The New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum: A Leadership Challenge Like No Other

[Applause] thank you welcome back hope you had a good lunch good conversations we're talking about one of my favorite topics which is leadership and a couple of very experienced leaders on the stage with me I want to jump right in Janet you have been on the hot seat a bit lately there's yeah headlines is that hot right now they've been headlines about allegations about hiding surplus funds influence influencing college surveys there's been some others I don't want to spend the whole time on this but what is your response to those headlines well I think they were generated by an audit of the office of the president by the California State Auditor and it was not complimentary to to say the least but it was also in terms of the factual allegations very inaccurate so we're in the position now where we've accepted the recommendations of the auditor which basically go to how we track and present our budget while disagreeing with how she characterized the underlying situation and I think my job is to get us through this and to correct the things that need to be corrected fix the problems and keep moving the university forward and given that this is an audience of your peers what is your advice to them if they ever find themselves in this kind of situation well I think you know I hope that many of you don't have the experience of that I'm undergoing right now but you know I I think that you need to work with the auditor you need to address whatever recommendations come out of the audit embrace them and say not only will we do that but we'll do even more so and and give yourself time in which to do that and and be very public about how you're doing it for example we actually put up a web page on our work plan in response to the audit so people can track all of the different things we're doing and the timeline that we're on okay um your resume includes Governor of Arizona Secretary of Homeland Security and president of the University of California system please rank them in order of difficulty yeah it depends on the day back you know I and there's such different roles but I would say that running a large public research university system is amongst the most complicated and challenging jobs around today do you like hard jobs me I'm just curious like what what drives you to go after these jobs that you kind of know are going to be difficult i I think it's mission I mean I think it's what you think you can accomplish and who you can help and you know the notion to me of educating the next generation was very in a way empowering and you know you want you you want to do the best you can for the most people you can so whether you're governor of a state leading a large federal department or running a large public university it's you gotta you it takes a lot of energy and you have to be energized ultimately by the vision right that's great now Nancy you're stepping down at the end of the month that's why I was smiling that's right it is bittersweet I am so frustrated over transition but it's yes it's time timing is everything and after how many years in leadership roles and eight human years at x dog years um it's eight and I was talking to Janet I read somewhere our tenure is about two and a half years which Trump's the urban superintendency has a a so for us and Jan you're in your fourth finishing for the universe is really this is good that's good yeah we're hanging in there without ya outlasted the norm so I mean given that you're you're stepping down you can be as candid as you want oh I can't let's get that straight we'll just put this on a time lag the tape well I'd love to hear your reflections on some of the sort of memos to self that you've written insights about leadership running an institution again that would be political for everybody in this audience another way to think about it is sort of what are the do's and don'ts if you were to give people advice on you know we were just getting into these roles well and I've often conceded that I do still go to bookstores and when I go I sort of go to the self-help like more diet books than cookbooks that kind of thing and I love the leadership literature I really do I'm a Jim Collins I mean I could move on but I've read all the little books on different techniques to leadership and since I've been in a large state university and grew up in a flagship land-grant and then a second-tier University of Cincinnati always had to reconcile itself to the Ohio State University but these are nice opportunities and I have over the years tried to and I don't want to meet be too funky about this but I I have a theory in leadership and it's pretty easy in the sense that I do think vision really really really really matters I used to say vision trumps everything but I need a new middle word vision vision eclipses everything but my big lesson was in the Wisconsin system I love the Wisconsin idea I followed closely you know whether Scott Walker liked the Wisconsin idea but it was so galvanizing not just for Madison but for all of us and and so I think articulating the vision and five or six sunni heights who were in the audience can validate whether they know we have a system-wide vision that would be a good test don't speak now and then I think it's not Evita perón on the balcony you have to have that vision really crafted at the hands of many we have a very clear governance structure at SUNY we have faculty representation on our board of trustees and student leader representation the student can vote so vision at the hands of many that weaves its way into very clear and measurable actions we were saying earlier that evidence based database and evidence data set database Thank You Janet and evidence driven decision there you know and with that you can get investment because people can see the return on investment so if I were an incoming president or Chancellor I would kind of work hard at what is my personal theory of leadership and then on the other side of the spectrum I have this little email that I wrote when I joined Cincinnati which was like day one week one month one because how you start and what you say which probably isn't here's my personal vision because I just said at the hands of MIDI but who you talk to who you I can remember instance a calling up the governor and thing hi I'm your new presidents I mean it's silly in a way but it's so important and a good start can't be made up later it simply can't and I always felt like if you say well what are you gonna do first well I'm going to listen yes that would be wise but what I said at SUNY is I'm cutting code visit every campus I had no idea Wow ninety five days later and I don't know how many thousands of miles I did it which can't be really replicated and I certainly didn't advise my successor why don't you go say I'm going to visit every campus