Shrinking violets need not apply Qualifications: Leading a major public university is a high-visibility, high-energy job for an executive who knows how to shake the money tree.

Education Beat

January 18, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THERE'LL NEVER be another Bill Friday," Bill Friday said the other day.

Friday, in town to give a talk on arts education, wasn't referring to his stature as a human being -- he is one of a kind -- but to his 30-year tenure as the chief of higher education in North Carolina, a job from which he retired in 1985.

The pressures are too great, the politics too intense, the need to raise money abiding. "I couldn't do it in the '90s," said Friday. "I wouldn't want to."

So, although the presidency of the University of Maryland, College Park will pay perhaps $250,000, the pool of people who are ready and able to replace the departing William E. Kirwan is surprisingly shallow. It's maybe made up of 200 people, says C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, "and by no means all of those 200 would want the job."

Magrath (pronounced McGraw) says the man or woman who replaces Kirwan will probably come from the presidency of a smaller university -- someone with a "proven record" -- or from that pool of what Magrath calls "presidents in waiting." These are the second bananas at major universities, the academic vice presidents or provosts. That's the route Kirwan took to the top College Park post.

The odds are against the appointment of a politician or a business person, Magrath says. Why not a business person? Ironically, the pay isn't high enough, particularly for a job that consumes seven days a week much of the year.

Magrath should know. He headed two major universities, in New York and Minnesota, and a statewide system in Missouri. In the Missouri job -- the equivalent of the post held by Donald N. Langenberg in Maryland -- Magrath felt the initial support of his governing board turn sour. His honeymoon was but a memory after seven years.

It wasn't a matter of counting the votes, Magrath says. It was a "gradual realization that they wanted a change." He got out.

Most university presidents "either get fired or tired, although Kirwan got rewired," Magrath says. He puts the average tenure of college presidents at five years. Magrath estimates that Kirwan, who's going to a bigger job at Ohio State University at the age of 59, will be the senior president in the Big 10 within two years.

Kirwan says he has "only enough energy" to conduct the job effectively for six years.

DTC What we're talking about here is a highly specialized and largely misunderstood job.

As public universities have lost public funding -- only 30 percent of College Park's operating budget comes from the state -- they've had to raise tuition and beat the bushes for money from private sources. This means cultivating business leaders and exploring new funding possibilities.

Whatever business Coppin State College President Calvin Burnett may have conducted with state Sen. Larry Young -- a matter that came up in the General Assembly's investigation of Young -- Burnett's motivation is clear: He needs all the help he can get in cultivating "external constituencies," as the higher educators call them. He saw in Young a master gardener.

Kirwan's successor will have to carry on a $350 million fund-raising campaign at College Park. "There's tremendous pressure to find resources," says Magrath, "but since these universities are still public, they have to answer to the public. A lot of people have a lot to say about what they do.

"There are a tremendous number of competing interests, many of them messy."

Athletics, for example. The Len Bias cocaine scandal at College Park a decade ago helped drive off Kirwan's predecessor, John Slaughter. As Kirwan will realize anew at Ohio State, big-time college sports require big bucks.

To satisfy alumni and keep them writing checks, it also helps to have winning teams. And the National Collegiate Athletic Association is always looking over your shoulder. You can't give an athlete a ride home, but you can put a Nike swoosh on his uniform in return for millions of dollars.

Then there's the danger of a misstep. Because university presidents are very public figures, they have to watch what they say. A blunder, a mishandling of a sensitive issue such as campus rape or a careless remark can be disastrous.

Speculating at a Christmas party on who would win the top job in the Florida university system, John Lombardi, president of the University of Florida, called one of the candidates "an Oreo black on the outside and white on the inside."

Whoops. That candidate, Adam Herbert, begins work tomorrow as Florida's first black chancellor, and Lombardi has agreed to step down sometime this year. (He turned down the Johns Hopkins University presidency in 1995.)

To survive in the tossing sea of higher education, Magrath says, university presidents have to love their work -- love it a whole lot.

"If I choose to be president of a major university, I make a good salary by most people's lights, but nowhere near what I'd make as president of the Widget Corp. But I don't choose to run the Widget Corp. I choose to run a public organization whose mission is one of the most important in our society. So I don't go around whining."

First lady will be live on Goucher's Web site

Another sign of the times:

When first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visits Goucher College at 3 p.m. Wednesday, the college will carry her remarks live on its Web site, www.goucher.edu.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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