US university presidents facing tough scrutiny

Resignations thrust leadership of schools into national spotlight

By AI HEPING in New York | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-01 07:25
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Visitors stroll through the grounds of Harvard University on Jan 2. STEVEN SENNE/AP

David Gearhart, chancellor emeritus of the University of Arkansas, who has written books on higher education leadership, told Inside Higher Ed that a college presidency has become an increasingly hard job due to challenges that only seem to be increasing.

"There are so many groups out there that a college president has to try to appease, and it's almost impossible to do that with all of the political machinations that are happening these days, not to mention the huge decline that we will be seeing over the next several years in enrollment, which has already started," Gearhart said.

Steven Mintz, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, said political attacks on US higher education are not new.

But the biggest threat, Mintz wrote in Inside Higher Ed, "comes from mounting anxieties about colleges' return on investment: that the cost of attendance is too high, completion rates are too low, and learning and employment outcomes too uncertain, and that society needs to embrace faster, cheaper and less rigorous and well-rounded paths into the workforce."

He fears that "the true political threat to universities comes less from ideologues than from a diminishing faith among broad segments of the public in the power of higher education to transform lives, open doors and open minds".

"It's that loss of faith that gives traction to the recent political attacks," he added.

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