Retiring Senate President Don Williams’ interest in the presidency of Quinebaug Valley Community College has sparked a much-need conversation about what it takes to lead an institution of higher learning.
The reaction to Williams throwing his hat into the ring has been largely negative, ranging from routine letters to the editor questioning his academic credentials to a scathing column by Courant curmudgeon Kevin Rennie suggesting a thin resume and a possible conflict of interest.
Williams’ lack of higher education leadership experience does not worry me. Many colleges and universities are moving away from the traditional model anyway. Gone are the days when a Ph.D. was a prerequisite for anyone seeking to lead an institution of higher learning. The old model, which is also embraced by most private secondary schools, was that the head must not only be well grounded in education management, but driven by an academic passion that infuses everything s/he does, thus earning credibility with students and faculty and inspiring them to be the best they can be.
Ten years ago I was a finalist to become head of a Connecticut boarding school. When the job was offered to a career independent school business manager, I was horrified. After all, I and the other candidates had started in the classroom, earned master’s degrees in academic disciplines, and worked our way up the administrative ladder. But the guy they offered the job to stayed for six years, fixed the school’s precarious finances, completed a successful capital campaign, and led the institution through a thorny transition phase. Not bad for a fellow who had scarcely written a lesson plan.