Hiring a university president is the most important decision a board of governors will make. It is a challenging journey marked with interviews, months of discussion, selection committee meetings and tough deliberations. Once the ideal candidate has been identified, it may seem like the difficult part is over. But, in fact, the most important work of the board lies ahead.
The academic sector is vital to the social, cultural and economic life of our Canadian communities. As such, the leadership of our universities and colleges directly affects the ability of our institutions to contribute to the social and economic development of our region. But with the shift toward faculty votes of non-confidence in the institution’s leaders, truncated presidential terms and shrinking candidate pools, it's time to reconsider how we view leadership and succession in our universities and to talk about how we shift the curve.
Universities are complex organizations that require specific leadership capabilities. But while each university is very different from the next, there is one commonality in academic institutions from St. John’s to Victoria - the increasing struggle to fill leadership roles. The demands placed on academic administrative leaders have increased significantly as they are asked to do more with less. From a pure numbers perspective, the number of qualified candidates with the experience needed for these roles has declined over the past few years.
Universities as organizations have always been more complicated than their private or public sector peers. Bi-cameral governance, the impact of academic freedom on the nature of the faculty’s relationship with the institution and the reliance on government funding with all the strings that are attached make for a challenging environment. And as Dr. Ross Paul points out in Leadership Under Fire. The Challenging Role of the Canadian University President, the university has become an even more complex institution to lead from within.