DEAR BI CAREER CONSULTANTS:
I am considering accepting my first president’s job. What things
should I consider before I accept it? Does it matter whether I start at
an HBCU or a traditionally White institution?
DR. JAMES C. RENICK
Chancellor University of Michigan-Dearborn Dearborn, Mich.
I believe the primary consideration concerns fit. That is, the fit
between your talents, skills, and abilities and the needs of the
institution. This is critically important. A successful presidency is a
function of good fit. Too often, candidates and search committees miss
On a more personal level, I believe it is a good idea to make sure
you are ready to lead a public life. I would ask myself the following
1. What are the Board’s expectations?
2. How will I be evaluated?
3. What are the institutional comparative advantages?
4. What is the campus climate?
5. How is the institution perceived?
6. How are the internal and external forces likely to influence the institution in the next three to five years?
7. What is the financial health of the institution?
8. Can I continue to grow professionally?
9. What opportunities are available after leaving the presidency?
With regard to your second question, I don’t really think it
matters where you start. There will always be a need for solid
leadership at both HBCUs and traditionally White institutions. The big
issue here seems to be “sector crossing” — that is, if I start at an
HBCU, can I make the transition to a traditionally White institution,
or vice versa? This can occur, but it is very rare indeed. The same can
be said about private vs. public. Therefore, where you start may have a
definite impact on your ability to move between sectors.
DR. MARGUERITE ARCHIE-HUDSON
President Talladega College Talledega, Ala.
The opportunity to lead an institution of higher education is a
rare privilege and it offers a distinct set of challenges — whether
the setting is an HBCU or a traditionally White institution. I believe
the following considerations are critical to one’s chances for success.
Common Ground: Compatibility between yourself and the “core” values
of the institution — its history, mission, traditions, and beliefs —
is an important variable. As president you will be the head cheerleader
for this institution. Can you persuade others about its value if you
are a skeptic?
Support from key campus stakeholders: Is there evidence of support
for you and your views from the board of trustees, faculty, and
students? You may be able to make some significant changes in staff and
administration as you begin your tenure, but these groups will be
there. Are you committed to seeking cooperation and collaboration with
these key constituencies?
Commitment to the institution’s financial health: Resource
development and fundraising are major responsibilities of the modern
college president. Do you have the skills, contacts, experience,
energy, and will to engage this task?
Relations with key external influences: Most institutions have
important off-campus-based constituencies that a president must
successfully cultivate. Who are your key external players — alumni?
politicians? the local community? the church? Will they be friends or
Creating your executive team: “Who’s got your back?” Your ability
to select key members of your executive staff is as important as
negotiating the contract you believe you deserve. Don’t settle for less.
There are any number of additional factors which should influence
your decision, but if you cannot feel comfortable with your answers to
the above questions, I would advise you to take a very hard, second
look before you accept the job.
DR. CAROLYN G. WILLIAMS
President Bronx Community College Bronx, New York
Selecting a presidency is like selecting a life-mate. 550u cannot
go in thinking that you can change the nature and character of an
institution any more than you can change the nature and character of a
The first presidency is the one that will set the course for the
rest of your career, and it should be sought with care. Even before
selecting the institutions to which you want to apply, you should do a
careful inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Equally important,
you need to decide on which issues you cannot compromise and on which
issues you can bend.
Consider the following features when evaluating the institution:
Mission: Do you identify with the institution’s mission? Do you have sufficient skills to forward that mission?
Size and location: Do you prefer rural or urban life? Do you prefer
working in a large multi-campus institution or are you comfortable in a
History of the institution: Is the institution’s history consonant
with your goals and ideals? Can you happily become part of that history?
Support: It is critical to have the support of the board of
trustees. Do you have broad-based support within the institution?
Without it, your job will be very difficult.
Financial status: Is the institution in deficit? How is it
financed? Are there resources for growth, or will you need to develop
strategies for cost containment?
In order to succeed in a first presidency, your inner goals and
preferences must correspond to — and compliment — the institution’s
Only you can decide whether the fit is better at an HBCU or a
traditionally White institution. However, your choice should not be
based on whether the’ institution is an HBCU or a TWI because both will
require the same preparation.
After performing your self-inventory and an accurate assessment of
the institution, you should be in a good position to judge whether the
opportunity offers both you and the institution the optimum chance to
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