- The Research University Presidency in the Late 20th Century: A Life Cycle/Case History Approach
Leadership is one of the most discussed topics in higher education. Whether it be the need for leadership or the qualities of effective leaders, researchers and practitioners alike search for answers to the puzzle of what leadership can create better institutions and a stronger system of higher education in the United States. Presidential leadership continues to be a central concern of scholars. Brodie and Banner's new book provides a novel approach to examining the topic of presidential leadership and complements, but differs from, earlier works that examine a single presidency, historical analysis of presidencies, or trends among university presidents. Instead, this book takes a life cycle and case history approach to examining eight university presidencies in the last 20 years. The advantage of the life cycle approach is that it examines different parts of the presidency, from the early courtship and appointment stage through the later plateau to the exit phase.
The book is divided into two main sections. The first section contains four chapters reviewing the life cycles of the presidency: prelude, honeymoon, plateau, and exit. The second section is a set of chapters divided into the individual narratives of the eight college presidents: Donald Kennedy, Harold Shapiro, Michael Sovern, James Freedman, Robert O'Neil, Benno Schmidt, Paul Hardin, and Vartan Gregorian. In the introduction, the authors describe how they hoped to speak to a woman university president, but that only one woman (Donna Shalala) met the criteria for their study. They registered disappointment with this finding and hoped that future research can look at women and people of color in the presidency.
The primary audience for this book is current and aspiring college and university presidents. The detailed stories about how presidents position themselves to assume an appointment, the work to prepare a campus for one's arrival, the importance of building a team and setting a new agenda, the impact of early risk-taking, the problems of taking on conflicts with faculty, students, and governing bodies, as well as understanding when it is time to resign and move on are all important phases of the presidency that will benefit practitioners in the field.
Although the book focuses only on research university presidencies, many of the lessons can also inform presidents at other types of institutions. However, the focus only on research university presidents is a weakness. In in-depth [End Page 119] research from a qualitative perspective, much of the richness of data is usually found through comparison and contrast. In addition, most of the presidential research has focused on leadership within research universities, and the voices of the majority of presidents from institutions such as community colleges, comprehensive institutions, urban universities, and liberal arts colleges need greater articulation within the literature.
The book has a very ambitious goal of developing predictive propositions that could help guide presidents. Brodie and Banner attempt to create a scientific theory to help guide the work of university presidents. One of their hypotheses is whether one must accomplish the tasks and resolve the conflicts associated with one stage of the presidency before moving on to achieve success in the next. Another hypothesis based on their life cycle approach is that presidents go through a honeymoon phase, and that defining moments (periods that resulted in a significant and lasting negative reaction on campus and when enemies begin to accumulate) affect the success of presidents. Only one of the presidents described something close to a honeymoon phase or the importance of defining moments. Brodie and Banner believe their research supports that accomplishing certain tasks in the prelude and honeymoon period (e.g., making allies with key faculty or identifying the appropriate team) are necessary to moving forward, and that presidents were thwarted if they did not address these tasks.
However, the research resulted in few confirmations of their hypotheses. As the authors note:
our subjects' narratives suggest that beyond the...