Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What do presidents do? 

A letterwriter in the St. Cloud Times isn't thrilled with the compensation schemes of modern universities.
The big print shows the salary of the new president of St. Cloud State University. The next two articles talk about the St. Cloud State hockey coach and the new University of Minnesota basketball coach.

Earl Potter will make up to $253,000 to run an entire university and be responsible for all aspects of our young people's education.

I don't know how much Bob Motzko makes as the hockey coach, but I would bet he's at least in that same range. And Tubby Smith will make up to $1.8 million coaching basketball at the U of M.

What exactly is the purpose of a college or university? I didn't think it was to prepare athletes for professional sports careers or to build extravagant arenas and stadiums for them to play in. I thought it was to teach and to prepare students to step up to the challenges waiting for them in the real world.
Commenter "Corwin" on this blog last week also asked what are the prime functions of university presidents? Let's muse on that a moment.

Academic institutions distinguish between a chief academic officer (either a provost or a VP for Academic Affairs, most of the time) and a president. While presidents sometimes are involved in the academic affairs of a campus, it is most often a negative insofar as issues only come to the president when there is a conflict. Academic programs are usually a collectively delivered product -- I avoid the word team because departments usually aren't teams -- and a collegiate coach is more of a leader of students and athletes than a university president. This is even more true on a comprehensive state university campus than a small private liberal arts institution.

So what does the president do, then? In short, they are advocates for their institutions. Before SCSU was subsumed into the MnSCU system its president had a more direct impact on how much money the legislature provided. Now it is not much. So fundraising has to turn to alumni donations and grantwriting, something which SCSU hasn't done terribly well in the past. If you wanted to provide President Potter with incentives, the best probably would be for some kind of bounty on alumni contributions. That sort of thing is usually frowned upon when done openly, but can arise through appointment to boards of directors, for example.

I think the other thing presidents can do is to present a good face to the public, particularly when your institution depends on state support like ours. Past presidents of this institution have served on numerous non-profit boards (a function that should extend down the chain to the faculty, in my opinion) that builds applications of the university's knowledge to local issues and a base of support for university initiatives. Local residents living near campus of course face a negative externality from noisy students, but that can be offset by a good relationship between the university and the professional community, if you work at it.

If our new president can do those two things, that would be good. And the number of people who can do that is probably greater than the number who can bring the Gophers to basketball excellence. This is why college coaches make more than college presidents.