Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Entrepreneurial President: Richard Atkinson and the University of California, 1995-2003

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Entrepreneurial President: Richard Atkinson and the University of California, 1995-2003

Article excerpt

Entrepreneurial President: Richard Atkinson and the University of California, 1995-2003

by Patricia A. Pelfrey

University of California Press 2012

233 pages

ISBN: 978-0-520-27080-0


In her recent study of leadership and diversity, Clark Kerr's University of California, Cristina Gonzalez (2011) applies the ancient metaphor of the hedgehog (the visionary leader) and the fox (the strategist) to the post-World War II University of California presidents. While featuring David Pierpont Gardner as the quintessential fox, she spotlights Richard C. Atkinson as the university's second "energetic and enthusiastic" (p. 164) fox. Sharing Clark Kerr's assessment of his successors, she concludes that Atkinson and Gardner were the university's most effective leaders, not coincidentally serving during periods when California's economy was rebounding and the governor's office was favorably disposed to repairing the University of California's budget.

Rather than applying a metaphor to the Atkinson presidency in Entrepreneurial President, Patricia Pelfrey chooses a concept around which to build her case study of contemporary university leadership: "the growing enthusiasm for the entrepreneurial impulse" (p. xiv). Having spent her 30-year career as assistant to five successive University of California (UC) presidents, including both Gardner and Atkinson, Pelfrey writes from an unparalleled inside position, enhanced by her historical work and service as the editor of Atkinson's speeches and papers (Pelfrey 2004, 2007). Thus, she is able to offer as context her observations of five contrasting styles of leadership and her larger perspective as a historian of the university. Readers interested in the evolution of public university leadership at the beginning of the 21st century and what the crises faced by Atkinson portend for the future of public higher education in the United States will find Pelfrey's narrative and analysis full of insight.

Pelfrey begins in the midst of the maelstrom: the Board of Regents' painful and exhausting debate that culminated on July 20, 1995, in the setting aside of affirmative action at the university. As the 2012 contretemps between University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan and her Board of Visitors yet again demonstrated, there are few dramas more widely followed in higher education than public disagreements over fundamental policies and goals between a president and board. In fact, the University of Virginia (2012) responded to this extensive national interest by posting a web link on its home page for those interested in pertinent articles and documents.

The UC Board of Regents' action prohibited the use of ethnic preferences as a tool in the admissions process for bringing the student body profile more in line with the composition of California's population. The highest levels of university leadership, including the about-to-retire system president, Jack Peltason, the campus chancellors, and the Academic Council of the faculty's systemwide Academic Senate, vigorously opposed this change in policy. In addition, many key legislative leaders, already critical of what they considered foot dragging in improving university participation among African-American and Latino high school graduates, were furious. As Pelfrey notes, the 1868 Organic Act establishing the university stated that it was the duty of the regents to assure that "all portions of the State" should have access. In an explicit 1974 resolution, the legislature stated that the university should admit a student body reflecting California's racial and ethnic diversity.

The negative publicity attendant on the regents' action echoed across the country. Initially, it appeared to be a deterrent to minority applicants, some of whom evidently felt unwelcome in light of what the regents had done. Coming on top of widespread criticism of the university's executive compensation practices and the withdrawal of The Ohio State University's Gordon Gee as a finalist for the UC presidency, many despaired that a leader of stature would agree to step into the spot being vacated by Peltason. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.