Presidential Leadership: Courageous, Resilient, Inclusive

2021 Presidents Institute 1/4/2021 1/4/2021 1/4/20211/7/20211/7/20211/7/2021 Virtual Event

About the Institute

As higher education faces the consequences of a global pandemic and widespread demands for social justice, the confluence of unprecedented circumstances requires that presidents make decisions with long-lasting effects on the basis of imperfect information and at an unrelenting pace. In order for their institutions to thrive in an emerging future, presidents must make these decisions with resilience, with courage, and with the goal of inclusion firmly in mind.

At this moment—when the problems are compounded, the solutions are ambiguous, and effective approaches are still emerging—presidents turn to one another to compare perspectives, share what is learned from successes as well as disappointments, and work together to define new strategies. Presidents across the independent college sector are demonstrating remarkable leadership, meeting today’s unprecedented challenges with courage, resilience, and an inclusive spirit. The imagination, creativity, perseverance, and flexibility that smaller private institutions are known for has led to many innovative responses to what some had considered to be insurmountable problems.

Now, more than ever, presidents recognize the vital need to work together to share ideas, initiatives, and lessons learned as a community of educational leaders. Under the theme, “Presidential Leadership: Courageous, Resilient, Inclusive,” the 2021 Presidents Institute will explore such questions as:

  • Which of the strategies that presidents are employing are most successful in the leadership of institutions?
  • How do presidents reconcile past injustices in their institutional histories with demands for diverse and inclusive communities and practices?
  • What difficult tradeoffs are most durable as presidents chart the best course of fiscal and operational choices?
  • Who and what resources are presidents drawing upon to inform and guide their decision making?

Virtual Format

Collaboration, networking, and mutual learning have always been hallmarks of CIC’s annual Presidents Institute—the largest gathering of college and university presidents in the country. This year’s virtual format will expand the ways participants can interact with and learn from one another, engage national experts, and benefit from the industry-leading expertise of the Institute’s many sponsors. Thanks to a flexible, interactive, and versatile online platform, the Institute will deliver valuable content and meaningful interaction among colleagues who lead similar institutions.

Daily plenary sessions will establish a larger context for presidential leadership, drawing on the insights of distinguished experts and experienced colleagues. Concurrent sessions and workshops will address practical aspects of the presidency. Multiple “round-table” type discussions will provide ample opportunity for presidents to consider with colleagues timely topics of immediate interest. Meetings of affinity groups will enable participants to compare approaches to common issues. In addition, the virtual format will allow presidents quickly to connect with one another, easily scheduling impromptu one-on-one conversations or organizing larger discussions with multiple colleagues. An interactive Virtual Sponsor Hall will give presidents the opportunity to learn from and engage directly with existing and potential industry partners.

As additional benefits, the online platform makes participation in the 2021 Presidents Institute available at a much lower cost and eliminates the time, expense, and health risks of travel. The platform makes it possible for more presidents than ever to engage in vital discussions of the future of independent higher education in this moment of intense need for connection and collaboration. And registered presidents need never miss a session because of schedule conflicts with campus responsibilities or other concurrent sessions. Most sessions will be recorded and curated. Registered participants can access on-demand sessions they might have missed, either during the Institute itself or for as long as a year afterward.

Featured Speakers

Danielle Allen headshotJanuary 4

11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m. EST


James Bryant Conant University Professor, and Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University

Ethical Considerations for Presidential Leadership in a Fragile Democracy

The year 2020 has brought tremendous pressures on American democracy and democratic institutions. These pressures have bearing on independent colleges and universities, their commitments to educate students for engaged citizenship, and the presidents who lead them. How have the consequences of a global pandemic, widespread demands for social justice, and the fractured nature of American politics and a starkly divided polity contributed to the pressures on college presidents in the myriad decisions they must make? What ethical considerations can presidents bring to bear as they weigh complex problems with ambiguous solutions? What role can presidents play in positioning their campuses as centers for learning from and interacting with diverse populations, fostering civil discourse, preparing students for civic and democratic engagement, and educating life-long learners? Danielle Allen, a distinguished ethicist and political theorist, who has written widely about the role of leadership and governance in diverse contexts, and the social and political forces that have shaped and continue to influence our democracy, will lead a thought-provoking discussion of these salient leadership issues.

