Presidents Institute to Assess Resilience and Explore Innovation

Exploring the theme “Pathways to Excellence: Resilience and Innovation” and other important leadership issues, CIC’s 2018 Presidents Institute will be held at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, January 4–7. During sessions, workshops, and other activities, presidents will discuss how to lead institutions with cogency, creativity, and agility in challenging times. The largest annual meeting of college and university presidents in the country, the Institute provides a forum for candid discussion of critical issues, opportunities to learn from experts, and time to network with presidential colleagues who lead similar institutions.


Four plenary sessions will anchor the program:

David Leonhardt headshotDavid Leonhardt, op-ed columnist and founding editor of the New York Times’s “The Upshot,” will consider “What’s at Stake for Independent Colleges in Our Turbulent World?” during the keynote address on January 4. Leonhardt previously was the Times’s Washington bureau chief and a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine. In 2011, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his columns on the financial crisis and its aftermath. He is the author of the best-selling e-book, Here’s the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth.

Valarie Jarrett headshotValarie Jarrett, senior advisor to the President of the United States and director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs during the eight years of the Obama administration, will be the featured speaker on January 5, addressing “Preparing Students for Civic Responsibility.” A veteran political advisor, civic leader, business executive, and attorney, Jarrett began her career in politics in Chicago as deputy corporation counsel for finance and development in the administration of Mayor Harold Washington and subsequently was deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley.

Michael D. Rhodin headshotMichael D. Rhodin, former senior vice president of Watson Business Development, IBM, will share his thoughts on “Innovation and ‘Intrepreneurship’ for Independent Higher Education” on January 6. Rhodin recently retired from IBM, where he served for 33 years, including seven years as a corporate officer. He founded the IBM Watson business units that accelerated a new class of “cognitive” solutions, services, and applications to fuel a diverse cloud-based ecosystem of enterprises, academic institutions, and entrepreneurs.

Presidents Institute panel speaker headshots  

The closing plenary session on January 7 will focus on “Resilient and Innovative Presidential Leadership.” A panel of CIC presidents will discuss how they have guided their institutions to recognize and embrace the challenges and opportunities each has faced. The session will feature CIC presidents Mary B. Marcy of Dominican University of California, Kevin M. Ross of Lynn University (FL), and John I. Williams, Jr. of Muhlenberg College (PA), and will be moderated by Christopher Morphew, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.


The Institute will include a special Presidential Forum on Diversity, Civility, and Free Speech that will consider what college and university leaders can do to make the campus a learning community focused on diversity, civility, and a broad understanding of freedom of expression. The candid discussion will begin with observations from those who have encountered related issues and will encourage others to share their insights and questions. Leading the discussion will be Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity College (CT); Frederick M. Lawrence, secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society (DC), former president of Brandeis University, and civil rights attorney and scholar; Laurie L. Patton, president of Middlebury College (VT); and Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College (GA) and director of CIC’s new Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute.


Several optional afternoon workshops will provide hands-on opportunities for in-depth consideration of topics:

  • During the January 5 workshop, “Foundation Philanthropy: An Insider’s View into Securing Grants,” foundation leaders will help college and university presidents make thoughtful approaches to foundations by considering key strategic needs and opportunities well before a particular grant idea surfaces. Leading the session will be Nancy J. Cable, president of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation, and Judith R. Shapiro, president of the Teagle Foundation.

  • The January 5 workshop, “Strategic Planning: Beyond Smoke and Mirrors,” will bring together critical elements of an effective strategic planning process that focuses on producing timely and measurable results while rallying campus stakeholders around the institution’s core vision and mission. This session will provide practical tools, including worksheets that demonstrate how to construct a set of dashboard indicators that are integrated with action plans, while creating accountability for results across all levels of the institution. Leading the workshop will be Ronald P. Mahurin, vice president for strategy and planning at Stamats, Frederik Ohles, president of Nebraska Wesleyan University, and Alan G. Walker, president of Sierra Nevada College.

  • The January 6 workshop, “Making Strategic Decisions in a ‘Free College’ Environment,” will provide presidents with clear and concise steps to lead their institutions in this quickly evolving “free public education for all” atmosphere. An interactive discussion will explore current trends and likely developments and will address critical decision points for strategic planning. Workshop leaders will be Marjorie Hass, president of Rhodes College (TN), along with Patricia L. Maben, senior vice president for product strategy, and James S. Rogers, chief marketing officer, both of Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

The 2018 Presidents Institute also will feature concurrent sessions on a range of practical approaches to presidential leadership, including:

  • Building International Partnerships for Student Exchanges and Study Abroad;
  • Developing and Evaluating the Senior Team;
  • Effective Strategies for Addressing Financial Challenges;
  • Financial Planning for Presidents and Presidential Couples;
  • Legal Issues That Keep Presidents Up at Night; and
  • Understanding the Next Generation of Students.

As in previous years, the Presidents Institute will include three additional programs. CIC’s annual New Presidents Program, held immediately prior to the Presidents Institute, provides the “need to know” tools and the counsel that will keep a young presidency on a smooth course (see New Presidents Program story). CIC’s Presidents Governance Academy, also held immediately prior to the Presidents Institute, is an intensive and highly participatory two-day program for CIC member presidents who wish to strengthen and sustain a high-performing board of trustees. And developed by an advisory group of presidential spouses and partners, the Program for Presidential Spouses and Partners runs concurrently with the program for presidents and provides opportunities to share information and advice. The registration deadline is December 1, 2017. Additional information about the Presidents Institute is available online.


In a move unprecedented in CIC history, the location of the 2018 Presidents Institute has changed from Marco Island to the Diplomat Hotel, a Hilton Curio beachfront resort, in Hollywood, Florida. Regrettably, the extensive renovations being undertaken at the JW Marriott Marco Island were not completed by the date promised. For more information, visit the Institute website.