Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strategy Matters in Higher Education, too

I work in higher education. I went to undergrad in Virginia. For the past week, I've seen (and read) dozens of articles, blog posts, and Facebook outcries about the unexpected removal of the University of Virginia's president Teresa Sullivan. What is most disconcerting for the school - and higher education in general - is the disconnect between its Board of Visitors and its University leadership.  Should something called the Board of Visitors really be responsible for making decisions that impact the day to day operations of an influential and successful public University?  President Sullivan, only two years into her post, demonstrated signs of a strategic leader.  She set out to retain their faculty leaders through the creation of collaborative research centers.  She decentralized the budgeting process to ensure academic units were self-funded. As the Board of Visitors assessed her performance and determined their opinions on whether she was successful, what was the strategy guiding their assessment?  It seems they were short-sighted in their assumptions and now, in the face of mass criticism, unable to defend their actions in a way that constituents can accept.  

In the face of this controversy, other institutions of higher education are, and should be, assessing their relationships with their Boards (of Trustees, of Governors, of whatever) to make sure there is a consistency in expectation and approach to strategy.  Unfortunately for Virginia, the fact this did not happen sooner is the cause of their current position. 

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