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

By Amanda H. Goodall | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
WHY CHOOSE LEADERS WHO ARE SCHOLARS?

WHAT UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS SAY ABOUT IT

The leader should represent the aspirations of the institution.1

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF MAIN SECTIONS to this chapter, and all draw upon qualitative material from interviews with twenty-six leaders—mostly presidents but also deans—in American and British research universities (see appendix 1).

The interviews with university leaders seem to bring us closer to potential explanations of the preceding chapters' data, although in order truly to understand the transfer or “how” mechanisms, through which scholars may actually influence performance, would require further detailed case studies. To assess how leaders influence their organizations is inevitably challenging. This is because there is much other noise in the data, which makes it difficult to isolate the consequences of one, albeit notable, individual. Nevertheless, it is still interesting to hear from leaders themselves and to conjecture why it might be beneficial for universities to select presidents with strong research records.

The central arguments in this book about university leadership are threefold. First, if a university's governing body has decided upon a strategy of raising or even maintaining the research quality of their institution, they should appoint leaders who are scholars. This may not mean that every president selected in the university's history is a notable researcher, but that the overwhelming majority of presidents should be scholars. Second, the appropriate level of scholarship will depend on the initial position of a given university. For example, an institution that wishes to raise its research standing from a low base does not require a Nobel laureate as its head. This particular argument is put most succinctly by a former university president interviewed for this book:

Whether a leader is an outstanding researcher or just respectable is relative. It depends on where an institution is and where it wants to be…. The leader should represent the aspirations of the institution.

1 Former UK university president.

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