VOL. 131 | NO. 153 | Tuesday, August 2, 2016
FUNdraising Good Times
Pearl and Mel Shaw
So You Want to Be a College President?
By Mel and Pearl Shaw
Editor’s note: Part one of a two-part interview. We recently talked with Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. A nationally recognized leader in the field of higher education, Wheelan is the first African-American and the first woman to serve in this capacity.
With 799 institutions of higher education under her jurisdiction, Wheelan knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities a president must negotiate.
When considering a position, candidates should evaluate whether or not an open position would be the right fit for their skill set and experience. Presidencies require political skills, the ability to work with legislatures and the willingness to fundraise. All these are above and beyond what is required for the daily running of the institution. Often overlooked is the fact that the institution itself might not be a great fit: “Just because there is an opening doesn’t mean it will be the right job for you.”
Candidates should get their “union card,” as Dr. Wheelan calls it, either a Ph.D. or Ed.D. “Many institutions are now hiring with areas of other expertise, but because faculty are critical you need an academic degree.”
That’s your educational background, but it will take more than academics to prepare for the presidency. “Get experience in areas outside of where you are currently employed: get planning skills; get on the committee that does strategic planning; get involved in the budgeting process; learn how student services works. … Ask for exposure to other areas of the institution, especially fundraising. Learn what it really takes to be a president: the meetings, the politics. … There is so much you need to know before you can begin raising money. You need to know how challenging it is to secure money for ‘general operating funds.’ You have to get specific and show how funds can leverage other revenue sources.”
Dr. Wheelan also has several tips for those who have already secured the presidency and are looking to stand out. Communication is key; a successful president “is not afraid to tell people what is going on whether or not they like it. The president lays out the facts. He/she asks other people what they think about things and if there are other ways to do things.” By including those around him/her and interacting with the campus beyond his/her office, a president is able to use their support and insight to make better decisions as well as learning more about what is going on around campus.
Finally, Dr. Wheelan suggests a healthy sense of humor when dealing with the trials that will inevitably come with the running of a college or university.
“Chill. … Don’t beat yourself up and don’t beat someone else up over things. (You) need to find more effective ways to deal with the frustrations that come with the job. We are dealing with human beings and there will be stress.”
Mel and Pearl Shaw, owners of fundraising consultancy firm Saad&Shaw, can be reached at 901-522-8727 or saadandshaw.com.