|Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest|
They are all historians by training who now serve as college presidents. Jennifer Reut calls our attention to the growing number of historian-presidents in her post, "Is this the Golden Age of Historian Administrators?"
Here is a taste:
Recently, we read an essay in the Nation on the role of university presidents as civic leaders that lamented the way in which the office had become, according to the author, more timid than in the past. “Was there truly a ‘golden age’ of engaged college and university presidents who ‘sculpted’ society?” asked the author, citing James B. Conant, Robert Hutchins, Kingman Brewster, and Clark Kerr as examples. But we wondered, how would these “golden age” presidents fare in today’s higher education environment?
With all the controversy in the news lately around what a university president should and shouldn’t be doing, there seems to be little consensus on what that position actually entails. Are university presidents academic leaders or risk managers or fundraisers? Should they be involved in shaping an institution’s character, or advocating for higher education in the public sphere? Should they be embracing new ideas and technologies, or defending the historic strengths and traditions or an institution? And if they must do all of these things, how might a president balance these often-competing needs? Given this dizzying job description, what kind of professional background might be best suited for executing this increasingly complex role?
All of this got us thinking about how historians have fared as leaders in higher education, and this led us to do a little (highly unscientific, and largely anecdotal) research into the current administrative landscape, with some fairly interesting results. There are currently a very respectable number of historians occupying the position of president at universities, including Drew Gilpin Faust (Harvard Univ.), Nathan Hatch (Wake Forest Univ.), Jeffery von Arx (Fairfield Univ.), Charles Middleton (Roosevelt Univ.), Dale Knobel (Denison Univ.), Edward Ayers (Univ. of Richmond), and Brian W. Casey (DePauw Univ.).
So what kinds of skills do historians possess that make them good college presidents?