. How will you educate students going forward?”

Panelists Discuss Approaches to Resilient and Innovative Presidential Leadership

Three presenters and a moderator seated in chairs on a stage Christopher C. Morphew of Johns Hopkins University, John I. Williams, Jr. of Muhlenberg College (PA), Mary B. Marcy of Dominican University of California, and Kevin M. Ross of Lynn University (FL)

How can presidents effectively guide their institutions to recognize the challenges and embrace the opportunities in front of them? What criteria should presidents use to select among innovative programs and approach options? How do presidents cultivate nimble, adaptive, and culturally responsive leadership among faculty and staff members?

Presidents Mary Marcy of Dominican University of California, Kevin Ross of Lynn University (FL), and John Williams of Muhlenberg College (PA), led by moderator Christopher Morphew, dean of the School of Education of Johns Hopkins University, explored these questions during the Presidents Institute’s closing plenary session.

Morphew opened the dialogue by noting that resilience and innovation on the part of smaller colleges and universities is the reason most continue to flourish. The single biggest factor in resilience and innovation, he said, is presidential leadership. Presidents who “effectively guide their institutions, create strong teams, and balance the benefits of innovation and the durability of mission and purpose, will see their institutions thrive,” Morphew stipulated.

Lynn University created a comprehensive 15-year strategic plan in 2005 with the goal “to be recognized as one of the most innovative, international, and individualized small universities in America,” explained Ross. And Lynn will likely reach all of its goals two years early. As part of the strategy, Lynn has recast its academic offerings, redesigned the core curriculum framed as Dialogues, created a citizenship project in which all first-year students take a course that focuses on a civic issue or problem, and opened a performing arts center. Lynn also capitalized on opportunities that arose outside of the strategic plan, which included hosting the 2012 presidential debate and launching an iPad initiative in partnership with Apple.

“We explore and experiment with things that come our way. Lots of things we tried didn’t work,” Ross said, but Lynn has tackled many unmet needs and priorities using the “Five E’s” concept of engage, elevate, expand, experiment, and evaluate. Among Lynn’s accolades have been U.S. News & World Report’s recognition as “most innovative colleges,” “most international students,” and “best online programs.”

Dominican University of California had a strategic plan in place when Marcy arrived as president in 2011. But “we couldn’t explain who our students were or what our defining characteristic was....” reflected Marcy, noting that the university had an identity problem. The university faced other challenges, including declining student enrollment and retention; financial instability; accreditation issues; and campus culture challenges. The revised strategy they adopted, Marcy said, focused on “identifying common ground, balancing the budget and generating new sources of revenue, supporting the academic core and student success, and engaging in focused fundraising.”

The university’s signature plan became “The Dominican Experience for All” that emphasized coaching (involving an integrated network of mentors to advise students on their studies and career); community engagement (creating a close-knit campus and meaningful connections with community partners in students’ fields of study); signature work (a culminating project that demonstrates a student’s best work); and proof of experience (a digital portfolio that shows a student is ready for the job market).

Although the campus is only two-thirds through implementing the Dominican Experience, Marcy said they already are seeing a steady increase in graduation rates. New degree programs and other new credential and partner programs are leading to increases in revenue. Looking ahead, Marcy said the campus is exploring a computer science/tech partnership, a center for healthy aging, a “Reclaiming Citizenship” partnership with nearby Novato, California, a teacher residency program, and community college transfer strategies.

Colleges and universities face many barriers to resilience and innovation, said Williams, who is in the third year of his Muhlenberg presidency. He used an offense-defense framework to illustrate challenges to higher education. Among the challenges on defense are demographic shifts; rising affordability concerns; increased competition; skepticism about the relevance of liberal arts; Greek life; alcohol and drug abuse; and policy shifts on DACA, Title IX, and taxes. Challenges on the offense differ from institution to institution.

