College consolidation proposals could face challenges with shared leadership
Recently, the Pennsylvania state higher education system announced integration plans operations in three pairs of universities.
The proposals are the struggling system’s latest attempt to reduce system-wide costs. During a financial review process, the system will examine the impact and potential cost savings of sharing leadership, faculty and staff, managing enrollments, reporting lines, and budgets.
Universities considered for consolidation insist that they will retain their individual campus identity. Details of the integration process are still pending.
PASSHE’s announcement fueled the conversation about what shared academic and administrative leadership would look like and if it could be successful. Dennis Jones, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, supports the system’s effort.
“I applaud what they are trying to do, because they are not trying to lose their institutional identity, they are trying to find ways to make the services they provide, I would say, broader and more sustainable,” he said. Jones said.
He pointed to a similar process for Connecticut Community Colleges, which are undergoing a multi-year consolidation process to consolidate all 12 community colleges under one accredited Connecticut State Community College.
David Levinson, interim president of Connecticut State Community College, said colleges were also facing financial pressure to make change. The new college is looking to save $ 28 million over five years.
“We were not satisfied with the success rates of students in our colleges, and we also felt, and feel to this day, that our resources were running out in terms of funding and that we wanted to keep the 12 institutions in place. activity, ”Levinson said.
Independent universities have a long history of sharing resources in one way or another. The Massachusetts Five College Consortium – made up of Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst – shares a system of libraries, intercampus transportation, departments and common programs and promotes cross-recording. There are dozens of e-learning consortia who share technology and online education programs on campuses.
While cohesion between universities within a single system or consortium is imperative for success, shared leadership comes with its own challenges, Jones said. Even Claremont Colleges, which share a campus in Southern California, still have seven presidents.
Some efforts to unify the presidential posts at State University of New York several years ago met stiff resistance – a state lawmaker took credit in 2011 when SUNY administrators plans killed to combine the presidencies on the Canton and Potsdam campuses.
The New York system followed with plans to install the president of SUNY Delhi, Candace Vancko, as the head of SUNY Cobleskill. But he went back to separate presidents in 2013. It also had the director of the SUNY Institute of Technology, Bjong Wolf Yeigh, director of Morrisville State College. for a short time but eventually returned to separate presidencies in these institutions as well.
“It’s the president’s office that’s the hardest thing to do,” Jones said. “If a president tries to serve two institutions, they are suspect in both communities because the community no longer knows who they represent.”
A case study on joint leadership
Ellen Chaffee was concurrently president of Valley City State University and Mayville State University in North Dakota for nine years. Now a senior consultant and senior fellow at AGB Consulting, Chaffee said she never planned to be a university president, let alone two at a time.
“People would say, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’” said Chaffee. “After, looking back, my sentence was: I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know why I allowed this to happen.
The logistics of running two colleges were difficult. Valley City and Mayville are 120 miles apart, and Chaffee has bounced between them for a week at a time. She had three houses: one in Valley City, another in Mayville, and a third where her husband lived, in Bismarck.
She hardly ever saw the Provost, who also traveled between campuses on a schedule opposite to Chaffee. This was in the 1990s, and Zoom and other telecommuting options weren’t available yet.
“I had several names for the book I was going to write,” Chaffee said. “One was ‘the lady of the plains bag’ because I had a bag of things to take to Valley City, things to return to Mayville, clothes that I would need for this event to the next. location, etc. ”
The shared leadership for Valley City and Mayville was the result of the statewide belt tightening. In 1989, the North Dakota Legislature raised taxes, and in 1990 “the people revolted,” Chaffee said. State agencies were pushed to find savings in response to the outcry, part of which included the transfer of Valley City and Mayville under shared administration.
“We had no other mandate than to save money. Get as much savings as possible. Find a way to do it, because there is only so much money and you are more or less at the bottom of the pecking order, ”Chaffee said.
At one point, the two universities only shared nine administrators in total. No one, including Chaffee, was paid more for holding two positions.
Public relations was a challenge. Valley City and Mayville “hated each other,” she said.
She found ways to manage. She had a sweatshirt with “Valley City” written on the left side and “Mayville” on the right. In football matches between the two, Chaffee would sit on the home team’s side first, and then switch throughout the game to the side of the team behind.
“So they don’t want you to sit down with them. They’re not jealous of you being with the other guy – they’re happy because it means they’re winning, ”she said.
In 2001, the state legislature had discretionary spending and colleges were able to draft proposals to capture some of the funds. Chaffee brought in five outside university presidents as consultants, and “by the time they all got to Fargo Airport, they pretty much decided it had to stop.”
In 2002, universities resumed having two presidents. Chaffee remained president of Valley City for another six years.
“I guess it’s better than shutting down,” Chaffee said of the shared presidency, “but it’s certainly far down my list of desirable things that happen to an organization.”