Presidents Explore ‘Leading Strategic Change’ during Annual Institute

Four plenary speakers present while seated in chairs on stage
Presidents (from left to right) Steven C. Bahls of Augustana College (IL), Helen G. Drinan of Simmons University (MA), Roger N. Casey of McDaniel College (MD), and Billy C. Hawkins of Talladega College (AL) discuss “Presidential Leadership for Strategic Change.”

A wide array of speakers and sessions explored the theme “Leading Strategic Change” during CIC’s 2019 Presidents Institute, which took place January 4–7 at the Westin Kierland hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Institute featured plenary sessions by distinguished speakers, concurrent sessions on practical issues, topical workshops, and other sessions—all designed to help presidents of independent colleges and universities formulate strategies and implement solutions. The Institute also provided participants with ample opportunities to network with both colleagues who lead similar institutions and industry-leading experts.

The Institute again marked the largest annual gathering of college and university presidents in the United States. In fact, with 346 presidents, 178 spouses and partners, and a total of 842 participating in all, 2019 was one of the largest Presidents Institutes ever. Institute participants came from 45 states as well as from Canada, Greece, Kuwait, and Morocco. And for the fifth consecutive year, CIC welcomed a delegation of private university rectors and higher education leaders from Mexico.

In his keynote address “Higher Education Today and Tomorrow: Lessons from New Research,” Harvard University professor Howard Gardner shared early findings from a large-scale national study on the future of higher education. The following day, noted author and New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explored ways colleges and universities can help students discuss controversial issues without impeding free speech and civility in the session “Equipping a New Generation for Inclusion, Civility, and Understanding.” Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, discussed the future of internationalization in independent higher education in the session “Strategic Leadership for Internationalization.” In the closing plenary session, moderated by Augustana College (IL) President Steven C. Bahls, a panel of presidents—Roger N. Casey of McDaniel College (MD), Helen Drinan of Simmons University (MA), and Billy C. Hawkins of Talladega College (AL)—discussed their efforts to lead strategic change.

“This year—my 28th—marked another outstanding CIC Presidents Institute,” remarked Scott D. Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan University. “The meetings provide an excellent platform for reflection as we close out one year and prepare to start anew. Time well spent indeed.”

During its annual awards banquet, CIC announced the recipients of its 2019 awards. CIC honored Johnnetta Betsch Cole with the 2019 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service for her leadership in strengthening liberal arts education and promoting the humanities. Currently a senior consulting fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and principal consultant for Cook Ross, Inc., Cole previously served as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art as well as president of Spelman (GA) and Bennett Colleges (NC). CIC presented the 2019 Award for Philanthropy (Organization) to the Bernard Osher Foundation for its extraordinary philanthropic support of more than a dozen private liberal arts colleges and universities. The award was accepted by Bernard Osher Foundation Trustee John Gallo. The 2019 Award for Philanthropy (Individual) was presented to Robert O. Carr, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of Give Something Back. CIC recognized Carr’s impact on the lives of thousands of high school and college students and the example he set for others.

In conjunction with the Presidents Institute, CIC hosted the New Presidents Program for presidents in their first or second year, which included sessions for spouses and partners of new presidents; the Presidents Governance Academy for experienced presidents; and the Presidential Spouses and Partners Program.

Two photos: 1. Four speakers present while seated at a head table; 2. Johnnetta Betsch Cole presents from a podium, gesturing with her hands
(Left) James H. Mullen, president of Allegheny College (PA), moderates a session on “Presidential Strategies for Free Speech Challenges” with panelists Andrea E. Chapdelaine, president of Hood College (MD); Emily Chamlee-Wright, president and CEO of the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University; and Zach P. Messitte, president of Ripon College (WI). (Right) Johnnetta Betsch Cole, president emerita of Spelman (GA) and Bennett (NC) Colleges, received the Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service. The award was presented by Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation, and sponsored by Jenzabar.


In addition to the four plenaries, the Independent’s Special Report on the 2019 Presidents Institute, released in February, summarized many concurrent sessions and workshops. These sessions are described in the following articles:

  • Sessions Explore Strategic Change in Enrollment, Business Models, and Student Outcomes;
  • Presenters Discuss Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech Challenges on Campus;
  • Presidential Spouses and Partners Discuss Student Mental Health Issues, Fundraising by Presidential Couples, and More;
  • Panelists Explain How to Develop a Crisis Readiness and Communication Plan; and
  • Workshop Explores Nontraditional Approaches to Fundraising Campaigns.

View the full coverage of the Institute. Videos, slides, and documents from many of the plenary presentations, concurrent sessions, and workshops are available on the Institute site.

Mark Your Calendars for the 2020 Presidents Institute

January 4–7, 2020
JW Marriott Marco Island
Marco Island, Florida

aerial rendering of JW Marriott Marco Island and shoreline