University Leadership: Is it Real?

By | November 24, 2015

[November 24, 2015]  We’ve seen over the past few weeks the resignation of at least one university president, as well as student class walkouts, protests, and sit-ins at several universities over accusations of the mishandling of racial issues.  The uproar at campuses across the United States, we are told, is caused by a lack of attention to student harassment, their concerns about safety, a lack of diversity, and university leadership that ignores sensitive student issues.

While we are hearing about it now, I’m told that there have been disturbances on campuses for over a year.  University students have witnessed heated discussions on “racial injustice” and the “sense of inclusion” that is reflected negatively in the realities of outside communities.  University leaders have formed committees and tasks forces to develop recommendations for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure a more welcoming college environment for all students.

University presidents have been accused by their students of slowly coming to terms with these issues and not taking student problems seriously.1  Student grievances are certainly real to them but the incidents often cited are rare and minor.  Of course, the real issue here is whether university presidents and other senior academics are really leaders or are just gifted managers of large bureaucracies. Several good friends of mine at two major universities have opinionated that campus disruptions are the direct result of the lack of real leadership on university campuses.

If senior university leaders had been open to students all along and explained to them what college life is about, then perhaps less of this would have occurred.  Universities have struggled for at least the last decade with coming to terms with the concept of freedom of speech, the expression of ideas (some objectionable), and academic freedom.2  Largely, they have failed at doing so.

What the latest incidents on campuses do not do is remind us of the massive student protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s.  At least at that time the radical student movement was willing to listen to a wide range of ideas and students were not as overprotected or coddled as this generation.

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  1. For example, Princeton University students want the name Woodrow Wilson obliterated from it because of his views on race were backward and offensive by today’s standards. Wilson was Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910 and the U.S. President from 1913 to 1921.
  2. Some college presidents however have decided to be more proactive and show leadership: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_FREE_SPEECH_COLLEGE_PRESIDENTS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-11-22-10-48-11

 

 

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.