Top Scholar Presidents and University Performance

24 January 2010 at 12:23 pm 4 comments

| 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.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Recommended Reading.

Positive Spillovers from Bad Behavior Endogenous Indoctrination

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve Phelan  |  25 January 2010 at 4:58 am

    We just have a highly successful academic fail as president here rather spectacularly. The thesis doesn’t pass the smell test with me.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  25 January 2010 at 11:22 am

    Steve, our current (university system) president is the (recently ousted) CEO of Sprint. The fact that he holds only a BA degree caused some controversy around his hiring. I wonder if Goodall’s argument is meant to apply all the way up the university hierarchy, or just to the department head, provost, or campus president/chancellor level? I doubt the academic qualifications of the executive leading a multi-campus conglomerate have a strong effect on campus-level culture.

  • 3. Nicolai Foss  |  25 January 2010 at 11:25 am

    Peter: In the book, her argument ONLY applies to Presidents/vice-chancellors (NOT chancellors) — and to BSchool deans. If you doubt that there is a causal effect from academic qualifications, what then explains the correlation? In fact, she argues and finds — using a basic kind of Granger causality argument — that there is no reverse causality.

  • 4. randwest  |  25 January 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Nicolai, do I remember that her sample of American university CEOs was limited to IVY league and two or three of the top Research 1 public universities? I think if the sample is enlarged to include. perhaps, 4 times as many public universities as private in the US sample, that correlation will break down. I also think that Peter’s question about system-level CEOs, who may have the title President (over several Chancellors) or the title Chancellor (over several Presidents), deserves some empirical analysis. Many of these system conglomerates have a mixed bag of campuses — different missions, different scope, etc. The job is inherently political, perhaps even more than the Chancellor in the British model, and academic qualifications are often of secondary importance. Interesting work by Goodall!

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

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