Tips VPSAs Should Consider When Securing and Then Succeeding in a Presidency

American higher education desperately needs the very best and brightest educators to become presidents/chancellors. The challenges are great and the stakes are high.  The time is now that SSAOs have earned their rightful place as leaders and more then capable of responding to this call for action. In fact for what many colleges and universities most need, VPSAs have the very best dispositions, experiences and skills to ensure an institutions continued success. We believe that increasing numbers of institutions need SSAOs to serve as presidents now more than ever.  In this belief we have developed a set of "tips" to begin to brighten your path toward a presidency.  We ask you to read, reflect and consider your way forward.

Tips VPSAs Should Consider When Securing and Then Succeeding in a Presidency

Securing a Presidency

  1. As a VP, lead with being an executive.  As a Vice President you are an SSAO and a member of the university's executive team. Be sure and clearly describe your accomplishments, skills, and knowledge in terms of being a university leader.
  2. Step outside of Student Affairs.  Gain a clear, big-picture view of the college or university. Put yourself in situations, at events, and/or on committees where you can observe other senior leaders and learn to think, analyze, and converse like a faculty member, a business officer, a fundraiser, a board member, etc. A broad understanding of the diverse perspectives and needs of an institution are critical for presidential success.
  3. Fundraising.  Every presidency has an expectation to raise funds privately. As such, take every opportunity to fundraise for the university. Seek out fundraising professional development opportunities.
  4. Faculty.  Take every opportunity to collaborate with faculty and, in particular, with the Academic VP and Deans. You will need to demonstrate that you have and can work effectively with faculty, department chairs, deans and faculty governance. The more specific the collaborations leading to achieving priority institutional outcomes, the better.
  5. Do your research about any institution you might lead. Become familiar with the historical, cultural and institutional contexts of the college. Gaining an understanding of the similarities and differences from previous institutions will be essential as you navigate the environment.

Succeeding in a Presidency

  1. Be clear about your reasons for seeking and accepting a presidency. A presidency is much more than what you see on the surface. The stakes are abundantly higher, and the buck stops with you.
  2. Conduct a listening tour ASAP, even if you could start the tour prior to your first day on campus.  Talk to Community leaders, neighborhood groups near the campus, faculty, staff, students, alumni and not just the leadership. Be sure to include: Facilities, Dining employees and Contract employees as well.
  3. Know the unique history and mission of the institution and why you resonate with it. Showing an appreciation and value for why the college was established will help build a bridge with the community as you talk about its future.
  4. Understand the campus culture, environment, history and how the current campus state of affairs came to be. Find out what did the last president do well and what were the areas of opportunity. Understand who are the “untouchables,” i.e., people who can’t be moved (e.g., congressperson relatives, large donor friends, etc.)
  5. There is no such thing as a casual remark. People pay attention to the words you choose, so you should, too.
  6. Know governance/hiring authority priorities and tie them to your strengths.
  7. Understand the financial position of the organization.  Know the balance of all ready reserves, endowments, cash flow and investment income. Have quarterly meetings with every individual budget manager along with your VP for Finance, so you completely understand the financial picture. Be certain to understand that all money can’t be used in the same way, e.g., grant dollars, auxiliary income, state and federal income.

In closing, these tips are intended to help you as you consider your own future path and ask what is beyond being a VPSA. To be clear it is our firm belief that VPSAs are well prepared to make the move to the presidency.  The case is easily made that higher education needs the best and brightest leaders including leaders from student affairs.  If you might consider yourself one of those who are interested please consider these tips in your journey as you accrue the skills and experiences that would position to become and succeed as a president!

Diana Doyle, President, Arapahoe Community College

Robert Mock, Jr., President, Johnson & Wales University, Charlotte Campus

Frank Sánchez, President, Rhode Island College

Karen Whitney, President, Clarion University