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The role of a University President for Dummies

What is the role of a President/Dean of a University? What are the most important qualities that the university looks for? Is it leadership? Fundraising ability? This article will analyze these roles and responsibilities in light of the search for a new president at Harvard University and how this selection will impact Harvard going forward.

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•          Develop community, industry and government partnerships that support College programs and provide external resource enhancement.

•          Obtain resources, support and funding to sustain outstanding University programs.

•          Develop a research infrastructure to assist the faculty in seeking sponsored research opportunities.

•          Obtain funding for scholarships, laboratory equipment, and capital development.

•          Provide effective management and execution of fiscal policies and procedures.

•          Make decisions in a timely, ethical, and professional manner.

•          Deal fairly and equitably with all stakeholders including faculty, staff, and students.

•          Establish policies and procedures for governance and decision making.


How is a President/Dean compensated?

Compensation includes a salary and long-term incentive payouts with bonuses tied to fundraising. Bonuses tied to fundraising usually make up the largest portion of the income package especially in the case of Harvard University.

The problem with donations

Harvard University is the wealthiest university in the world with an endowment of over $35 billion. The runner-up universities fall far behind with Yale at #2 with $25 billion and Princeton and Stanford at $22 million. Every year, Harvard ranks either number one or number two on the list of universities receiving the most donations. These donations buy the best faculty, research institutions and technology. The problem is, these donations can also buy power and influence.


As was explained earlier, one of the highest priorities that a university president is given and the largest part of their compensation package comes from attracting donations. As was also demonstrated, Harvard has a good track record of choosing Presidents and Deans that attract donations. Perhaps too strong.

What rules are put in place to safeguard against donors seeking to buy power and influence? The closer one looks into a comparison of ethics rules universities have in place for presidents and deans compared to Harvard leads one to believe that Harvard ignores rules of ethics that other academic institutions swear by.

According to former Business School Dean and current President of Baylor University, Linda Livingstone, it is common understanding amongst business school Deans that it is highly improper for a Dean to serve on the board of any institution that has given money to the university. President Livingstone served as Dean of Pepperdine and George Washington Business Schools and Chair of the association of business school deans - AACSB International. AACSB was set up in 1916 and provides quality assurance to over 1,600 members and nearly 800 accredited business schools worldwide. President Livingstone has been a part of several committees discussing rules and regulations surrounding the conflicts of interest that can arise as a part of a Dean or President’s involvement with donors to the university. According to President Livingstone it is unheard of for a President or Dean to serve on the board of any significant donor to the university because of the clear conflicts of interest (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours) that would arise.

So why is this allowed at Harvard with the current HBS Dean and shortlisted Harvard President nominee Nitin Nohria and nowhere else? Hmmm... are we not playing by the rules? Are we above the rules or are we just not an academic institution?

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No more.

Hilariously, Nohria is included in the same small group of shortlisted candidates as former President Barack Obama and current Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen... because of his ability to fund raise?  The problem is, he is serving on the boards of the companies who have donated millions to the University. This corruption must stop and it must stop with the standards we stakeholders demand in the selection of our new Harvard University president.

Because power corrupts, society demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increase. - John Adams