For Muhlenberg, Williams said its offensive challenges are related to its hometown of Allentown, which faced economic challenges in the late 20th century that may have affected the college’s appeal. Now, Allentown is the fastest-growing city in the region as a result of “the state legislature’s passage five years ago of tremendous incentives for developing downtown Allentown.” Over the next three years, Williams noted, $1.6 billion will be invested in urban redevelopment projects, drawing thousands of jobs to the downtown.

In an “offensive” move, Muhlenberg was considering creating a downtown campus, but the conversation was “fraught with hand wringing and foot dragging” and resistance to change. The fact is, Williams emphasized, “there is substantial resistance to change on the part of many of our constituencies.” To lead an institution to success, Williams said campus leaders need to be willing to take risks and embrace change. He posited a framework consisting of initiatives and challenges that are planned, proactive, and conventional (such as “town-gown issues, student conduct issues, alumni concerns, and board issues”); and others that are unplanned, reactive, unconventional, and rare (such as “campus deaths, links to slavery, a live shooter on campus, a natural disaster, cyber attacks, and epidemics”). The latter can be the toughest to navigate, he noted.

As leaders, Williams suggested, “We need to develop and manage excellent teams and install proper systems and tools so that we have the bandwidth to deal with those rare things that are not planned for.” He and his relatively new leadership team are implementing new systems in human resources and finance; they instituted a new Title IX case management process; and they “rationalized the health and counseling centers.” In addition, the leadership team has a “situational readiness meeting once a week where we go over unexpected things we have to deal with…and we’re conducting more campus safety exercises to anticipate what to do in an emergency.”

Innovation also can be about eliminating or stopping things rather than simply about growth, all three presidents emphasized. Marcy said Dominican closed some programs and reduced the number of administrators. Williams said his campus reduced course requirements, freeing up faculty time for more research, scholarship, and student interaction. Ross said “rightsizing is important,” as is “translucency” and engaging the community in solutions. “We need to redirect efforts and reinvest in programs” that show the most promise of success.

During the question-and-answer period, Lebanon Valley College (PA) President Lewis Thane asked how campus leaders could engage faculty members in innovation and resilience. Ross suggested that presidents “create a space for faculty members to tinker, such as a center for innovation.” When Lynn University “went mobile with collaborative technology…faculty members started clamoring for new technology. Innovation is now the norm.”

In response to Morphew’s question about the fear of failure among nonprofit colleges, Williams emphasized that campus leaders should pay attention to “early adopters” of technology and innovation. Initially, “most highly ranked liberal arts colleges viewed online education as inferior…. [Muhlenberg] has embraced online education and experiments with the effective delivery of courses.” They created 22 online courses, solicited early-adopter faculty members, tested the waters, and then more faculty members followed them. They found their online courses are “as effective as face-to-face teaching.”

Carlow University (PA) President Suzanne Mellon asked how an entrepreneurial president could cultivate an entrepreneurial board. Marcy noted that although her board was “very interested in innovation writ large, the challenge was trying to channel their wants.” She suggested that presidents “need to be specific about what we need our board to do,” “not be overly aspirational,” understand that “not everything is going to work,” and “manage expectations around innovation.” Williams said he highly recommends CIC’s Presidents Governance Academy because there he learned that it is the president’s job “to help the board become better…to free up time during board meetings to help board members think through big issues…and to think strategically about the board’s committee structure and refocus the topics” to be discussed.

Foundation Philanthropy Session Provides Insider’s View into Securing Grants

Michael Gilligan presents from the podium with other speakers seated at the head table Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation, chair Ronald A. Johnson, president of Clark Atlanta University (GA), and Nancy Cable, president of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, during the foundation philanthropy workshop.

As new external and internal forces shape the strategic direction of independent colleges and the foundations that provide projects grant support, it has become even more important for presidents to recognize how their institutions’ priorities align with those of foundations when they seek funding. While 30 percent of giving in higher education comes from foundations, most foundations have a regional support focus and only a few focus on liberal arts colleges on a nationwide basis. The leaders of three of those foundations contributed to the Presidents Institute workshop Foundation Philanthropy: An Insider’s View into Securing Grants. Nancy Cable, president of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation—both members of the CIC Board of Directors—discussed four key topics with more than 30 college presidents. Judith Shapiro, president of the Teagle Foundation who was unable to get to the conference because of snow-related flight cancellations, offered guidance on those same topics via a handout distributed at the workshop.

