Thursday, April 04, 2013

Who Da Man?

We are likely within a day or two of finding out who the EKU Regents will select as the 12th president of this historic university. The general consensus of folks who were at Eastern during the administration of “Princess” Joanne Glasser seems to be that her administration was much about her, and less about the overall good of EKU. Much healing was apparently needed in the aftermath, and Doug Whitlock provided the salve. I never heard anyone question his love for EKU. He provided a steady hand on the wheel during a period of state fiscal neglect which undoubtedly limited possibilities. Now the university looks for a new direction. Who will provide the vision, strategy, and collaborative work ethic to shepherd the school into the 21st century?

I came to work today prepared to do a breakdown of the candidates. Then, I came across the Chairs Association letter to the Board of Regents which was sent to Chairman Craig Turner yesterday. In their letter the Chairs analyze the candidates and dig into some of the particulars. Their analysis is on point at every turn. 

Alan T. Shao
Michael T. Benson
The discussion among faculty seems to have resolved into a discussion of “Who do you prefer - Benson or Shao?” And, as would be expected, opinions are split. But both are being greeted as acceptable candidates with relative strengths and weaknesses.

The same cannot be said for Lassen. But despite the questions raised by his inclusion as a finalist, perhaps there is some comfort in this for the Regents. The only way they could really screw up would be to choose Lassen, which the faculty would likely greet with derision, and perhaps a serious case of withdrawal.

The Chairs didn’t pull many punches, but must have been looking for something nice to say when they concluded that Lassen had a “strong financial background.” Perhaps, I’m just refusing to cut the guy any slack, but one wonders how the Chairs would react if Lassen came to EKU and swept departmental funds into a central account so that he could “help the Chairs prioritize” their spending goals. But perhaps I’m nit-picking, because the Chairs' analysis is really quite good.

The Chairs point out the marked contrast between Lassen, and the superior candidacies of Benson and Shao. While each man presents relative strengths and weaknesses, both are impressive and it is very likely the faculty would accept either warmly.

Benson is credited for his “inclusive and transparent leadership style,” his “impressive record of fundraising,” and “command of the challenges” universities face.

Shao is admired for his global vision and as the only true scholar among the finalists. And while he would have a more significant learning curve, the Chairs have little doubt that “his past performances indicate…his ability to grasp and respond readily to new situations and challenges.”


Anonymous said...

Shao would take us into the 21st century...Benson is the epitome of academic-lite status-quo...Lassen would take us back to the 1950's.

Anonymous said...

In what world is an Oxford PhD and fully tenured professor considered an "academic-lite"? Benson is a proven leader with an outstanding track record of success who has already taken two institutions "into the 21st century". Eastern would be lucky to be the third under his skilled leadership.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen his publications and/or his book? I have...You might want to take a closer look at the record, instead on relying on blind credentialism. Unless, of course, you're religious. In that case, blind faith might work for you.

Richard Day said...

April 4, 2013 at 1:12 PM: You're half right, and I think that's the issue. Benson's did not come up through the academic ranks. His full professorship was awarded when he became President of (2-year) Snow College. He had to produce an additional portfolio (or something) of material to sustain that rank at SUU.

April 4, 2013 at 1:54 PM:The scholarly reviews of his book are not exactly glowing, but neither are they damning. And to be fair, historians disagree with each other for a living. Whether Truman was guided more by morals than vote counting is ripe for discussion. And I agree that treating questions of Truman's moral character without any review of his decision to drop the bomb is certainly lacking. But, to his credit, Benson was up front about it with the faculty.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to my fellow faculty members, we are looking for a president to lead our institution forward, not someone to join our department as fellow lecturer/researcher.

If Shao has a stronger scholastic track record that's great but I don't think that necessarily means he is going to be a better president. His academic qualifications might provide faculty with a sense of validation or provide him with greater authenticity in their eyes, but the skill sets of an individual scholar and those of an organizational leader are quite different.

Though my experiences in the classroom as an instructor allowed me to better understand scholastic needs and conditions of facutly and students, it did very little to prepare me for dealing with the facilities, financial, personel and policy matters which are critical to my role as a supervisor.

If you need something powerful to pull the wagon, you don't turn your nose up at a tractor because it never ate straw.

Anonymous said...

Without a doubt, Benson is the most capable leader for Eastern's current needs.

While I respect Shao's academic record, his leadership experience is limited, as he has only been Dean since 2009. Further, he has produced no substantial track record of transformational fundraising activity (CV indicates $1.555 million raised in 2012).

Benson raised $85 million in six years at a rural university with half the enrollment of Eastern in arguably the most difficult fundraising environment of this generation. That is nearly double the entire Eastern endowment. Just imagine what Eastern could do with that amount of funding!

Anonymous said...

Funny how some want to emphaszie Shao's scholarly credentials. It would only seem natural that an individual who has had more time both in years and academic responsibilities to produce a broader amount of schorlary material.

You are comparing apples and oranges here. You can do the same if you took fund raising - obviously Shao isn't even in the same league as Benson but Benson has been a President of two universities over the last decade. Shao may have produced a lot in the way of scholarship but being a dean for two or three years is not anywhere near being a president. Shao can talk a good game but he has no real experience dealing with the multitude of dynamics assocaited with leading a university and all that entails. Writing a bunch of article or visitng a bunch of countries isn't going to help him deal with the realities of leading a university.

Richard Day said...

April 4, 2013 at 4:15 PM: While you are essentially arguing the same issues as me, I wouldn't be to quick to undersell Shao's accomplishments. He did much more than just visit a bunch of countries. The executive MBA program he built at UNCC was slick as could be and provided a very interesting model for building a student base abroad. On the downside, the program only lasted a handful of years after his departure.

Anonymous said...

EKU would have been nothing without Dr. Robert Martin and his political clout. A good president should have solid academic credentials, but being an executive and being a professor/scholar are two different things. Benson is the obvious choice. He's old enough to know and young enough to do. It sure will be nice to have a EKU president who voted for Mitt Romney!

Richard Day said...

April 4, 2013 at 10:26 PM: Mitt Romney!? I'm not sure what he has to do with anything. But I'd bet a nickel all three candidates voted that way (although, at any given moment, it's hard to know where Lassen is politically).

Anonymous said...

Are people forgetting that an offer could be made to either one of these individuals today and they could turn us down if their current schools make a better offer to keep them? Isn't there negotiation stages? I wouldn't be so sure we will know who our 12th President is today as I've read all over the press...

Richard Day said...

Good point...but these things have a funny way of working out.

In July 2009, when the Kentucky Board of Education met to officially "decide" who the next Education Commissioner would be, low and behold, standing there ready to be announced was Terry Holliday. It was never fully explained how that was possible without breaking Kentucky's Open Meetings law.

Don't forget, on some level the search firm is a vehicle for dodging state law.

Anonymous said...

President is important but even more critical is who he surrounds himself. Right now we have a lot of internal folks who have been moved up to cover opening on interim basis often. Dr. Vice is well regarded but I suspect that once the new president is situated, she and perhaps some other folks will soon be following Dr. Whitlock out the door to retirement or "returning to their true passion of teaching". Their replacements will be critical to where this president takes us and the culture which the university evolves toward.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think Benson raised so much money in Utah????? Do you honestly think he can even come close to these numbers in rural Kentucky?...There are significant cultural factors at play. C'mon, don't be naive.