cuz oh god here we go again so she probably won't at that in that way but for me that was a listening tour of some sort and it really helped us frame that vision that we ultimately crafted pretty much together about you Janet what are your do's and don'ts well I agree with me I see I think when you start you know getting well informed by people on the ground and getting a sense of the different aspects of a system so for example we have ten campuses nine of whom take undergraduates ucsf only takes graduates but you know I spent a good day day and a half on each campus and I met with faculty I met with students I met with staff and really got those inputs and they helped inform some of the major system-wide initiatives that we would undertake and and then and then you have to design kind of well how are you going to roll those out and you know what's the rhythm going to be how are you going to keep your board informed and participatory in that and make sure that they agree with how you are effectuating your your vision and how do you keep people energized around it and so the challenge over time is after you get through that initial period and that initial excitement and you roll out your initial initiatives well how do you sustain that and keep you know keep fuel in the fire and you know now we are four years in and we had a big transfer initiative we had a big innovation and entrepreneurship initiative we have a big carbon neutrality initiative so being able to put milestones on each of those so people can see the progress that's being made you know I think that's that's a way to to keep a system together and to keep it moving forward on that point I mean one of the things that is always struck me about leadership and why it's so hard it's just a series of paradox it's just opposing forces and balance and as I think about your jobs I think there's real paradox as a leader where you're trying to strike the balance between urgency and Asians and so how do each of you think about that because if you create too much urgency you don't bring people along then you're going to lose them yeah but you can't be too patient so how do you I thought it was good I send it Janet I think that Larry Summers was a nice book in for this conversation because I thought particularly less shouting and more of whatever the opposite of that is but we are not in a control a command and control environment in fact I don't even think corporate America is as command and control if they like to act like we do live by committee and people criticize that what are you gonna do form a committee that's exactly what I'm gonna do because that's how we make decisions with key stakeholders but every year I give a state of the University address I was just sort of mimicking the governor we wait to see what he has to say and then out there still empty seats it's not standing-room-only yet we've not moved to the convention center but you know it's a principle the thing we get to say once a year this is really big and I try to offer up some surprises in that Stadium just to keep everybody on their toes but always knowing that we've got to go back to the committee to the shared governance to the input of all the stakeholders inside and out and that I think is the yin and yang and the balance you've got to be visionary I mean don't you think people expect you to say a little out-of-the-box stuff once in awhile and then try to live through it and get people to those outcomes that you said are so important right and so the concept of shared governance was a little bit mysterious to me coming out of being a secretary of being a governor and I was what is this shared governance but I realized that it is now an important part of the chemistry and the ecosystem of higher education and it's it's that back and forth and that engagement that really is so important and and you know ideally informs better decision-making all the way around right right so back to the hot seat question there's a the issue of free speech has come up in a number of discussions today I mean when I was doing some research on you I came across this first sentence and a story it said Janet Napolitano has got a new nightmare on her hands this one is about Milo yen Appa less and then there's the Ann Coulter thing so what's your how do you think about that the issue well I think that universities are caught in a paradox we obviously believe in free speech it's a it is an absolute touchstone of who we are but we also have an obligation to protect the safety and security of our students and faculty and our staff and so what do you do when you have a proposed speaker that raises security concerns also for the speaker him or herself and in my view you you have to I'll allow the speech speaking to occur and plan the security around it and that can mean absorbing a lot of costs on behalf of the university the recent and Coulter non-appearance but we didn't know whether she was going to ultimately appear or not appear cost UC Berkeley several hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the Intel that said that if she spoke there would be a real protest that could potentially turn violent based on some earlier protests that had happened in the city at Berkeley and what happened in the aftermath of Milo innopolis so but I think you have to start with the the speaker comes first the speech comes first and then build the security around that okay what is the single hardest part of your job it can be anything on any given day I think this is the hardest part of my job like dealing with Sacramento that's just the hardest part of my job no working with Berkeley on an Colt that's just the hardest part of my job I think these jobs there is a there is a crisis du jour and I think maybe the hardest part is dealing with those while you keep the overall vision and keep moving forward on greater systemic initiatives and and making sure that you don't get overly distracted by or succumb to you know the latest negative press story or the latest like I said crisis of the day well remember that earlier today Michael crow made the distinction between sort of service to the state and being viewed as a government agency and so I think a lot of our day to day blocking and tackling is because we are still not well distinguished from the other I'm talking public universities now other operations of a state and so we're constantly talking about our distinctive nature which is unique it's different than the Department of Labor or some other but still we are public and we we serve the state I really think given that I block-and-tackle every day and you wouldn't I mean it's you could write a book but then you couldn't publish it so you can't tell this stuff but my greatest challenge is trying to say to our sector higher education folks the world is changing we do not have a system of public education in America early childhood is nowhere