Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars

By Amanda H. Goodall | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
LEADERS OF THE WORLD'S
TOP UNIVERSITIES

THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS AND WEALTHIEST universities arguably have the widest choice of leadership candidates. If it can be shown that they appoint top scholars as their leaders, this could be one form of evidence that, on average, better researchers may make better university presidents.1 Economists would call this a form of “revealed preference” (about the organizations' underlying objectives). As suggested earlier, scholarship is not viewed here as a proxy for either management experience or leadership skills but something in addition to that. However, a priori, if what really matters in a leader is managerial ability, it would not be expected that universities would be led by successful researchers.

In this chapter2 I use statistical tests to identify whether the world's top universities currently appoint top scholars to the position of president. When looking at the individuals who run these great institutions, it is possible to find both a handful of heavily cited scholars and a handful of leaders with few or no research citations. It might be thought from this fact that there is no systematic link between research output and university leadership. Yet, as I will show, there is a pattern. A significant correlation exists between the research background of a leader and the position of their university in a world league table.

As discussed in chapter 1, institutional heads probably hold the most influential positions of authority in a university. But there are other strategic leadership positions that are only a step down from presidents, for example, deans of schools. In chapter 3 I turn to one such group—business school deans.

In the quantitative analyses in the next three chapters, I focus on one set of measures of a university leader's research performance, namely, the person's lifetime scholarly citations. Citations are references to authors in other academic papers as acknowledgment of their contribution to a specific research area. The process of building academic knowledge is done partly by referencing important work that has gone before. That referencing—the citing of

1 The term president will be used again to represent all university heads—vice chancel-
lors, rectors, directors, principals, among other titles.

2 This chapter draws upon Goodall (2006b).

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