- The Entrepreneurial College President
College presidents are perhaps the most studied groups of academic administrators, and yet, as James L. Fisher and James V. Koch argue, not enough is known about this key leadership role. In their new book, Fisher and Koch offer new [End Page 604] insights by reporting results of their national study of college presidents. In part, an updating and expanding of the landmark 1988 study on effective presidents by Fisher, Tack and Wheeler, the book provides extensive data analyses from 713 current college presidents divided into two groups: "entrepreneurial" and "representative."
An expert nomination process was used to identify presidents who were particularly effective in their positions, with a focus on entrepreneurial presidents and attention to women and presidents of color. Over 1500 nominators were invited to identify current presidents for inclusion in the study, using their own criteria. Over 700 presidents were nominated at least once and from this group, 371 usable surveys were returned; this constitutes the effective/entrepreneurial presidents group. To provide control data, the authors constructed a second sampling of almost 1300 presidents, labeled representative presidents, who received the same survey; 342 usable surveys were returned.
Fisher and Koch spend a significant portion of the text presenting their findings. In addition to the current data, they continually contrast their findings with the Fisher, Tack and Wheeler 1988 study (referred to as FTW in the text) as well as to the 1999 McFarlin, Crittendon and Ebbers presidential study that focused only on community college presidents. The comparisons are interesting and provide more context for the Fisher and Koch study regarding some of the evolutionary changes in the presidency taking place since the late 1980s.
In Chapters 4-6 of the book, Fisher and Koch detail typical demographic profiles, education and work history, parental background, spousal employment and family information, as well as religious and political affiliations, and considerable institutional demographic information. Much of this is what we expect when reading presidential studies and Fisher and Koch are nothing if not thorough. Acknowledging the changing environment in which the current survey was conducted, the authors also asked several questions about technology usage. Finally, as they note, one of the features of this study is the volume of questions asked about attitudes and values (60 questions). This portion of the survey provides the most interesting discussion as well as some of the most controversial interpretations of findings.
The authors end the text with short vignettes from some of the many presidents deemed effective/entrepreneurial in the nomination process. These vignettes support the statistical findings and provide a more human and compelling face to some key points made. The short stories do not speak clearly to the processes through which one goes in order to achieve success, even though they sometimes provide evidence of inherent struggles and challenges presidents face. Even so, they are illustrative of the entrepreneurial presidents that Fisher and Koch intend to highlight, including women and presidents of color.
For those in or aspiring to the presidency, James Fisher again paints the broad landscape of this critical position. In much the same way as he did in the FTW study and so many of his other valuable academic leadership contributions, Fisher and his current collaborator, James Koch present a clear picture of a large data set. Their diligence in collecting both an elite and representative sample of respondents is commendable; their data analysis chapter is extremely well written and conveys a clear sense of how they proceeded and why; and their admiration and respect for their subjects is undeniable. The reader comes away with a national perspective of the attitudes and values driving Fisher and [End Page 605] Koch's entrepreneurial president and how these compare with those of presidents deemed representative. A cursory read of the text will inform boards, sitting and aspiring presidents about some of the challenges and strategies facing those who try to position their institutions in new ways and in new markets. In this respect...