Presidents' lost luster

June 18, 1992

Few Americans have heard of the Edison Project, the attempt by entrepreneur Christopher Whittle to create a national for-profit private-school system. Few Americans haven't heard of Yale University. So when Benno C. Schmidt Jr. resigned as president of Yale to head the project, there was considerable head-scratching.

Even if Mr. Whittle doubled Mr. Schmidt's salary, wasn't there still the prestige factor? Had Mr. Schmidt lost his mind?

Yale is not the only high-visibility university to have lost its president recently. Hanna H. Gray is leaving the University of Chicago. Keith H. Brodie is leaving Duke. Donald Kennedy resigned at Stanford after 12 years as president. The list grows. Perhaps some of this is more coincidence than trend, and each campus has its own set of unique circumstances.

But there is no question running the complex structures that have emerged in higher education in the '90s is tougher than at any time since the late 1960s. The days of generous funding are over, as Maryland's higher education leaders have discovered over the past two years and as Steven Muller found out in his last year as president of Johns Hopkins University. At all institutions where there are troubles, the presidents, of course, become convenient lightning rods. In the '60s, students occupied their offices. In the '90s, faculties pass "no-confidence" resolutions.

People in higher education no longer enjoy a favored status. dTC They are having to be more productive. In both the public and private sectors, salaries are frozen or not keeping pace with inflation. Campuses face increasingly complex social issues. And the federal government is investigating research reimbursements and tuition-setting practices at dozens of colleges, looking for illegal collaboration and signs of tuition "price-fixing."

Some say an entire generation of higher education leaders is threatened, but it is early to be so pessimistic. Colleges and universities survived the crisis of the '60s with their leadership intact, and they are among a declining number of American institutions that remain the envy of the world.

Running a big campus requires the talents and skills it always has: knowledge of finance and educational philosophy, willingness to engage provosts and deans in a team approach to administration and, perhaps most important, understanding what makes humans tick and how to bring out the best of their abilities.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.