Higher Education in Transition: The Challenges of the New Millennium

By Joseph Losco; Brian L. Fife | Go to book overview
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7
Administering the Modern University

Richard L. Pattenaude

Some would say the idea of university leadership is an oxymoron, like governmental efficiency. Others, slightly more charitable, view it as a tantalizing possibility -- not unlike Gandhi's comment about Western civilization. One must believe this cynicism is a bit overdone. Yet there is an emerging concern about the difficulty of providing agile and decisive leadership for the modern American university or college.

The basic position taken in this chapter aligns with that expressed by Frank Rhodes, president emeritus of Cornell University, who firmly believes that universities can be led and, indeed, must be; and that the tools and the resources exist if presidents are willing to utilize them wisely and energetically ( Rhodes, 1998: 12-20). This is not an easy task. Perhaps the best imagery draws from a humorous comment typically credited to Winston Churchill as he expressed his admiration for democracy: "Democratic government is like a bear that walks on its hind legs; it is not that it does it well but that it does it at all that surprises us." Intuitively we recognize that universities and colleges are not businesses in the classic American capitalistic tradition. Power is more fragmented; constituencies are more active; goals and objectives are less precise; and the clear exercise of authority has a far weaker tradition. This chapter will explore these issues in some depth, and again, with the overriding belief that leadership is possible and that higher education institutions can be responsive to changing needs. There is no choice.

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