Delusions of Grandeur 101

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

It is startling to compare the hubris of college administrators with the humility of combat veterans.

The former think that they are saving the world. The latter actually are.

Unfortunately, contra the lede, it is hard to do a one-for-one  comparison of their musings on their careers. While administrators have no compunctions about cataloguing their self-selected virtues and accomplishments in print, uniformed men and women do.

They only spill their guts on a battlefield.

“Some one once asked me what a president does all day,” Brian C. Mitchell, the retired president of Bucknell recently reflected in a post on the Academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “They thought, like so many others, that presidents held out tin cups traveling the world searching for alumni with money.”

“I replied that presidents are better thought of as King Solomon determining how to divide the baby.” Then he goes on to mix metaphors, which one would think goes against the guidelines of his chosen field.

“They behave most days as nineteenth century political ward bosses rationing funds and dispensing favors while working to manage an enterprise run by faculty operating like a medieval craft guild,” Mitchell avers. “A large, unwieldy, archaic volunteer governing board further confuses their job.” After that brush with reality, Mitchell went back to waxing rhapsodic.

“In fact, for those attracted to the work it’s a pretty unique job,” Mitchell claims. “Presidents meet interesting people, promote big ideas, and affect the lives of countless students.”

“They watch as students and families live dreams that are limited only by their imagination. College remains that one special place where dreams still matter.”Arguably, it is a dream world. One dream most university employees, whether in the classroom or the front office, had was Obamacare, from which many universities are now trying to obtain waivers.

Ironically, Mitchell seems to conflate the presidency of the United States with the chief executive’s job in a university: “The best presidents see themselves as holding title to a tradition as well as a job. These presidents recognize that the job is a limited term engagement. Every day that they hold the office must count. Some preside. Others focus on the issues that interest them. A few ‘duck and cover.’ The strongest and most respected ground their actions in strategy devoid of personal interests and passions. For these individuals, the price is always worth the costs paid to lead.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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