After brief overviews of their foundations’ history and areas of focus, Cable and Gilligan asked participants, “What questions do you wish you could ask a foundation to help you with your approach?” Beth Stroble, president of Webster University (MO), replied, “Who in the institution is the most credible in starting the relationship?” For both foundation presidents, the answer was usually the president or someone distinctly assigned by the president to do so. Mary Marcy, president of Dominican University of California, asked about the importance of collaboration among institutions to obtaining grants. Both Cable and Gilligan replied that collaboration is sometimes an advantage, depending on the program. They pointed out that the Teagle Foundation has emphasized collaboration in the past.

In response to other questions, Cable stated that institutional size and wealth are not essential considerations for her foundations and that they give special consideration to supporting historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and rural colleges. She said, “We care deeply about leadership stability, and that’s why we never give to colleges in presidential transition.”

Cable, Gilligan, and Shapiro also addressed some of the external forces (such as political realities) and internal forces (such as their own strategic planning) that affect how their funding priorities evolve. Cable mentioned the “groundswell” of change in the professoriate, and Gilligan mentioned how Asian studies programs are affected by U.S. and Chinese policy changes. Shapiro noted, “What some of us see as the current parlous state of our democracy is leading us to consider how we can best help students develop a strong, informed grasp of our nation’s civic, governmental, and political institutions and history while also helping students develop a comparative, cross-national, cosmopolitan perspective.” Other strategic planning choices reflect an emphasis on efficiency, such as the Henry Luce Foundation’s decision to support women in the STEM disciplines better by funding undergraduate research than by endowing faculty chairs.

A third topic centered on the qualities institutions should seek in their grant writers or foundation relations administrators. From the institutional perspective, foundation work depends upon good teamwork between faculty members and development staff, presidents indicated. Cynthia Zane, president of Hilbert College (NY), commented, “Mentoring from senior faculty members who have been successful grant writers makes a huge difference. That way you don’t get away from the college’s strategic plan.” Nancy Cable recommended that whoever writes the grant needs to be someone who knows the capacity of the college to make good on the proposed activities. “When you call the foundation, enter into a dialogue, because that’s where the rich development of what’s possible can take place.”

In the last segment of the workshop, the presenters pulled back the curtain on the foundations’ decision making. Gilligan emphasized the importance of “the alignment of your priorities and ours.” He also mentioned that the foundation always asks, “Is there enough support from the top for this to happen? What will last after the grant is expended? Can others learn or benefit from this project?” and finally, “Would this be better with a partner?”

Shapiro highlighted, “Major factors we look for include institutional commitment, strong leadership at the level both of the project and the institution, and governance procedures that will facilitate the success of proposed projects. We require information on plans for assessment, sustainability, and dissemination.”

“We need to see a proven leadership endorsement,” Cable asserted. “Your proposal should be tied to a current or ending strategic plan. We look for strength and proven leadership abilities of the president.” She ended by saying, “Avoid the same-old, same-old administrative language. Point to what is distinctive. Give us fewer words that are really meaningful in describing how this work will affect your institution.”

Session Examines Lessons for Presidential Practice from Recent Research

Roger D. Drake presents from the podium with other speakers seated at the head table Lessons for Presidential Practice from Recent Research featured Carolyn J. Stefanco, president of the College of Saint Rose (NY), Christopher C. Morphew, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, and Roger D. Drake, president of Central Methodist University (MO).

​Do academic scholars of higher education and leaders of independent colleges and universities live in different worlds? Sometimes it seems that way to observers in both camps. Researchers lament that “higher ed leaders don’t use our work to improve their institutions,” according to Christopher C. Morphew, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, while presidents complain that academic research is irrelevant or inadequate to address the concerns of smaller private colleges.

