We’re Missing Real Leaders

April 24, 2017 Statement

When we can’t rely on those in positions of power to lead, we must find leaders elsewhere. And today, we are seeing a leadership crisis.

It would be easy to assume I’m referring to Donald Trump, who seems intent on spending as much of his presidency in front of his television as possible. And he’s certainly an excellent example of the stark leadership deficit that’s plaguing our country.

But my focus today is on education-specifically on the need for leaders willing to make racial equity a priority. This means speaking out against the government’s assault on immigrants, reassessing long-standing hiring practices from an equity perspective, and correcting biases that have kept the playing field uneven for so long.

I wrote extensively about what leadership should mean at our colleges and universities more than 20 years ago, and yet today, college presidency positions are still typically discussed in terms of “networking potential”, personality traits, and superficial characteristics. Leadership institutes and academies for aspiring presidents typically give “diversity” no more than a passing nod, while search committees focus on candidates who have already served as a college president.

What we need are leaders who know that racial equity is an indicator of knowledge, an indicator of quality, and a necessary element of higher education-just like enrollment, endowments, and rankings. We need leaders who can envision new approaches to solving problems. We need leaders unafraid of embracing new research or information-and acting on it to improve the lives of their faculty and students immediately.

What we need are equity-minded leaders.

What does this look like? As one example, imagine leaders at universities across the country rallying their schools to pay for the DACA reapplication of undocumented students. Or imagine leaders that set new expectations in their procedures for hiring that truly value candidates from minoritized groups and change the racial composition on campuses.

These are not complicated ideas, and they are based solely on enabling true academic success-not just for our students, but for our entire educational system.

If achieving that kind of success isn’t important to our leaders, then we might be better off letting them watch TV so that the rest of us can lead the way on our own-and leave them behind.

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