Undergoing a change of president is usually at least mildly traumatic for a university. The president is the central symbol of unity, typically credited with setting both tone and direction for the institution. So when change occurs – often itself a lengthy process, with many voices needing to be heard before a selection is made, typically followed by an extended period of orientation and learning by the new executive – it is a setback of sorts. Leadership and progress are inevitably disrupted to some degree.
Friends of the university can be reassured in knowing, however, that institutional momentum is tremendous. The great body of work carried out day-to-day within the university – all the teaching, research, and service, as well as all the administrative and supportive activity surrounding these core dimensions of institutional mission – make up 98% of who we are and what we do. Popular impressions aside, little in fact changes with that 98% when a president resigns, interim leadership steps in, and the search for a new leader commences.
Momentum is ensured in large part because the structure of leadership below the executive cabinet level (i.e. president and vice-presidents) – deans, department chairs, and program directors – as well as the body of dedicated faculty and staff colleagues they lead, remain intact. While hardly untroubled by a disruption in executive leadership, these seasoned professionals generally carry on without any loss of quality, enthusiasm, or sense of purpose.
At least I’m confident that’s the case in the College of Health. Ironically enough, I had the opportunity to discuss vision and challenges for the college with the president and vice-presidents just days before Dr. Saunders’ surprise resignation. On the vision side, I emphasized moving forward following the watershed event of Nursing’s elevation to college status, focusing on significant opportunities for enrollment growth, expansion of the research enterprise, and emerging collaboration possibilities. As always, I underscored the high market demand for health and wellness oriented professionals, and the tremendous contribution of the health sector – which our graduates feed – to the community’s overall economic well-being.
I also noted the multiple challenges we face in realizing our potential – inadequate budgets battered by three years of cuts, dangerously “thin” research and administrative support, crippling constraints on office and lab space, woefully outdated furnishings, among them.
Here’s the rub: I see no reason to alter either list, vision or hurdles, as a result of a change of president. Moving forward, the same key issues will shape our priorities and focus our attention.
So, while the fall of a chief executive and the byzantine politics that may lie behind it grab the headlines, the life of the institution goes on, uninterrupted.