Danielle Allen is James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. A political theorist, Allen recently received the 2020 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity by the Library of Congress in recognition of her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America. Since March 2020, she has been leading a collaboration of scientists and researchers from top institutions, including Harvard Global Health Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation, to develop a framework that provides clear, accessible guidance to policy makers and the public on how to target and suppress COVID-19 more effectively across the nation. Allen is the author of Education and Equality (2016), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014), and Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004) and is co-editor of the award-winning book Education, Justice, and Democracy (2013, with Rob Reich). She also is a contributing columnist to the Washington Post. Her essays and commentaries have appeared widely in outlets including the Atlantic, NPR, and the New Yorker on such diverse topics as protecting American democracy, reforming prisons, and combating a global pandemic. In 2018, she was a speaker for CIC’s Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute. Allen has served as chair of the board of trustees of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Pulitzer Prize Board, and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Robert Zemsky headshotJanuary 5

11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m. EST


Professor of Higher Education, Chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education, and Senior Scholar, Penn AHEAD, University of Pennsylvania

Presidential Leadership in a Time of Market Stress

Significant changes in the higher education marketplace are increasing the stress levels under which colleges and universities operate, leading some pundits to suggest that a number of institutions will not survive. Even before the added pressures of the Coronavirus pandemic, Robert Zemsky and his colleagues published a comprehensive analysis of the market viability of more than 2,800 undergraduate institutions and developed a predictive “stress test” model. Using four key metrics—new student enrollments, net cash price, first-year student retention, and major external funding—they assessed how likely an institution is at risk of closing or merging. What do presidents need to know about the specific stress their institutions are facing? What are the most effective options institutions have to respond to particular challenges? How can presidents use this strategic information to reposition their institutions in light of current crises? The co-author of The College Stress Test will discuss his most up-to-date thinking about the challenges independent colleges face and present a roadmap to guide presidents in their leadership in the face of present challenges.

Robert Zemsky is professor of higher education, chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education, and senior scholar for Penn AHEAD, all at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author of The College Stress Test: Tracking Institutional Futures across a Crowded Market (2020). Zemsky has spent his entire career at the University of Pennsylvania, serving as chair of the Learning Alliance, a broad coalition of experts assisting institutions of higher learning in striking the balance between market success and public mission; as the founding director of the university’s Institute for Research on Higher Education, a public policy center specializing in educational research and analysis; and as professor in the higher education division. His work has focused on how best to keep colleges and universities true to their missions while at the same time remaining market smart. In addition to his recent book, he is author of Making Reform Work: The Case for Transforming American Higher Education (2009) and Remaking the American University: Market Smart and Mission Centered with Gregory Wegner and William Massy (2005), among others. Zemsky has served as a member of the National Commission on the Future of Higher Education, as a senior scholar with the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, and as a founding member of the National Advisory Board for the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

Earl Lewis headshotJanuary 5

2:45–4:30 p.m. EST


President Emeritus, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy, and Director, Center for Social Solutions, University of Michigan

Reckoning with Race on Campus

(Open only to currently serving college and university presidents)
Earl Lewis, distinguished recipient of the 2021 CIC Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service, will moderate a presidents-only Open Forum. The session will feature a panel of CIC presidents who will engage in a broad discussion to consider such issues as student protests and demands; legacies of slavery and racism on campus; diversity, equity, and inclusion in the curriculum; diversifying campus personnel; and renaming colleges, buildings, and programs, among others. Plenty of opportunity will be provided for participating presidents to engage in conversation about these timely topics, to raise questions, and to share insights with their colleagues.

Earl Lewis is president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where he served from 2013–2018. He currently serves as the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy and director of the Center for Social Solutions at University of Michigan. An author and social historian, he is past president of the Organization of American Historians and was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008. Lewis previously served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory University. He earlier held faculty and administrative appointments at the University of California, Berkeley. He serves as chair of the board of regents of his alma mater Concordia College (MN), is a trustee of ETS, and is a director of 2U and the Capital Group, American Funds.


3:15–4:30 p.m. EST


Roslyn Clark Artis, President and CEO, Benedict College
J. Bradley Creed, President, Campbell University
Joan M. Lescinski, CSJ, President, St. Ambrose University
Moderator: Paul C. Pribbenow, President, Augsburg University

four presidential headshots

Courageous, Resilient, and Inclusive Presidential Leadership

A panel of CIC presidents will engage in a discussion of the keys to courageous, resilient, and inclusive presidential leadership. Reflecting on the theme of the 2021 Presidents Institute, panelists will consider what it will take for their institutions to thrive in an emerging and uncertain future. Which of the strategies that presidents are employing are most successful in the leadership of institutions? How do presidents ensure diverse and inclusive campus communities and institutional practices? What difficult tradeoffs are most durable as presidents chart the best course among fiscal and operational choices? Who and what resources are presidents drawing upon to inform and guide their decision making? Now, more than ever, presidents recognize the vital need to work together to share ideas, initiatives, and lessons learned as a community of educational leaders.

