President's Blog

Posts tagged CIC

Looking Around and Forward

The time after the holidays and before students return to campus is when many professional conferences and meetings take place. For example, I’ve just come back from the President’s Institute of the Council of Independent Colleges, which was held concurrently with the annual meeting of the Women’s College Coalition.

Like folks in all other professions, college presidents find it valuable from time to time to raise their heads from the daily agenda in order to look around at the larger context shaping that agenda and forward toward whatever might be coming next. There is much to be learned from the experiences and ideas of educational leaders from across the country who share Sweet Briar’s commitment to liberal education and student success. America’s liberal arts colleges share many values, commitments, and challanges. What makes them stronger as a community makes each college individually stronger as well.

Here are things I especially appreciated during my time at the conference:

  • I heard a keynote address by Andrew DelBanco on the value of liberal education. Many of the ideas he shared with the assembled presidents are developed in his book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. DelBanco’s main point is that residential undergraduate education plays an essential role in preparing students for citizenship and community life by sustaining an environment in which they can practice leadership, decision-making, debate, and self-government under the guidance of role models and mentors.


  • I participated in a robust discussion about financial aid policy. This session has received some press coverage; the question is whether financial aid is appropriately allocated between two purposes — to meet the financial need of families and to provide non-need-based aid to students with particular qualifications.





Of course, I also valued the opportunity to pick the brains of other college presidents, hear about interesting innovations moving forward on other campuses, and reflect on the national picture of opportunity for students.

It goes without saying that leading an academic institution in this day and age is challenging work. But a conference like these is just one more occasion on which I realize how lucky I am to have the chance to do it! Providing the kind of education Sweet Briar offers to new generations of women, and advancing the proud tradition of the American liberal arts college as an option for all students, is endlessly interesting and unquestionably important.


Discussing Educational Leadership

In the last few days my travel schedule included a couple of events focused on academic and educational leadership, giving the week a serendipitous and interesting theme.

First I had the chance to speak to participants in the Senior Leadership Academy, a collaboration between the Council of Independent Colleges and the American Academic Leadership Institute. (And an excellent program: our own Dean Amy Jessen-Marshall is a former participant.) It was an honor for me to be invited to speak to this group of aspiring academic leaders: my topic was the way a president thinks about making vice-president level appointments and molding an effective senior staff team. Believing, as I do, that higher education will be facing complex and crucial challenges for decades to come, it seems to me that preparing the next generation of deans, vice-presidents, and presidents to address those challenges wisely is an essential priority.

The title for my remarks was “Cabinetball.” If you’ve read the book Moneyball and if you loved the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, you have two essential reference points for what I had to say. In very brief summary, I emphasized two things. First, effective academic administration is a team effort and the team’s success can only be measured by institutional achievements that advance mission. In other words, a good cabinet works together to ensure that students are learning, growing, and moving toward their professional and personal goals. This may seem to be patently self-evident, but I assure you it’s not; sometimes the pursuit of reputation (both personal and institutional) can displace the pursuit of actual mission. I also suggested to these future leaders that they should think less about whether they want to be leaders then about whether they want to do the work that leaders need to do to support student success. That is, I suggested that they’d do well to think in terms of the verb “to do” rather than the verb “to be.”

I also noted that, these days, running a college means negotiating a turbulent and rapidly-changing environment, requiring flexibility, nimbleness, and the willingness to take (prudent, appropriate) risks. The metaphor here was “Calvinball,” which you may remember as the game Calvin would play with Hobbes in which the rules were constantly and mystifyingly changing. . . .sometimes higher education in today’s economy feels like that. Under the circumstances, leaders need creativity, agility, and courage in addition to the integrity, wisdom, dedication, intelligence and other qualities that academic leadership has always required.

In the next post, I’ll say a bit about the Annapolis Group meeting, which is where I went next. . .