near connected to k12 is nowhere near connected to higher ed or to the workforce and making the case for how this has to flow and we can't start at grade thirteen and we can't finish at 16 and we I don't know how many teachers you prepare but we prepare 5,000 teachers a year it seems like if the kids arrive at our doors underprepared we might own some of that so I honestly what keeps me awake is that dry things since that higher education has to get better in the game and I mean by that the social the achievement that the look at ourselves relative to other countries and educate more people in America and so that's a sleepless night for me okay quick question before we go to the audience you've chosen your successor or your successor has been named I didn't choose this but they did a darn good job I correct myself so the proverbial envelope that you leave in the drawer with a short note of advice what is that short note of advice they don't talk about shared presidencies I got a lot of press on that I didn't want to dissolve the campus's but I did want them to be more efficient so the Watertown Gazette lived two years longer because of me and should thank me for that because they printed all the rumors I think you have to take the long view and I would say to Chancellor elect Kristina Johnson whom you will be thrilled with this is what I gave my life and soul to and I think it matters beyond my personal interest and all I want you to do is pick up the thread do every other wonderful thing you can think about but please don't let eight years of hard work die on the vine and so many new presidents and chancellors are so interested in creating their own thing I had the great good fortune of coming to SUNY when it needed leadership and even the kind of stepping up but if I had followed if the reverse were true my obligation is to build on the shoulders of my predecessor and even if you don't like them or you don't like exactly what they did the continuity of leadership is what's gonna make us great and that's that's in my envelope Jenna what would be your short note to your successor um I think I that's a difficult question because I haven't thought in those terms but I would say listen more set a vision be clearer be strong and don't lose your sense of humor because some days I just go really we did what really we're quite laughable right yeah on any given day that's great that's great audience questions the front please identify yourself thank you Ben V Val president of Portland State University thank you very much you both I got the really tough jobs in what ways do you feel that American presence and Chancellor's are really failing to step up to leadership either on their campuses or in society at large where do you see the biggest shortcoming question for both of you I defer to the governor secretary and I would defer to experience I think in recognizing that as leader of a campus you also lead a community and you've got to have outreach in connection with community so that the community will support you when times are difficult so that the community will support you politically and being that kind of community presence and advocate I think it's so easy to be absorbed in campus specific matters that we lose that sense of the greater envelope of support that campuses need them is a good example of that so that's a great question yeah that's right see a hand up there on the aisle please hi my name is Marty bee and I'm a relatively new president the University of Massachusetts and I'm interested in how you get the Chancellor's and presidents that work for you to buy into your vision buy into your what you want the campuses to be done it just seems to me in a relatively short period time that the system head gets all the negativity and then when something's going great on campus you know it's a president chance from the campus how do you get how to get your presence to work for your your chances at work for you to be on the same page which you were talking about that well I hired fifty presidents not that that means they're going to do but I do it through the Board of Trustees and so while we're talking about presidents and chancellors do not underestimate the power of your board of trustees for good or ill and much of what we want to adhere to stick comes through policies developed by and for our Board of Trustees that do not reach the Board of Trustees until they have been widely vetted by all the stakeholders and then you attach that to some kind of performance it sounds kind of cut and dry but trust me it's a long process it's a respected process and I think the I'm AI has to go this is our vision you helped frame it you helped frame how we're going to measure it now let's get on with it and the board is there to support and encourage support from the campuses even in their distinctiveness well and I would also add that with respect to individual campus leadership buying into a system wide vision I mean that that in a way is a negotiation and our participatory exercise and a basic art of persuasion to say this is why it's good for you and your campus that we do this and this is how the system will support you for your participation helps to create that that sense of you know we're in it together we did coin this word I can't get off the stage without saying systemness at least once and if Groucho Marx were here the duck would come down because this is how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and people it's not a natural act to collaborate it's it's an acquired skill – ten second questions to finish up question from the audience what's next for you Nancy oh that's a big unresolved issue but I do have a faculty appointment at the University at Albany and I have a great respect for our Rockefeller Institute on government so I'd like to stay in the policy world I am scared to death of losing my bully pulpit so now I've told you all this I need to stand behind a podium for something because your voice matters and I've gotten accustomed to using it and I'm a little suffering from the potential loss and a president Trump question Jan and March you said that it's still unclear whether the bark is worse than the bite yeah do you still feel that way what is you know I think we're hearing a lot of barking right now and I think the signals out of Washington are a risk factor for higher education they're a risk factor in terms of funding out of for student financial aid for basic research and also a risk factor in the sense of public expression of support for what we do and how we do it and the value of things that we value like the value of basic research and so I think that these are things that as higher ed leaders we are going to have to continue to be advocates for and we've got to build that sense of community around it on that note please join me in thanking Nancy Janet

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