Roslyn Clark Artis is president and CEO of Benedict College in South Carolina, where in 2017 she became the first female president of the institution. She previously served as president of Florida Memorial University. Earlier, she practiced law in a civil litigation practice and served as chair of the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners and president of the Mountain State Bar Association. In 2019, Artis was named in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education as one of the Top 25 Leading Women in Higher Education. In the same year, the American Council on Education recognized Benedict with its Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation; Benedict is the only private college to receive this recognition. Artis is a member of the CIC Board of Directors. She earned a BA in political science from West Virginia State University, a JD from West Virginia University College of Law, and an EdD from Vanderbilt University.

J. Bradley Creed has served as the fifth president of Campbell University in North Carolina since 2015. Previously, he was provost, executive vice president, and professor of religion at Samford University. Earlier, he was professor of Christian history, associate dean, and dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. Creed also served as scholar-in-residence at the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty and as visiting professor of church history at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. He serves on the boards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU). Creed also is a member of the CIC Board of Directors. He earned a BA in religion from Baylor University and an MDiv and PhD from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Joan M. Lescinski, CSJ, has served as president of St. Ambrose University in Iowa for more than 13 years. She previously was president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, vice president for academic affairs and dean at Fontbonne University, associate dean of academic affairs at Avila University, and professor of English at the College of Saint Rose Rose. Lescinski serves on the boards of trustees of the College of Saint Rose and Mount St. Mary’s University. She has served as a trustee for the Higher Learning Commission and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Lescinski earned BA and MA degrees from the College of Saint Rose and a PhD from Brown University, all in English literature.

Paul C. Pribbenow has been president of Augsburg University in Minnesota since 2006. He previously served as president of Rockford College. Earlier, he was a research fellow at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash University, where he also held positions as dean of college advancement and secretary of the board of trustees. Before that he was vice president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Pribbenow has enhanced Augburg’s role as an activity community partner in an urban setting, which has resulted into recognition for its excellence in service learning and experiential education. Pribbenow serves on the board of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities and the Minnesota Private College Council. He is a member of the CIC Board of Directors. Pribbenow earned a BA degree in sociology and political science from Luther College and an MA and PhD in social ethics from the University of Chicago.


(All times are Eastern Standard)

​Wednesday, December 9, 2020

2:00–5:00 p.m.New Presidents Program

Saturday, January 2, 2021

11:00 a.m.–5:45 p.m.CIC Board of Directors Meeting

Sunday, January 3

11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.New Presidents Program
11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.Spouses and Partners of New Presidents Sessions
1:30–4:30 p.m.CIC Board of Directors Meeting

Monday, January 4

11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.Welcome & Keynote Address: Danielle Allen
12:30–1:30 p.m.Networking and Virtual Sponsor Hall
1:30–2:30 p.m.Concurrent Sessions
1:30–2:30 p.m.Presidential Spouses and Partners Welcome and Address
3:00–4:00 p.m.Presidential Spouses and Partners Discussion Groups
3:00–4:00 p.m.Virtual Roundtable Discussions
4:15–4:45 p.m.Wrap-up of the Day and Networking
4:15–4:45 p.m.On-Demand Content and Virtual Sponsor Hall

Tuesday, January 5

9:00–11:00 a.m.On-Demand Content and Virtual Sponsor Hall
11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.Plenary Address: Robert Zemsky
12:30–1:00 p.m.Philanthropy Awards Recognition
1:15–2:15 p.m.Concurrent Sessions
1:15–2:15 p.m.Presidential Spouses and Partners Concurrent Sessions
2:45–4:30 p.m.Open Forum: Reckoning with Race on Campus
4:45–5:00 p.m.Wrap-up of the Day and Networking
5:00–6:00 p.m.On-Demand Content and Virtual Sponsor Hall

Wednesday, January 6

9:00–11:00 a.m.On-Demand Content and Virtual Sponsor Hall
11:00–11:45 a.m.CIC Annual Business Meeting
12:15–1:15 p.m.Concurrent Sessions
2:15–3:00 p.m.Virtual Roundtable Discussions
3:15–4:30 p.m.Presidential Plenary Panel: Courageous, Resilient, Inclusive Leadership

Thursday, January 7

10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.New Presidents Program
2:00–4:00 p.m.Workshops:

Presidential Communications in Times of Crisis

The College Stress Test: Assessing Risk in the Post-Coronavirus Era

Leveraging Technology in Response to the Pandemic: What Presidents Need to Know

Concurrent Sessions

​Below is a preliminary list of concurrent session topics and speakers. As additional sessions are confirmed, they will be added to the website.


