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  > > e-Bulletin: 02/08/02

The secret of leading a truth-and-beauty business

PHOTO:  President Don Michael RandelWhat is leadership in a university? Who does it, and to whom? How is it done, if at all? I have often remarked that the University is a $1.5 billion-per-year enterprise in which there is no one to whom I can give a direct personal order. What kind of order would I give if I thought I could?

It would not be the kind of order that leaders in the corporate world have been heard to give: "Get out of manufacturing and get into financial services." What differentiates the corporate world from the university world in this respect is that in the corporate world all such orders ultimately rely on one guiding objective: make more money, or, as we sometimes prefer to say, increase shareholder value. If your business is making money, and you think that you can make more money in a different business, then you go into a different business. The argument is then only about which business and its feasibility.

The University is certainly not in the business of declaring dividends or increasing shareholder value in the conventional sense. The University is in what we might call the truth-and-beauty business. That is not a business that we should want to get out of. And the underlying logic of such a business is that if we had greater resources we could produce even more truth and beauty.

The job of leadership in this environment is to try to figure out what might constitute truth and beauty at any given point and then to align our resources in such a way as to maximize our production of them. Of course, people will differ on what constitutes truth and beauty, and they even have some claim to asserting their own views on this. This is, after all, what we believe about a democratic society. No one person gets to decide what will pass for truth and beauty. It will necessarily be a collective decision, in the making of which, however, we will hope to engage some of society's most thoughtful and well-educated people.

In the University, then, leadership is necessarily somewhat more in the nature of a collaborative process than it might be in certain other kinds of organizations. No one person could possibly know in any detail where truth and beauty are headed in all of the fields of study that we pursue or which fields are likely to be the most promising over time. This is a responsibility that must inevitably be shared. By whom?

Ultimately, the faculty defines the character and substance of the University and must be allowed (as some of the most thoughtful and well-educated people in our society) to pursue (and in that sense define) truth and beauty wherever they seem to be headed. And, indeed, many decisions about the University's academic life are made by vote of the faculty, often at the level of the academic departments and then at the level of the divisions or schools or the College. But the coordination, if nothing else, of the views of so many requires a group of leaders that is essential to the functioning of the University. And since our resources are in fact limited, there is the regular need to make some decisions about which of the many things that the faculty might like to pursue we will in fact pursue and which not. These are the deans. And it is they who are responsible for much of the most important leadership that takes place in the University. They are in turn led by the provost, who has a very hard job.

But back to the office of the president. From this little account of university governance, it follows that one of the single greatest responsibilities of the president of a university is the same as that of a corporate chief executive-to pick the people around one. Even that responsibility is shared in considerable degree with the faculty when it comes to deans. But it is ultimately in the exercise of that responsibility-to appoint deans and other administrative officers-that the president has the greatest role in affecting the character and direction of the institution.

What are the criteria to be brought to bear on these appointments? If the leadership of the University is inherently more collaborative than it might be in some other kinds of institutions, it follows that a willingness to collaborate is an essential criterion. Deans and administrative officers must believe that, in exercising responsibility for some part of the institution, they all serve one great institution that requires them ultimately to act in its interest. That will require them to trust one another. Also necessary, but not sufficient, is that they represent personally the high intellectual and academic standards that the University claims for itself. The president, then, leads not so much by telling people what to do as by trying to create the appropriate culture among the people who, by virtue of their own knowledge and proximity to the daily work of the University, will actually do much of what needs to be done.

In the year and a half since I took office there has been the need for a variety of reasons to appoint an unusually large number of deans and officers for such a short period. Readers of these pages will know that we have in Edward A. Snyder, AM'78, PhD'84, formerly dean of the Darden School at the University of Virginia, a new dean of the Graduate School of Business and in Saul Levmore a new dean of the Law School. In December we were very fortunate to be able to appoint James L. Madara, from Emory University, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Division of Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine. Even more recently, Susan E. Mayer has been appointed dean of the Harris School. New administrative officers in the last year and a half include Beth A. Harris, AB'74, the University counsel; Margo Marshak (formerly a vice president at New York University), vice president and dean of students in the University; Robert J. Zimmer, vice president for research and for Argonne National Laboratory; and Michael Riordan, president and CEO of the University Hospitals and Health System. And we now have a distinguished scholar and experienced dean as provost, Richard P. Saller. They bring to the University the spirit of collaboration and the talent that will make us stronger and better. They could even make a president look good, and for that I am very grateful.

President Don M. Randel writes each issue on a topic of his choosing.-Ed.



  > > Volume 94, Number 3

  > >
Liberal talk, realist thinking
  > >
The winning punch line
  > >
Physics for breakfast
  > > The young and studious

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > Chicago Report

  > > Investigations

  > > Coursework



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