Being an educator was the privilege of my life. I loved serving as a university president, a position I held for almost two decades. A presidency was the most satisfying and rewarding position in my forty-five years as an educator. My range of opportunities in this grand profession was broad and comprehensive: high school teacher, public school administrator, university professor, dean, provost, and president. Being able to influence so many lives is a reward beyond compare.
I truly enjoyed each position and was seldom heard to say, “I am going to work.” I said, “I am going to school.” The subtle, yet pronounced distinction between those two statements speaks volumes. Presidents are able to make a profound difference in the life of a campus, and we must remember what an exalted and exhilarating honor that is. Presidents are leaders in a process that transforms lives, changes communities, and influences generations.
Colleagues often asked me about being a president as they sought advice about how to become an administrator. Looking somewhat bemused, I usually responded that I found it difficult to encapsulate any truly useful advice into a few pithy, epigrammatic statements. Invariably, I would proceed to do just that.
In reflection, I now realize my responses were not spontaneous pontifications, but that they were careful thoughts eventually crystallizing into a personal creed. This pragmatic foundation was an invaluable daily reminder for me as president. Current and prospective presidents, as well as other administrators, might find the creed useful as well.
Promote the magic of education.
Represent the profession with pride.
Enjoy working for students and with faculty.
Show occasional fallibility.
Involve yourself in classroom activities and campus events.
Demand only when necessary.
Engage the campus community in planning and decision-making.
Notice the positive.
Trust the human spirit.
Promote the Magic of Education
Education is magical. If ever you doubt that, even for a moment, ask students to tell you what they learned in class that week. Ask alumni how the years on your campus changed their lives. Ask donors why they unselfishly give their financial resources. Meet with potential students and their parents when they visit campus. You will quickly find that their enthusiasm is both validating and contagious. Education is magical, and it enchants us every day.
Represent The Profession with Pride
Education is the greatest profession in the world. Where else can so much be accomplished for so many? The feelings of achievement and satisfaction are lifelong and life sustaining. As leaders in this phenomenal process called education, we have the opportunity to enlighten, to enrich, to influence, and to prepare a future. We cannot cheat ourselves and all those others who look to us for leadership. We must establish the standard, be the exemplar, and set the pace.
Enjoy Working for Students and with Faculty
Everything we do is for students, and everything we accomplish is with faculty. We should enjoy what we are doing, and we should respect one another while doing it. Collegiality is a powerful word, and it is rooted in college. So are we. When we do not passionately enjoy our work, we lessen the enjoyment for others.
Show Occasional Fallibility
Even a president makes mistakes. The biggest mistake is not owning up to them, especially when they are blatantly evident to everyone else. Share them, laugh about them, and learn from them. To be fallible is to be human, and we can always use more human leaders.
Involve Yourself in Classroom Activities and Campus Events
Demands upon our time often keep us from our first loves—students, classrooms, and campus events. Stay in contact with the classroom. I tried to teach a class whenever possible, and I was always amazed at how much I continued to learn. Our credibility requires us remaining actively involved in the teaching and learning process, as well as with campus life.
Demand Only When Necessary
To demand is to alienate, and campuses cannot afford more alienation. There are occasions when demanding may be necessary, but those times should be infrequent. If they become regular occurrences, re-evaluate your expectations, as they may be unrealistic or poorly communicated. Also, do not expect others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself. Servant leadership is a reward within itself. Leaders lead by example.
Engage the Campus Community in Planning and Decision Making
Administration is the process of managing change, and change is one of the most important continuous facts of life on a campus. Effective administrators are collegial, consultative, and collaborative. Collegiality occurs when all members of a campus community share the responsibility of governance. Consultation draws upon the collective wisdom of campus members. Collaboration depends upon the cooperative efforts of each unit, department, and office. Areas of a campus affected by change should have a voice during the decision-making process bringing about that change. Successful leaders work best through a system of collegial and consultative collaboration. So do successful campuses.
Notice the Positive
The positive surrounds us each day. Look for it! It is waiting to be recognized and complimented. You will be amazed at how this simple change in perception affects you and the attitude of those around you. All of us want to be recognized and appreciated for what we do. A president’s praise provides invaluable motivation.
Trust the Human Spirit
The world today is filled with mistrust and suspicion. I find that who we believe in is as important as what we believe. We need to have more faith in one another and the innate goodness of the human spirit. University campuses should be communities of trust and not camps of antagonism. I am sometimes accused of being naïve, and that may be true. I would prefer, however, to be encircled in my naïveté than entrenched in the negativity of others. The positive encourage; the negative obstruct. Positive presidents can make a difference, and that is the joy of being a president and the privilege of being an educator.
Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., is an award-winning author and life-long educator who has served as a classroom teacher, public school administrator, university professor, provost, and ultimately university president in Ohio and Arkansas. “Perfect in Memory: A Son’s Tribute to His Mother,” the third and final book in his highly acclaimed “Fanfare for a Hometown” series, was released Sept. 1, 2016. Niece is now retired, but serves as president emeritus for University of the Ozarks and writes on, while living in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas with his wife Sherée.