The trade publication Inside Higher Education recently praised the California State University system, where I work, for boosting the gender diversity of our presidents. Of our 23 universities, 11 are now run by women. A year ago the number was six.
I think the praise is warranted, the progress intentional. And our presidents wield considerable and growing clout; the whole system will benefit from the examples set on these five campuses.
But for those system-level benefits, some campuses have paid more than others.
The farm league for campus presidents is the provost, sometimes called a VP for academic affairs or a chief academic officer, and effectively the campus COO.
Many of our campuses have recently lost their provosts, some to these presidential slots, others to jobs elsewhere. The pace of the turnover is breathtaking, especially at some of our smallest and most vulnerable campuses, where all relationships are personal.
And as I’ve posted ad nauseam, higher education is a line of work that depends entirely on networks of social relationships for its effectiveness. Empty corner offices, or even ones with temporary occupants, present serious and under-recognized challenges to our faculty and students.
You can also see the converse: those institutions around my system and others that flourish are the ones with stable leadership, and long-term provosts are a part of that. Believe it or not, in a world where the average tenure is less than three years there are provosts who’ve been on the job a decade or more, and the benefits show.
I’m not advocating for stasis, and I certainly don’t regret any of the recent promotions that won us the national praise. They were all hard-earned, and these former provosts are now positioned to do considerably more good than they could a year ago.
But to those campuses whose outsized sacrifices got us here, I offer sympathy and some hope. Provost searches, unlike those for presidents, are typically campus based. In your next hire you have the ability to compare your long-term expectations with those of your finalists, and prioritize accordingly.
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