To help bridge the research-to-practice divide, CIC and the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) joined forces to commission a volume of essays on current research trends by leading scholars with responses by presidents or chief academic officers of CIC member institutions. The Challenge of Independent Colleges: Moving Research to Practice, edited by Morphew and John M. Braxton, professor of education emeritus at Vanderbilt University, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in late 2017. A session at the 2018 Presidents Institute, led by Morphew and two presidents who contributed to the book, shared practical advice for translating empirical research into action plans and policies on campus.

Morphew began by describing the format of the volume as a series of dialogues. First, the ASHE researchers were asked to address the question, “What do we know and how is it useful to the challenges facing independent colleges?” In turn, the CIC institution leaders were asked to consider the questions, “What’s useful here [in the researcher’s essay] for my campus, what’s missing, and what kind of research could I use on my campus?” The topics of individual chapters include changes in faculty composition, college access and affordability, student engagement, learning technology, and strategic planning.

Morphew summarized the lessons of the book from a researchers’ perspective. He acknowledged, with some chagrin, that the work being produced by higher education researchers “may fail to recognize the great variation among independent colleges that greatly affects the challenges campuses face.” Perhaps more important, research has to “move beyond best practices to how to implement best practices if the work is to be useful for leaders in the trenches”—and effective implementation strategies have to be sensitive to the different sizes, traditions, geographic locations, and institutional resources that characterize independent colleges and universities. A challenge, as the CIC leaders included in the volume point out, is that “in some cases, ASHE scholars seem to be working with inaccurate assumptions or assessments about CIC campuses.” This highlights the need for even more dialogue between researchers and practitioners.

Panelists Carolyn J. Stefanco of the College of Saint Rose (NY) and Roger D. Drake of Central Methodist University (MO) responded to Morphew from the college president’s perspective. Stefanco began by admitting that she has not been “actively engaged with [academic] higher education research as a president.” Instead, she has relied—perhaps too much—on outside consultants and external reports, even though her institution has an education school faculty with relevant expertise. She encouraged session participants to make better use of such internal resources. She also encouraged them to remember that many presidents began as academic researchers (in some field, if not higher education) and that many researchers (like Morphew) have practical experience as administrators—so the dichotomy between research and practice can be drawn too sharply.

Turning to the substance of the CIC-ASHE volume, Stefanco focused on several chapters and a reaction essay by former Westminster College (PA) president Richard H. Dorman that describe the ongoing transition from a faculty-controlled curriculum to a more market-centered approach. Sharing research about institutional adaptation, she argued, can be “an effective way for leaders and trustees to encourage change [by] helping faculty members understand changing market forces.” Thus, researchers can help CIC colleges by presenting basic research in ways that make sense to these different constituencies.

Drake also focused on the challenging market forces that have impelled most colleges and universities to innovate. Collectively, the researchers in the book “suggest a dire future full of change and struggle,” especially for colleges that are “small, poor, rural, or religious—that is, the adjectives that disproportionately describe CIC colleges.” In this environment, “presidents have to be agents of change. But change is not for the sake of change—we have to get it right,” and research can help. That is why Drake has asked members of his senior leadership team to read the CIC-ASHE volume, “even though it’s not a ‘how to’ book but a ‘why to’ book.”

The book demonstrates the great need for more practice-oriented research in such areas as pricing, changing student needs, and market analysis. Fortunately, the volume is a valuable “jumping off place, because it [already] includes practical, actionable strategies” that institutions can begin to use right away. For example, he pointed to the chapter on student engagement and retention prepared by Laurie Schreiner, a researcher at Azusa Pacific University (CA). “It shocks me how there are tested propositions in this area” that are not being employed on campuses across the country.

