This book will appeal to five audiences. First, it will interest presidents and those concerned about the higher education presidency. It provides commentary by presidents about their jobs, scholarly analysis, and a "sort of presidential troubleshooting handbook" (p. 135). Second, those who study research universities will find this book noteworthy. While the institutions are in the United States, the book provides insights adaptable for research universities in other countries.
Third, the book documents the history of U.S. research universities during the 1980s, thus appealing to scholars of this era and these institutions. Fourth, the book serves those interested in qualitative research and interview analysis. Students can see the relationships between transcripts and analyses, and then try their hands at analyzing the transcripts for their own purposes and instruction. Fifth, the book will interest scholars of Erik Erikson and life-cycle theory, as this project provides application of this concept.
Using retrospective, in-depth interviews with eight research university presidents who served during the 1980s, authors H. Keith Brodie and Leslie Banner provide fascinating glimpses into the roles and responsibilities of CEOs of the largest, most prestigious higher education institutions. The authors began with a hypothesis, borrowed from Erikson, that there is "an identifiable pattern or life cycle . . . including a series of predictable tasks and milestones that must be successfully [End Page 534] negotiated if a presidency is to continue on track" (p. xii). Brodie (President Emeritus, Duke University, and a psychiatrist by training) and Banner (Special Assistant for University Affairs during Brodie's presidency, a writer, editor, and higher education research specialist) bring distinct expertise to the project.
The project began by identifying heads of U.S. Association of American Universities Research I institutions appointed in the 1980s who had completed their presidencies. From 30 possible candidates, the authors interviewed Donald Kennedy (Stanford University), Harold Shapiro (University of Michigan, Princeton), Michael Sovern (Columbia University), James Freedman (University of Iowa, Dartmouth College), Robert O'Neil (University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin System, Indiana University-Bloomington), Benno Schmidt (Yale University), Paul Hardin (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and Vartan Gregorian (Brown University). Donna Shalala (University of Wisconsin-Madison), the only woman who fit the criteria, declined to participate.
The book is organized in two sections. The first provides analysis of the interviews. This section covers "Prelude" (courtship, appointment, and groundwork phase, with focus on the candidacy, preparation, team building, and agenda setting), "Honeymoon" (job start through the first major crisis, specifically honeymoons, defining moments, and risk taking), "Plateau" (the settled part of the administration, with focus on conflicts with faculty, students, and governing bodies), and "Exit" (from first resignation thoughts to job departure, specifically resignations, lame ducks, and aftermath).
This section ends with a summary of findings that includes observations on the nature and impact of change versus no change, the role of conflicts, the accumulation of enemies, the nature of risk taking and delaying, faculty and student impacts, differences between leading public and private institutions and internal and external presidencies, board partnerships, and exiting presidencies. The second section provides the transcript of each interview.
The book has numerous strengths. The presidents' vignettes are given in detail, in their own words, in the analysis chapters. The presidents explain their human interactions, stresses, and weighing of challenges. We see the impact of decisions on them both as human beings and as presidents. An advantage of interviewing emeriti presidents was that they were able to talk with candor, self-reflection, and analysis, without the caution and political pitch that would have been necessary while still in their jobs.
I found particularly absorbing the presidents' accounts of how they dealt with rapid change in their jobs. It was clear that the subjects were highly engaged with the interviews. Because of the way the interviews were constructed, the book is "couched more in the language of problem solving than theory, with specific examples of hard-earned experience, emotional wear and tear, and the...