Power and university presidents

The question of who should lead research universities has been the focus of my work: should they be individuals who are essentially good managers, or are good scholars more desirable? In a number of IHE articles (in 2006 and 2007) I have argued using statistical evidence that top scholars as presidents improve the performance of research universities. Drawing from interviews with university leaders, I have raised four possible explanations for the empirical patterns. First, a president (vice chancellor, rector, principal) who is a distinguished scholar will have a better understanding of the core business of a university, that of research and teaching. Second, a scholar-leader will likely demand higher academic standards, and their appointment may also signal a university’s priorities. Finally, he or she will have greater credibility among their academic peers. Credibility is important for leaders because it extends their influence. Arguably, any discussion about whether a leader should be a scholar or a manager is irrelevant if an institutional head has little direct power. But how much power does a university leader need?

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