Drake concluded by encouraging session participants to read chapter nine in the book, “Institutional Strategy and Adaptation” by University of Georgia researchers James Hearn and Erin Ciarimboli. The chapter includes ten specific recommendations, from “systematically review institutional opportunities and challenges on an ongoing basis” to “treat existing institutional missions as constraints but not barriers.” These recommendations, said Drake, are based on the “kind of practical, actionable research that can help us avoid the risks of change and help differentiate colleges that tend to rely too heavily on the same [old] strategies.”

(Note: The Challenge of Independent Colleges can be purchased from Johns Hopkins University Press. CIC members can enter promotional code NTWN to receive a special 20 percent discount.)

Sessions Explore Leadership of Strategic Curricular Priorities

Andrew Currah presents from the podium with Mark Lombardi seated at the head table Developing Digital Competencies Embedded in a Liberal Arts Curriculum featured Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University of Saint Louis (MO), and Andrew Currah, education development executive at Apple Inc.

As curricular change is generally considered the responsibility of the faculty, department chairs, deans, and the chief academic officer, presidents need to be careful about intruding too far into their territory. But when the institution’s strategic priorities are at stake, presidents must set direction and take the lead on key curricular initiatives. Just how and when presidents should involve themselves in changes to the curriculum was the topic in three sessions at the 2018 Presidents Institute that explored academic prioritization, digital competencies, and foreign languages.

Leading Curricular Change

Two experienced presidents, John C. Reynders of Morningside College (IA) and Beck A. Taylor of Whitworth University (WA), reflected on “Academic Prioritization: The President’s Role in Leading Curricular Change.” Each described how their institutions made use of Robert Dickeson’s book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services, to create an effective process for evaluating and reshaping the array of academic programs they offer. As Reynders stated at the outset, the key question for independent colleges today is “Will we have the resources to continue to do what we have always done well and still be able to innovate?” The prioritization process, therefore, has to focus on “making sure our resources are aligned with what we are trying to accomplish.”

Reynders described the president’s role in the process as essential but above the fray. While he emphasized that the president needs to initiate the process, “we don’t make the music. We make sure we have the players in place. We know the audience and we choose the music. We gather the collective forces to be successful.”

The first step for the president is to convince all college constituents that prioritization is necessary, and that is easier to do in challenging times. When a president initiates such a process to prepare for the future and protect an institution that might slip into trouble, it becomes much harder. The president must issue a call to action and select the faculty and staff members with the right institutional perspective to undertake the work while coordinating with the college’s governance structure.

Taylor explained why resistance to prioritization is so high: “We have additive cultures on our campuses. We have very little practiced excellence at reducing rather than adding. And we’re not used to talking about ‘lesser priorities.’” Faculty positions are not easily reassigned or reduced. For this reason, Whitworth University brought in an outside consultant, Michael Williams of the Austen Group, to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of each academic program. Both Reynders and Taylor emphasized that the process is painful. “When you talk about reducing the number of people, it hurts,” said Reynders. To assure that everyone came and stayed on board, both presidents included evaluations of administrative as well as instructional functions in the initial assessment, including their own offices. Taylor emphasized that prioritization has to become an integral part of how the institution operates. “This is not a one-time process but must become part of our ongoing administrative and governance process.”

Transparency and compassion were the cores of the processes at both colleges. Presidents must acknowledge people’s pain, conduct a completely open process, and put their own expenses on the table. The presenters remarked that if these principles are followed, academic prioritization can lead to substantial and positive change.

Developing Digital Competencies

Strong and consistent presidential leadership was highlighted in two other concurrent sessions that exemplified curricular change resulting in programs that truly set an institution apart.

In the first session, Andrew Currah, education development executive at Apple Inc., and Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University of Saint Louis (MO), explored “Developing Digital Competencies Embedded in a Liberal Arts Curriculum.” Currah noted that the recognition in the labor market of the value of digital competencies, such as coding and app development, continues to expand. And he showed how the Apple economy around phone and tablet apps alone “has exploded over the last few years.” To provide students, especially those outside of computer science, a manageable way in, Apple developed the accessible and open source programming language Swift and a comprehensive and free curriculum around it spanning K–20 education. He noted that while Apple’s “Everybody Can Code” initiative aims to increase professional readiness, broad adoption also is necessary to “foster diversity and inclusion.” Now, the concentration of such competencies in white and male populations “cannot serve the United States well,” Currah stipulated; instead “problems in all communities need to be recognized and addressed.” Liberal arts students are uniquely qualified to ask the right questions about technology and to work across disciplines to develop fitting solutions to real world problems.

