An Interview with Editor Lawrence Weill
Dr. Lawrence Weill
What are two key takeaways you would like a reader to draw from your book?
I believe it is important that people who step into interim roles for the first time recognize how many people look at them as the face of the institution. Absolutely everyone expects that you know all the answers, that you can make decisions on the fly, and that you are prepared to act upon each grievance that they bring to you.
The truth is, you will not know all of the answers and it is going to take you some time to get your sea legs. You have to find a way to say, “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about” without sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Second, I would want people to take from this book how many separate constituencies you have to work with. I want to help people moving into this position recognize that you have to find a way to balance these constituencies who likely have different or even competing agendas.
What is a lesson you have learned since writing the book that you would share with our readers?
I learned how important it is to keep your eye on the money. I have had several colleagues, people that I admire, find themselves in overwhelming positions because they simply didn’t keep up with the money. It’s cyclical to some extent, but keeping your eye on the big picture is most important.
You have to look at cash flow, and when you’re learning the language of a new institution you must learn which elements of the budget are most revealing. Is it the auxiliary funding? Are their discrepancies with enrollment revenues and financial aid outflows? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask, immediately.
For presidents assuming the role in 2019, what is a new challenge that they may encounter?
Campus safety is the first thing that comes to mind. I don’t know that there are a greater number of incidents on campuses than there were, but it certainly feels that way. Everyone is aware of how critical campus safety is; parents are concerned about it, students are concerned about, the faculty and staff are concerned about it.
As an interim leader, I think you have to be both aware of and forward thinking about how your institution responds to a safety issue. What plans are already in place, who are the stakeholders, what are your primary communication channels?
What is a significant way in which the college presidency has changed since the time your wrote your book?
I think the president is still considered to be the face of the institution. I don’t think that’s changed and I don’t think that people want it to change. One element of the presidency that may have evolved is the extent to which college and university presidents are expected to be politicians. My perception is that college and university presidents now are more often off campus than they are on campus because they have to be engaged politically. They also have to be off campus in order to spend time with potential donors. That’s something, I think, that presidents of state colleges and universities, and even community colleges now, must get used to.
As a college president, what challenges are heightened in the context of serving as an interim leader versus a permanent?
Expectations are different. You have the Expectations Document that The Registry negotiates. Ultimately, each of the different campus constituencies is going to have their own individual expectations of the interim president. An interim president is primarily a problem-solver; you will not necessarily be called in as an interim to lead the next strategic plan.
The goal, then, by the end of your assignment is to leave the institution on strong footing than you found it. The intention is for you to set the stage for the institution to find someone who can develop the longer vision.