Home > University Quality > ‘Socrates in the Boardroom’ – Leadership of modern universities (selection committees pay attention, please!)

‘Socrates in the Boardroom’ – Leadership of modern universities (selection committees pay attention, please!)

via Socrates in the Boardroom.

Review of what looks like a very interesting new book on leadership in the modern university. Bottom line: scholars not managers!

Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars — Amanda H. Goodall — Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009; 208 pp; ISBN: 978-0-691138-00-8, cloth $29.95 US; ISBN: 978-1-4008-3158-6, e-book $29.95 US.

A quote:

Top Scholars Should Head Research Universities

Amanda Goodall’s research — a mixture of detailed statistics and the fruits of her experience as an academic administrator — shows that just as star basketball players make the best coaches, top scholars make the best presidents. Times Higher Education writer Matthew Reisz gets a lesson in leadership

“If an organisation is playing at the highest level,” says Amanda Goodall, “it needs to be led by someone who understands the business at the highest level.”

Top architectural, legal and consultancy firms are invariably — and rightly — run by people with a first-class professional record, and not by outsiders claiming generic management or leadership skills. We can see a similar phenomenon in sport. Goodall, a Leverhulme fellow at Warwick Business School, offers striking evidence that it is the star basketball players who, 20 years down the line, prove to be the best coaches in America’s top league.

Goodall’s new book, Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars, draws out this argument in relation to leading universities.

“The better the scholar,” she observes, “the better the university does.” Whether we look at the world’s top 100 universities as a whole, only the American institutions among them, those with female leaders or even just the ones based in the UK, the same general rule applies: “Highly ranked universities have leaders who are more highly cited.”


The statistical detail in Socrates in the Boardroom may be complicated, but the headline news could hardly be more clear-cut: “In universities, where the majority of employees are expert workers, having a leader who is also an expert is likely to be beneficial to the institution’s long-term performance.”

There’s lots more – the statistical analyses apparently tease out cause and effect quite well. But is the conclusion surprising?  Another short quote: “Take the case of the Rockefeller University in New York, which has been led since 2003 by Sir Paul Nurse, the British-born Nobel laureate. There were crucial moments in the institution’s history, Goodall says, when “it took very clever people, with deep expertise in the relevant scientific areas, to pick some of the scholars to come and work there. They were the ones who knew that sparks would fly if you put them all in the same place.”

One for all those selection committees to read!

Categories: University Quality
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