regularly in the months prior to his taking office in July 2015 to attend
meetings and receptions. “They really helped me chart my entry into the
office of the president,” says Dr. Turpin.
Advisory committees are just one of the ways universities are using to
smooth the transition of a new leader. When Vianne Timmons was named
president of the University of Regina in 2008, she was helped and sup-
ported by outgoing president and current chancellor, Jim Tomkins. Dr.
Timmons spent two months on campus learning the ropes before taking
up her new role. Working out of an office set apart from the administra-
tion building, she met with people, sat in on board meetings and got to
know the institution. “For two months I really just listened,” she says. “So
when I started fully in the role in September, I felt like I had heard the
issues on campus and I had connected.”
After his appointment in 2012, Concordia University President Alan
Shepard found similar support in interim president Frederick Lowy. “My
relationship with him made a big difference in getting a successful start,”
says Dr. Shepard. Dr. Lowy had served two successful terms as Concordia
president from 1995 to 2005 and had strong ties to those within and out-
side the university. Having his endorsement gave “people a sense of calm
confidence in the transition,” says Dr. Shepard.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. Concordia had gone through
years of turbulence, which saw two presidents exit prematurely before Dr.
Lowy stepped in and finally calmed the waters.
Dr. Shepard, who previously held senior administrative posts at Ryerson University and the University of Guelph, as well as Texas Christian
University, notes that in the U.S. there is a more formal process for preparing university leaders. The American Council on Education, an advocacy group, runs several programs for new presidents and presidential
hopefuls. These include: Advancing to the Presidency, a two-day workshop to prepare senior administrators for the presidential search process;
the Institute for New Presidents, a multi-day program for leaders in their
first three years of service; and the Institute for Chief Academic Officers,
a year-long program that provides executive leadership training for presidential hopefuls. As well, Harvard University’s Institutes for Higher Education offers a seminar for newly appointed presidents and another for
experienced leaders, both of which are attended by Canadians.
In Canada, the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Higher Education
Research and Development offers an annual course for senior university
administrators, while Universities Canada runs the only program for new
presidents specifically tailored to the needs of Canadian leaders. Topics
covered in the Universities Canada seminar include, among other things,
budgeting, fundraising, government relations and president-board relations. The association also offers a track for alumni of the new presidents’
seminar who are now one or two years into their terms.
Ramona Lumpkin, president of Mount Saint Vincent University, has
participated in the seminar for more than a decade, first as the newly appointed principal of Huron University College at Western University and
now, as she approaches her retirement from MSVU next year, as an experienced leader who provides advice to her junior colleagues.
She recalls attending one presentation early in her presidential career
where a former president who had been terminated spoke about the critical nature of president-board relations and emphasized the need for regular performance evaluations to avoid being blindsided when problems
occur. “I learned that a president needs to take responsibility for ensuring
that the evaluation gets done,” says Dr. Lumpkin. And she has insisted
on, and has received, written evaluations from her board every year she’s
been in office.
A new president must also gain the trust of faculty members who, as
members of the senate, play an important role in university governance,
adds Dr. Lumpkin. External constituents, such as community leaders, donors and alumni, are equally important. And finding the right balance in
the amount of time one devotes to the various groups can be a challenge,
The Universities Canada seminar also covers crisis management and
communication strategies. “There’s a lot of scrutiny on us and you need
to know how to maneuver and manage that,” says U of R’s Dr. Timmons,
another regular seminar participant. She notes that when she started as
president eight years ago, no one paid much attention to her activities or
those of the board. Now, the university regularly receives media requests
for the board agenda. “The scrutiny is much more intense,” she says.
The role of a university president has changed in other fundamental
ways too, adds U of A’s Dr. Turpin. Where universities were once focused
“There was a general sense that universities
in this country were not doing enough
to ensure the success of their new president.”