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College presidents offer advice to aspiring leaders

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Rufus Glasper, chancellor of
Maricopa Community Colleges
in Arizona, volunteered to help
with the system's strategic plan
to build up experience on his
path toward chancellorship.

Photo: Ellie Ashford
As more community college presidents reach retirement age, there’s growing interest in leadership training, along with efforts to recruit more minorities for top college posts.
 
For those exploring the possibility of working their way up to a position as a community college president, leadership training programs such as the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Future Leaders Institute and Future Presidents Institute offer insights into governance, fundraising, budgeting, strategic planning and all other aspects of college leadership.
  
Path to the presidency
 
According to a recent survey, the average age of presidents at all types of colleges is 60.7, said Narcisa Polonio, vice president for education, research and board leadership services at the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT). Seventy-three percent are male, and 12.6 percent are people of color. And although one in five came from outside education, many of them had been in academe, left and have returned, she said.
 
Latino presidents face additional challengesAmong community college presidents, the demographic characteristics of presidents do not reflect the large increase of minority students. The number of African-American community college presidents has risen slightly, from 4.9 percent in 2006 to 5.3 percent in 2011. During that period, the number of Hispanic presidents has actually decreased, from 6.1 percent to 5.0 percent.
 
The traditional path to the presidency—where a faculty department head moves up to dean and then vice president—is still common, Polonio said, although an increasing number of presidents come from non-academic leadership positions, such as vice president of student affairs or community relations.
 
Rufus Glasper took a non-traditional route to his current position as chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona. After achieving his goal to be the system’s chief financial officer, Glasper’s colleagues encouraged him to apply for the chancellorship. He wasn’t initially hired, though, because the board wanted an educator. 
 
To gain more experience, Glasper volunteered to lead the college’s strategic planning effort, which led to a position as vice chancellor for human resources, then finally to the chancellorship.
 
The American Association of Community Colleges begins its 2012 Leadership Programs next month. Click here for more information.
New presidents should develop a set of “guiding principles” that serve as a platform for what they want to accomplish, said Eduardo Marti, vice chancellor for community colleges at City University of New York. But they need to be flexible to modify those steps and their perceptions as they go, he said. When Marti started out as a community college president, his platform called for him to improve the appearance of his campus, develop a strategic plan, start a faculty development program andthe most difficult taskraise funds.
  
Decisionmaking
 
Community colleges’ recent focus on student completion means presidents need to talk more about student success, said ACCT consultant Pamila Fisher, who last week was named interim president of the Community College of San Francisco. Although the latest buzz words among community colleges and their stakeholders is "data driven," Fisher said she prefers "data informed" because data is only part of the equationthe other part is how leaders use them, which comes with experience and intuition.
 
In Arizona, Glasper’s decision-making process is driven by meaningful conversations that incorporate inclusiveness, engagement and respect for peoples’ different viewpoints. In hiring presidents, he looks for people with expertise in fundraising, great people skills and an understanding of politics.
 
“Good people skills are what move organizations,” Glasper said. 
 
It’s also important to select someone who understands the changing role of teachers and the latest research on pedagogy, Marti added.
 
Fisher shared her top “leadership mantras” from her previous experience as chancellor of the Yosemite Valley Community College District in California:
• “To be visible is to be vulnerable.”
• “Know the difference between principle and preference,” and “don’t let go of your principles.”
• “Bad things can and do happen to good people.” That often happens because they did the right or ethical thing, so “support your colleagues when they are in trouble.”
 
Having such an all-compassing, high-stress job doesn’t preclude the need for finding time for one’s personal life. As a college president, Fisher, said, “you’re getting paid to worry.” For her, it’s important to manage the stress by getting enough sleep and spending some time in nature.
 
“I talk about balance but I don’t live it,” Glasper conceded. “It’s a 24/7 job."
 
He makes an effort to wake up before dawn to work out, and he walks around campus a lot.
 
“I sleep well because I know I put my heart into it,” he said.
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