Presidents Explore Resilience and Innovation at Annual Institute

The 2018 Presidents Institute again marked the largest annual gathering of college and university presidents in the United States. Held January 4–7 in Hollywood, Florida, more than 330 presidents, 175 spouses and partners, and a total of 769 registrants participated. The Institute welcomed participants from international members in Canada, France, Greece, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates as well as a delegation of private university rectors and higher education leaders from Mexico.

Through the Institute’s theme, “Pathways to Excellence: Resilience and Innovation,” presenters considered issues that independent colleges and universities face 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.

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. In a plenary session, Valerie B. Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama with a distinguished career as a civic leader, business executive, and attorney, 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 artificial intelligence could—and should—transform independent colleges and universities.

Valerie Jarrett presents while seated on a chair on a stage while motioning with her hands, seated beside Carl Strikwerda
Valerie B. Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, was interviewed by Carl J. Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College (PA), on civic engagement.

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 explained their 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.

Two photos: 1. Four presidential panelists present while seated in chairs on a stage; 2. Four panelists present while seated at a head table
(left) 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) discussed “Resilient and Innovative Presidential Leadership.” (right) 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.

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.


The Independent’s Special Report on the 2018 Presidents Institute, released in February, summarized concurrent sessions and workshops in addition to the four plenaries. These sessions are described in the following articles:

  • Foundation Philanthropy Session Provides Insider’s View into Securing Grants
  • Presenters Share Lessons for Presidential Practice from Recent Research
  • Sessions Explore Leadership of Strategic Curricular Priorities
  • Panelists Help Answer, “When Admissions Goes Awry, Is Execution or Branding to Blame?”
  • Presidential Spouses and Partners Learn More about Incoming Students and Spouse and Partner Contracts

View full coverage of the Institute. Videos of most of the plenary sessions as well as presentations and handouts from many Institute sessions are available online.

Mark your calendars for the 2019 Presidents Institute! January 4-7; The Westin Kierland Hotel; Scottsdale, Arizona