Shirley A. Mullen, President, Houghton College
Andrew Westmoreland, President, Samford University


Nathan Grawe, Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Social Sciences, Carleton College


Richard A. Beyer, Senior Fellow, AGB Consulting
Daniel J. Elsener, President, Marian University
Susan D. Stuebner, President, Colby Sawyer College


Ronald A. Crutcher, President, University of Richmond
Devorah Lieberman, President, University of La Verne
Wendy E. Raymond, President, Haverford College


Marjorie Hass, President, Rhodes College
Mary Dana Hinton, President, Hollins University
L. Jay Lemons, President, Academic Search


Steven C. Bahls, President, Augustana College



2:00–4:00 p.m. EST

Please note that advance registration is required for all optional workshops, as space is limited. Presidential spouses and partners may register on a space-available basis.


When college and university presidents are under pressure to respond quickly to multiple campus and community crises—including a global pandemic, racial tensions and student protests, and natural disasters—presidents need to consider how to communicate to the campus and beyond about the crisis. What are keys to effective management of both social and traditional media as well as of key relationships with the faculty and the board? What steps can presidents take to prepare themselves and their institutions? Most importantly, how should presidents think about their own role in such situations? Several presidents who have learned valuable lessons by having navigated through crises will offer their insights, joined by experts who have helped smaller private colleges manage communications in challenging situations. Participants will have a hands-on opportunity to learn approaches for effective presidential leadership during times of crisis.
Simon Barker, Managing Partner, Blue Moon Consulting Group
Chris Duffy, Vice President, Public Relations and Principal, Goff Public
Scott Hagan, President, North Central University


The global pandemic forced many colleges to close their campuses and move instruction and operations online with unprecedented speed. As a result, independent colleges have had to address a range of unanticipated issues, including increased demands on technology infrastructure, continued reliance on online course delivery and educational resources, and development of new campus-wide procedures and policies for operations in the digital arena. Building on earlier strategic investments in technology and comprehensive approaches to “digital transformation,” many campus leaders have discovered additional opportunities to leverage technology in response to the pandemic. What do presidents need to know about emerging possibilities—as well as potential pitfalls—that come with the dramatic reliance on technology as a lifeline for instruction and operations going forward? What do they need to know from their campus leadership as well as from outside consultants to make well-informed decisions about often costly investments? What does digital transformation look like in 2021 and beyond? The head of EDUCAUSE, the largest higher education IT association, will lead presidents through a consideration of technology as a strategic asset and institutional differentiator. Assisting will be two knowledgeable independent college presidents along with a chief information officer.
Bryon L. Grigsby, President, Moravian College
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, President, Augustana University (SD)
John O'Brien, President and CEO, EDUCAUSE


Presidents who want a better understanding of how the pandemic, economic distress, demographic shifts, and other market stressors can affect their institutions will find this workshop invaluable. The methodology developed by Robert Zemsky, Susan Shaman, and Susan Campbell Baldridge in The College Stress Test: Tracking Institutional Futures across a Crowded Market will be explained. These metrics provide a powerful predictive tool to assess each institution’s level of market risk and potential for unfavorable outcomes, even closure. Each participating president will receive a customized report using this methodology and the institution’s own data. Insights drawn from reports across a set of institutions will be discussed. Presidents who have examined their own reports will describe what they learned from their own reports and what steps they have taken to address potential vulnerabilities or seize particular opportunities. Workshop participants will discuss case examples and consider potential strategies to address areas of vulnerability. Each president will leave with a road map to lead their institutions through the landscape of uncertain challenges and risk.
Bell Cooper, Senior Consultant, Stevens Strategy, LLC
Michael L. Frandsen, President, Wittenberg University
Joseph R. Marbach, President, Georgian Court University
Michael Townsley, Senior Consultant, Stevens Strategy, LLC

Additional Program Features

​Additional program features will be added to the CIC website as they are confirmed.


