The New England New Presidents Network
The first year of a new president's tenure is critical to build a foundation for advancing new initiatives. Yet, first-time presidents do not have the benefit of experience and tested strategies for managing the transition. Furthermore, they may not yet have established a network of colleagues and mentors for confidential advice and consultation. Although several fine programs exist to prepare academic leaders to take presidential positions, there are very few sources of ongoing guidance and support once they take office. The New England Resource Center for Higher Education at UMass Boston aims to fill this need with a new program, New England New Presidents Network.
The concept for the program derives from the model of the NERCHE Think Tanks for higher education administrators. "The philosophy of the think tanks is reflective practice. Over the course of five full-day sessions, we build a sense of trust that promotes a level of dialogue which is difficult to achieve in a single seminar," explains Deborah Hirsch, Director of NERCHE. "We believe that this model of sustained dialogue and peer support will offer a unique and valuable resource to presidents in their first year."
The program would not only offer a curriculum focusing on such key issues as president-board relations, but would also provide confidential and objective guidance from seasoned academic leaders. The main ambitions of the program will be to strengthen the leadership capacity of first-time presidents; provide intellectually challenging topics relevant to key issues in maintaining institutional momentum during leadership transitions; to provide opportunities for relationship building, networking, and informal information exchange around issues of specific concern to presidents and board chairs; and to create a sense of community that will continue to be a source of professional support and personal satisfaction for years afterwards.
This winter, with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, NERCHE conducted interviews with novice and seasoned presidents, board chairs, and leaders in higher education on issues related to the particular challenges faced by first-time presidents. These interviews will inform the refinement of the program to be piloted in October.
Adrian Tinsley, recently retired president of Bridgewater State University, serves as the Project Director for the development of the program. Dr. Tinsley is also a member of the NERCHE SAGES program, Senior Academics Guiding Educational Strategies, a roundtable of former college presidents, provosts, foundation officers and others who have served distinguished careers in higher education. The program for first-time presidents will maintain a strong link with the SAGES, drawing on the expertise of these experienced leaders to assist those just entering the new role of president.