I wonder what academics who feel uneasy about former business leaders taking the helm of colleges and universities think about the University of Texas’ decision to pick a Navy admiral as the sole finalist to lead that 15-campus system?
UT announced on Tuesday that Navy Adm. William McRaven, head of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, is the sole finalist for the job of chancellor. This means that, barring any unusual occurrence, McRaven will assume the job in January 2015. According to the Washington Post coverage of the announcement, McRaven (UT class of 1977, journalism) beat out another non-academic — the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas — for the job.
Stepping into the role of college president or chancellor seems to be a good move for former CEOs and ex-politicians. Those appointments usually raise the eyebrows of faculty and staff, who fear that people from outside the academy don’t fully understand how higher education operates. Not surprisingly, some commenters on the Chronicle of Higher Education story about the McRaven announcement are skeptical.
According to the Chronicle, the UT board’s rationale for selecting a non-academic like McRaven has to do with his ability to manage large, complex organizations. Board chair Paul Foster says that he and his fellow regents believe campus presidents should have “extraordinary academic backgrounds and skills” but that the chancellor’s job was “more of a management and leadership role than a pure academic role.”
Under that rationale, the selection of a former CEO or ex-military leader may make sense. I’m not so sure about the selection of an ex-politician, though.
Say what you will about McRaven, he delivered one heck of a commencement speech at UT-Austin last spring.