(All times are Eastern Standard)

Philanthropy Awards Recognition

Tuesday, January 5, 12:30–1:00 p.m.
CIC will honor generous contributors to private higher education with its annual Awards for Philanthropy.
Award for Philanthropy (Individual): Henry B. and Patricia Bush Tippie
Award for Philanthropy (Organization): The Duke Endowment

Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service

Tuesday, January 5, 2:45–4:30 p.m.
CIC will recognize Earl Lewis as the recipient of the 2021 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service during the Open Forum on Reckoning with Race on Campus.

CIC Annual Business Meeting

Wednesday, January 6, 11:00–11:45 a.m.
CIC encourages all member presidents to participate in the Annual Business Meeting.


The virtual 2021 Presidents Institute program also will feature:
  • Daily Online Guides and Tutorials—To help you get the most out of the Virtual Presidents Institute
  • On-Demand Content—Designated times to view pre-recorded content or watch sessions you may have missed
  • Virtual Sponsor Hall—Designated times to visit and engage in direct conversation with representatives of Institute sponsor organizations
  • Virtual Roundtable Discussions—Lots of opportunities for presidents to gather in smaller groups to discuss topics of common interest
  • Sponsor Showcase Sessions—Short, informative presentations to feature the latest offerings from industry-leading experts
  • President-to-President Meetings—The ability to schedule one-on-one or small group meetings with other presidents
  • Meetings of Affiliated Organizations and Affinity Groups—To connect with colleagues who share similar interests
  • Access to Institute Archives—Recorded sessions and curated materials will be accessible to registered participants for the rest of the year


  • Executive Officers of CIC State Council Organizations
  • Meetings of CIC State Council Organization Member Institutions (list of states forthcoming)
  • Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) Presidents
  • Nonmember Presidents and Member Presidents Participating in the Institute for the First Time
  • Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission Program Past Participants
  • Presidents of International Colleges and Universities
  • Presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Presidents of CIC Online Course Sharing Consortium Participating Institutions

Program for Presidential Spouses and Partners

​Monday, January 4, 1:30–4:00 p.m. EST
Tuesday, January 5, 1:15–2:15 p.m. EST

Developed with the advice of an advisory group of experienced 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. Spouses and partners of presidents also are welcome to participate in sessions for presidents, unless otherwise noted.

New Presidents Program

Wednesday, December 9, 2:00–5:00 p.m. EST
Sunday, January 3, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. EST
Thursday, January 7, 10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. EST

Since 1989, CIC’s New Presidents Program—the oldest of the programs serving new chief executives—has provided the “need to know” tools and the counsel that will keep a young presidency on a smooth course. While specific topics and presenters have naturally varied, constant has been the format of an intensive and interactive two-day workshop preceding CIC’s Presidents Institute in early January. As higher education faces the consequences of a global pandemic and widespread demands for social justice, just as with CIC’s Presidents Institute, this year the New Presidents Program will be offered in a virtual, sequential, and pedagogically fitting format for the times we all work and live in.

On Wednesday, December 9 (2:00–5:00 p.m. EST), Sunday, January 3 (11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. EST), and Thursday, January 7 (10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. EST), experienced independent college and university presidents, many former New Presidents Program participants themselves, will lead interactive virtual sessions on critical presidential leadership topics, fully focused on helping new presidents of independent colleges and universities succeed during their first or second year of service. The program also will provide opportunities for more informal conversations and interaction among new presidents in order to facilitate the development of a community of campus leaders who share similar concerns to confidentially consult with in the months and years ahead.

Interested presidents in their first or second year and president-elects can review the preliminary program agenda at the New Presidents Program web page.

The registration fee for the New Presidents Program, for all three sessions, is $250 for CIC member and member-eligible presidents. The registration fee for spouses and partners of new presidents for sessions on January 3 and 7 is $150. Please pre-register for this program when you complete your Presidents Institute registration. To add this program to an already completed registration, please contact Sherita C. Ashmon, CIC conference manager, by email at or by phone at (202) 552-8981.


As part of the New Presidents Program, CIC is offering special sessions for spouses and partners of recently appointed presidents. The program, led by Lynne C. Joyce, presidential spouse, Brevard College, and J. Lawrence Smith, presidential spouse, York College of Pennsylvania, and organized by CIC Vice President for Academic Programs Kerry Pannell, is premised on the understanding that presidential spouses and partners serve in a variety of capacities within and outside their institution. Some will continue employment in professions away from campus and others will focus more on service to the campus community. The program encourages spouses and partners to network with others who are new to the role and to consider, intentionally, how to define the role to fit themselves, their individual campus situations, and the local impact of the pandemic and social and political activism.


CIC is grateful to the following sponsors (to date) for their support of the 2021 Presidents Institute: