Phi Beta Cons

Another Communications Failure Between Board and President?

Some time ago, I posted a commentary on La Salle University’s new president Colleen Hanycz announcing significant budget cuts in response to declining enrollments and growing deficits. What really surprised me was that, although she had accepted the position only two months earlier, she said she was not aware of the extent of La Salle’s financial difficulty. So much for close communication between the board of trustees and the candidates for the office of university president.

Now we turn to Dickinson College, which recently announced that its president, Nancy Roseman, will resign in June — after only three years in the job. She cited the pending launch of a new strategic plan and capital campaign as the “ideal time” to bring in a new person to helm those efforts. You would think, though, that a president who is three years into her term would be just the person to lead the effort, rather than seek a new president at this point. Capital campaigns are a big part of what a president’s duties are all about. Roseman should certainly have understood that, and she and the board’s search committee should have thoroughly hashed all of this out in the selection process.

Whether Roseman lost interest in Dickinson, or Dickinson in Roseman, is not really the issue. The point is that there was an obvious mismatch, and a thorough vetting process would have turned up a red flag.

As in the case with La Salle, I have to wonder how well boards of trustees carry out this most critical element of their duties — the selection of a new president. I used to teach at Ursinus College, and the untimely deaths of two presidents within a few years of each other forced the college to hire interim presidents and conduct presidential searches twice within five years. It was most unfortunate, and certainly could not be helped, but it was disruptive to the operation of the college.

A presidential resignation after only three years, and on the cusp of a new capital campaign, suggests that there was a breakdown in the selection process. Boards need to do better than this, much better.

Vic Brown had a thirty-year career in the chemical industry with FMC Corporation, where he held senior positions and worked internationally in sales, marketing, manufacturing, information technology and procurement.

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