University Business May 2018 - 8

OnTopic

Q&A with Brian C. Mitchell
By Tim Goral

Shared governance builds
stronger institutions
New book also examines new wrinkles in enrollment, academics
and student life

Lyon College President W. Joseph
King and former university president
Brian C. Mitchell have written a
practical guide for new and veteran
leaders. How to Run a College (2018,
Johns Hopkins) examines how colleges
operate and how they can build on
their fundamental strengths. More
importantly, it corrects a number of
commonly held misperceptions about
enrollment, advancement, academic
affairs, student life and more.
Key to the discussion is shared governance between trustees, administration and faculty, says Mitchell, who
served as president at Bucknell University and Washington & Jefferson
College, and with King as a principal
at Academic Innovations consultancy.
"If shared governance works well, then
it's one of the unique and idiosyncratic
aspects of higher education that made
it what it is today," says Mitchell.
"Good governance presumes a commit-

What was your reason for writing
this book?
First, there was space there for a book
like this. There was a need for a primer
that teaches or offers perspective to
college and university presidents-and
even to senior staff, frankly-on how
colleges work. Second, unlike, say, dentists or lawyers or nurses, there's really
no continuing education program once
you become president. You can go to
the Harvard school, for example, for
four or five days of workshops. That's
very valuable. Or you can go to CIC's
President's Institute, and that can be
valuable, once a year. But there's really no way to say, "OK, if I'm dealing
with athletics, what are the overarching
themes of it I need to consider?" There
is no ready reference to turn to.
My co-author Joseph King and I
decided that we'd try to fill that space.
The book is meant, in many respects,
to take the perspective of someone who
has been a college or university president for a long a time, or represented
them as I have with Joe, who's a new
president with fresh perspective. The
combination of the two, we thought,
would be pretty effective.
It has an "if I knew then what I
know now" approach.
I wish I had known these things. I had

ment to know more about what you
do not know, even when you don't
know that you don't know it."
8 | May 2018

UBmag.me/governance

the benefit of being trained by 92 private
college presidents when I was head of the
Association of Independent Colleges, the
president of the President's Council. In
many respects, I was not the brightest
bulb on the tree. They were training me,
and a lot of them were doing it intentionally, but I don't think I realized that. A
college president was not something I
ever aspired to be. I was going to be a
high school history teacher like my dad.
The book would be useful for, if not
the public, at least the media because it
explains things so well. Higher ed often
isn't represented well by the media.
When I was thinking about the book, I
remembered a question I got from a wellmeaning but pointed faculty member at
one of the institutions. The question was,
with a bit of sarcasm, "What exactly do
presidents do?"
First I thought, "What kind of question is that?" And then I realized it's
a perfectly fair question because the
answer wasn't clear. This person represented one of the three legs on the
governance stool-trustees, administration and faculty. For a bright, perceptive
faculty member to ask that question was
a devastating indictment of how colleges and universities do a terrible job of
explaining what they do. And, as you argue, that extends to consumer and media
perceptions.
You portray faculty as "the keepers of
the flame" who create the actual character of a university.
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