Temple University is searching for a new president, and it commissioned a research firm to ask “the campus community—including faculty, staff, students and alumni,” what they are looking for in a leader.
And thus, the search is off to a terrible start. Why?
First off, how many issues like this Israel/Hamas explosion do we have to witness before we stop trying to characterize “faculty, staff, students and alumni” as some kind of coherent “campus community,” with a straight face? To vastly oversimplify the relationships among those four constituencies: The only thing “faculty” can be relied upon to share in common is their general contempt for staff. Meanwhile, the students who are politically aware enough to answer such surveys, are at one another’s throats. And the alumni are not on “campus” at all—and the important alums haven’t been, for 30 years or more. Their only relationship with the school—is also to torture staff. You think you’ll survey this mad menagerie and come up with a consensus recommendation?
Here’s what the Temple “campus community” said they wanted in a leader, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer:
The community wants to see a leader with “grit” who advocates for the university’s mission in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The new leader should have a commitment to teaching, research and service, demonstrated advocacy for higher education opportunities, and accessibility and prior relevant experience.
Stakeholders want a leader who serves the Temple community and its needs, the report said …
Top leadership traits of the new president should be “highest integrity and ethics, a passion for higher education, an open, consistent communicator and someone able to make complex decisions.”
The community is looking for a “strategic communicator with a determination to tell ‘good’ about Temple,” the report said.
And so on.
Doesn’t it almost literally contradict the idea of hiring a leader, to ask the followers how they want their leader to lead? And doesn’t it undercut whoever is eventually hired, to frame the choice in customer-service terms? “You told us you wanted the sort of leader who …”
“They should be a visionary thinker, but not in a way that alienates traditionalists,” cracks Jim Reische, CCO at Williams College and co-founder of the Higher Education Leadership Communication Council, in response to the Inquirer story. “Community-minded, but tightly focused on campus needs. An academic, but one with a total mastery of administration. Tall, but not too tall. And good looking, in kind of an average way.”
We all know what Temple is trying to do here: cover its ass-dot-edu, so that when the new president is announced, and that single human being’s actual background is unveiled and their ideas and character are eventually revealed to the inevitable disappointment of many, the school can say that it “reached out” to “the campus community.”
Or maybe, Temple will analyze the results of this survey to hire the perfect person (but not too perfect) … to satisfy the infinite, unreasonable and contradictory demands of the—all together now—”campus community.”
“Not,” as a realist pal likes to say, “the way to bet.”