Lombardi instilled considerable envy in most session participants when he introduced Maryville as the third fastest-growing private university over the last decade, with enrollment increases of 45 and 20 percent, respectively, for the last two academic years. A major reason for Maryville’s success has been its Digital World iPad initiative introduced in fall 2015, combined with creating curricular space for students to develop competencies in coding, app development, and cyber security. To get there, Lombardi had to lead innovation himself after recognizing that coding and software development as a subject needed to be separate from computer science, and that the competition for hours in majors and the “tyranny of the pre-requisite” had to be overcome. As solutions, Maryville developed an app minor open to all students; infused coding projects into an increasing number of course experiences; and began supporting students to further apply acquired competencies in internship experiences. To do something like this quickly and comprehensively, Lombardi, noted, “you can’t leave things to your existing faculty; you need to bring in experts, including from the corporate side.” And, he commented, “the president needs to spearhead developing community and industry relationships.”

Fostering Language Programs

The viability of traditional languages was the focus of a session on “Creative Approaches to Foster Flourishing Language Programs.” As Rosemary G. Feal, Mary L. Cornille Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College and executive director emerita of the Modern Language Association (MLA), demonstrated, citing comprehensive MLA surveys, enrollments in language courses have not increased since the 1960s and have nosedived in recent years. And that’s an indication that the study of foreign languages is decreasingly considered an essential component of a well-rounded and rigorous undergraduate education. Too many students miss out on preparation for careers in an increasingly globalizing world economy. Many institutions, therefore, face under-enrolled courses and resulting pressures to cut programs and faculty lines, which only intensifies the problem.

David R. Anderson, president of St. Olaf College (MN), and Katherine Bergeron, president of Connecticut College, not only demonstrated what flourishing programs can look like but also emphasized the key role of the president to provide consistent and continuous support of a campus’s language curriculum. In St. Olaf’s case, every student studies at least one foreign language with a three- or four-semester requirement. But the key has been the Foreign Languages across the Curriculum program, introduced in 1990 with the goal of fostering cultural proficiency: to understand each other’s culture. In this approach, grammar is just a tool to develop cultural empathy, and most subject courses have a language component embedded. As president, Anderson noted, “I constantly emphasize how language study and St. Olaf’s mission are crucially intertwined, and I provide as much support as I can.”

Bergeron, who leads an institution that offers instruction in 11 languages, agreed, “You have to make the mission meaningful,” which at Connecticut College led to the introduction of the Connections curriculum. She described her role today as “emphasizing whenever possible the broad utility of language competencies and the close connection to institutional values and mission.” What has helped in both cases to make foreign languages a key student experience, including being able to offer strong study abroad offerings and faculty-led programs, is to hire native-speakers as subject faculty and to foster outreach projects to communities in which English is not the native language.

Panelists Help Answer, ‘When Admissions Goes Awry, Is Execution or Branding to Blame?’

Michael C. Maxey presents from the podium in front of a projection screen with the other speakers seated at the head table
The session “We Have a Marketing and Branding Problem, Not an Enrollment Problem” featured panelists Michael C. Maxey, president of Roanoke College (VA), Edward Sirianno, president of Creative Communication Associates, and chair Helen J. Streubert, president of College of Saint Elizabeth (NJ).

Enrollment success fuels the health and well-being of most independent colleges and universities. Except for those with substantial endowments that can provide essential operating funds, colleges need healthy admissions numbers each year to sustain their mission and vitality. But when numbers falter, how can a president identify and improve practices that will make a difference? Roanoke College (VA) President Michael C. Maxey and Creative Communication Associates President Edward Sirianno addressed this key question, drawing a sharp distinction between problems associated with execution of the admissions funnel and branding of the institution.

