CEOs as University Presidents
| Peter Klein |
I could have titled this post “University Presidents as CEOs,” focusing on the characteristics and responsibilities of university administrators. But I’m interested here in universities hiring former corporate CEOs, rather than career educators, as presidents. Gary Forsee, Sprint-Nextel CEO from 2005 to 2007, became my boss yesterday when he began his term as President of the University of Missouri System. Forsee’s selection last year raised hackles among some faculty because he holds only a bachelor’s degree and has no faculty or university administrator experience. (A greater concern, among some faculty, was the eagerness with which Sprint, under Forsee’s leadership, participated in the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.) The University of Colorado is apparently in a similar situation, though with far greater controversy.
Does a university president need a PhD? Under the university-as-guild model, hiring a leader from outside the guild is unthinkable, akin to bringing in Richard Dawkins to head the Catholic Church, or hiring a guy who never played in the NBA to coach an NBA team (actually, that happened). On the other hand, if the university is just another service organization, then hiring leaders from outside makes perfect sense.
Note that the University of Missouri, like many state university systems, is organized as a multi-campus system, comprising the University of Missouri-Columbia (the “flagship” campus), the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the institution formerly known as the University of Missouri-Rolla. Each campus has its own chief executive (Chancellor) and chief academic officer (Provost), so the system president has little operational responsibility. Instead, his job is — well, it’s not too clear what the system president’s job is, except to harangue the state legislature for more funding. Restructuring the system itself could be an objective; indeed, after the system curators approved the Columbia campus’s request to drop the “-Columbia” from its official designation, UM-St. Louis and UM-Kansas City threatened to withdraw from the system altogether. Forsee certainly has experience with restructuring, having overseen Sprint’s 2005 merger with Nextel; unfortunately, the disappointing results of that merger contributed to his ouster at Sprint in 2007.