Looking for an early stocking stuffer for a new community college president? Or maybe you are interested in building out your library of books for college presidents? As I prepared for my transition to a community college presidency I read widely, though not necessarily wisely. It is difficult to know in advance which advice might prove to be the most helpful. Amid the many books on presiding, leading, managing, and transforming, a few stood out for their particular perspectives and good sense.
Out in Front: The College President as the Face of the Institution, edited by Lawrence V. Weill, is part of the reliable ACE Series on Higher Education. ACE (The American Council on Education) has a well-established reputation for providing leadership training. This volume consists of ten separate chapters, each written by an expert, usually a current or former president, who has direct knowledge of the issue at hand. For example, Thomas C. and Susan S. Meredith write about “The President and the Family,” drawing on their first hand experiences. Chapters deal with presidents and students, presidents and alumni, presidents and senior staff, presidents and faculty, presidents and the media, and presidents and unions. The tone is consistently assured yet pragmatic. This book is written for presidents or aspiring presidents. It is not concerned with a more theoretical understanding of the presidency.
Carlos Nevarez, J. Luke Wood, and Rose Penrose collaborated to produce Leadership Theory and the Community College: Applying Theory to Practice. Also designed for the president or president-in-waiting, this work grounds the reader in organizational and leadership theory through the matrix of leadership attributes developed by the AACC. The authors allocate each chapter to particular theories of leadership (bureaucratic, democratic, path-goal, situational, ethical, leader-member exchange, political, systems, transformational, symbolic, and transformative). The format of each chapter is similar, starting with a theory, providing a case study, and then offering questions in order to spark professional reflection.While the center of this book does not cohere, the multiple lenses are provocative and helpful.
Lastly, Susan Resneck Pierce, president emeritus of the University of Puget Sound and now president consultant, shares her thoughts about college presidencies in On Being Presidential: A Guide for College and University Leaders. Pierce relies on personal experience and research to sketch out the key issues facing presidents, the key features of the job, and a high level view of the challenges and opportunities. Her writing is engaging and she is comfortable with the topic. Her account of presidential failures and missteps is worthy on its own. Pierce’s intended audience is larger than current and aspiring presidents, too. She hopes that her book can shed light (and give advice) to many higher education stakeholders.
The key takeaway from all three books is that there is no one single way to be a successful college president. Much depends upon the institution, the situation, the participants, and the strengths and weaknesses of the president. That much can be expected. If the path to being a successful college president was straightforward, we would have many more wildly successful college presidents. Happily, college presidents – active and retired – are consistently generous with their time and advice.