Maxey, who served as Roanoke’s dean of admissions and financial aid before he became president, stated that signals of an admissions problem are fairly easy to determine. He recommended asking such questions as “What is the rate of students who inquire? What is your yield?” and emphasized that “awareness of the basic admissions funnel allows you to assess the effectiveness of how it is being executed. If inquiries have fallen, you have an execution problem.” He urged presidents to monitor admissions data closely and to ensure that admissions officers not only describe problems, but also offer a prescription to address the problem. Good admissions officers must understand the tradeoffs that are inherent in making adjustments, Maxey added.

“My job as an admissions officer was not to say what the institution should do,” Maxey said, “but to offer what the impact of a program will be.” As an example, he added that it might be desirable to be more selective, but a president needs admissions data and informed advice to determine whether that is possible in a given year. He urged presidents to press for data, transparency, and accountability, but not to micromanage the admissions operation. “Admissions is art and science,” Maxey stated. “You need staff who can perform in both arenas.”

Maxey contrasted admissions problems with signals of a branding problem, which becomes evident when “you do not have a clear idea of who you are and what you stand for in the student body.” Branding problems, he added, take time to address.

Sirianno noted that an institution’s brand is its promise. Sometimes, he added, a president can benefit from the outside perspective that a consultant provides to see the institution the way that faculty members and students do, as well as potential applicants. “An external consultant can tell presidents the truth,” he said. “It may not be what you want to hear, but it may be what you need to hear.” Sirianno also urged presidents to involve a research firm to establish baseline brand perceptions. That information can help leaders be clear about what prospective students perceive versus what they desire.

Both Maxey and Sirianno emphasized that often enrollment problems are attributed to branding problems. But rather than determining that more publicity and promotion are needed, campus leaders should look first at the admissions data and make sure that open houses and other efforts are producing desired effects. Institutions need both to work flawlessly, they said. A president must recognize whether his team is in a triage situation, which calls for outside, urgent help, or in a position to make a long-term investment in the brand.

Sirianno noted that a consultant must deliver confidence and trust. They are specialists with expertise and resources that can support a president’s initiatives on campus with the board and with the community. A consultant also must deliver results for the short term and long term. Outside expertise should help an institution hit enrollment goals, research and if necessary refresh the brand, and prepare the institution for success for five, ten, or 20 years.

Specific internal data that presidents can turn to include admitted student questionnaires; campus visit surveys; application completion rates; interviews with students who paid their deposit; the number of inquiries, applicants, admitted students, paid deposits, and melt; the size and configuration of College Board and ACT orders; and program enrollments. External data that a consultant can help presidents secure include competitive assessments; quality and value comparisons; pricing analysis; and brand perception research. The result of having good information is having a good idea of what works well for meeting institutional goals and of being able to properly understand whether you have an enrollment or a marketing problem.

Presidential Spouses and Partners Learn More about Incoming Students and Spouse and Partner Contracts

Kevin Kruger stands in front of the seated participants gesturing with both arms Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, discussed Understanding the Next Generation of Students.

The 2018 Institute’s Presidential Spouses and Partners program featured a wide array of speakers and topics. Two of the sessions that participants especially found engaging and discussed throughout the Institute follow.

New Generation on Campus

Today’s college students, part of “Generation Z,” the “Homeland Generation,” or the “iGeneration,” differ in significant ways from their predecessors. That’s the message Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, delivered to presidents and their spouses and partners during separate sessions at the Institute.

This new group of students, born between 1995 and 2010, is heavily influenced by technological advances as well as by the volatile economy, violence, and social justice movements. “Since they have come of age, the U.S. economy has changed dramatically,” said Kruger. These students are more diverse, more anxious, and lonelier than past students. There also are fewer of them, which concerns college and university recruiters. And while more male high school graduates go on to college than in the past, by far more female high school graduates continue on to college now, creating a gender imbalance that has led many institutions to add curricular and co-curricular programming to attract male students.

