President Harris Discusses Academic Leadership and Governance
Web Editor - Published: February 22, 2013
On Wednesday, February 20th, Widener University President James T. Harris III spoke to an audience of faculty and staff on the Delaware campus about the challenges of academic leadership and governance.

President Harris recently co-authored a book on the subject, Academic Leadership and Governance of Higher Education: A Guide for Trustees, Leaders, and Aspiring Leaders of Two- and Four-Year Institutions, with Robert M. Hendrickson, Jason E. Lane, and Richard H. Dorman.

Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development Andrew L. Strauss offered a warm welcome and introduction for President Harris, wryly observing, “He is here in his other capacity as a fellow academic.”

After briefly discussing the origins of the book, President Harris noted the difficulty in balancing scholarship with his other responsibilities and he offered his admiration to the faculty in attendance for their ability to continue to produce a significant volume of high quality legal scholarship.

His talk then focused on the issue of board governance and the responsibilities that a board of trustees has in managing an institution of higher learning. In examining the purpose of higher education, he sighted meritocracy, democracy, and vocational outcomes, saying that higher education could be seen to reward those who have shown merit, enhance democratic functioning by leveling the playing field, and train people with the specialized skills and knowledge needed in advanced economies.

“There is a tension in all universities and colleges between these three,” he observed before examining traits that successful institutions shared in common, citing in particular the ability to make decisions in accordance with a set of core values.

He then examined the responsibilities that a board of trustees has in overseeing that an institution is meeting its goals and the way that role has evolved over time. He also discussed a president’s relationship to the board and emphasized that is a president’s responsibility to “be an advocate for the academy and help the board understand its role.”

“No one board member has any authority at all,” he said of helping board members to understand their role before adding, “but the board as a whole has the ultimate authority.”

President Harris then took questions from the audience on a variety of topics including whether boards tend to be too conservative, variant governance models, and the qualities that universities are looking for in board members. He also asked the audience what their recommendations would be if they were board members at Penn State given the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky situation.

Academic Leadership and Governance of Higher Education: A Guide for Trustees, Leaders, and Aspiring Leaders of Two- and Four-Year Institutions is available in hardcover from Stylus Publishing at retailers including Amazon.

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