Top Scholar Presidents and University Performance
| Nicolai Foss |
Last Friday my unit at CBS, the Center for Strategic Management and Globalization, sponsored a seminar with Dr. Amanda Goodall, the author of Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should be Led by Top Scholars. (For an earlier O&M post on Goodall, see here). Not only did the upper CBS echolons show up (the Research Dean and the President — both highly cited scholars, BTW), but we also had a long and lively discussion. A highly undull seminar!
Goodall’s findings are mainly based on UK data. Roughly, they are that university rankings correlate rather closely with how well-cited the presidents of the relevant universities are, and that there is strong evidence of the research standing of presidents driving university performance. It is hard to understand why this finding (or the book in general) was dissed by Tyler as a “radical attack on economic reasoning” (here).
Anyway, Goodall’s findings made me wonder whether the finding of causality from president/vice-chancellor/BSchool dean generalizes to other university bureaucrats, notably department heads (and deans in general, not just BSchool deans). Many of the things that are being said in the book of the top scholar-president (an example, somebody who defines the standard, an expert etc.) are things that can be said of department heads in well-functioning research universities. Perhaps one of the ways in which university presidents/VCs/deans matter to research performance is by picking good department heads. Also,Goodall claims that top scholars will not have positive performance consequences if they assume the presidency of bad or mediocre universities. She doesn’t really present evidence for this claim, although it does sound intuitive that a Nobel Prize winner is not best placed at the helm of University of Crapville. However, it may be interesting to look at less extreme cases. I do think there are cases of highly regarded scientists helping rather mediocre universities to improve.