More Generation Z students are from lower-income families than past generations. Helping these students succeed takes great personal attention, which can be expensive. But “we know that prosperity depends on a college education,” Kruger explained, so investment in these students will pay off in the long run. In many cases, the availability of small grants or short-term loans, food pantries for students with food insecurity, and “suit closets” to provide students with appropriate clothing for job interviews make an outsized impact on students’ retention and success.

Kruger also described the upcoming generation of college students as the “freestyle” generation. Like “freestyle” Coke machines, with the ability to make unique flavor blends, these students “want to design their own world and craft their own educational experience.” According to an Edelman Intelligence study, 42 percent of incoming college students want to work for themselves. This desire is part of the driving force behind the freelancing trend, and within ten years 50 percent of workers could be freelancers.

Generation Z students often are liberal on social issues—and those who vote are more liberal than the group at large. Like their millennial counterparts, they are impatient for change, and taken together the two groups will outnumber baby-boomer voters in the 2018 and 2020 elections. But, like many others, “students from different backgrounds lack the skills needed to talk about race and bias,” said Kruger, and the group as a whole is fiscally conservative.

There is a mental health crisis in the U.S. population that is reflected in these students. Kruger pointed out that “you cannot hire enough counselors to deal with this,” and often students who need help will not ask for it. Campus leaders, including faculty and staff members, should be trained to recognize students who are struggling and make appropriate referrals. The teenaged brain is not fully developed—especially in the areas of impulse control, judgement, and empathy—and is highly affected by sleep deprivation, alcohol abuse, and marijuana, which have been shown to disrupt neural pathways. Education and prevention programs on alcohol and drug abuse and on the promotion of healthy habits are essential, he said.

The good news, according to Kruger, is that “Every single thing we do with our students to help promote human interaction benefits them.”

Presidential Spouse or Partner Contracts

Four presenters speak while seated at the head table
The Presidential Spouse or Partner Contract featured Michelle Dorsey of Texas Lutheran University, René E. Johnson of Finlandia University (MI), and Veronica Heckler and Darron Farha of Valparaiso University (IN).

Presidential spouses and partners also had the opportunity to learn the pros and cons of several types of institutional contracts. Darron Farha, vice president and general counsel at Valparaiso University (IN), began the presentations by observing that a contract between a spouse or partner and the institution “depends on your own career aspirations and the institution’s interests.”

Panelists described three types of contracts. René E. Johnson, presidential spouse, director of servant leadership, and assistant professor of religion at Finlandia University (MI), has a standard faculty contract. (She was hired as a faculty member before her husband became president there but has stepped off the tenure track to avoid potential conflict.) Her role as presidential spouse is not addressed in her contract and she considers herself “faculty first,” although she has negotiated some schedule flexibility to allow her to travel or entertain when necessary.

Michelle Dorsey, presidential spouse at Texas Lutheran University, receives a stipend and is an employee of the university. As such she receives standard benefits, including a retirement plan, travel reimbursement, and liability protection. Dorsey chooses her priorities each year, determines in which activities she will participate, reports to the chair of the board of trustees, and writes an annual report to the board documenting her activities on behalf of the university.

Veronica Heckler, presidential spouse at Valparaiso University, has a volunteer contract. She receives no salary or stipend compensation and has no set schedule. Her travel expenses on behalf of the university, legal fees, and tax liabilities are covered in her contract. She also is able to choose in which events she will participate, reports to the chair of the board of trustees, and writes an annual report to the board.

Farha presented a thorough discussion of the advantages to the spouse or partner and to the institution of having a contact—at minimum a volunteer contact. The contract spells out some responsibilities on both sides, protects the presidential couple from some tax liabilities, and protects the institution from some liability exposure. Farha’s presentation materials include detailed considerations of various employee and volunteer agreements and include sample contracts.