Volume 81 | Issue 4
July 2013

President's Column: Leadership During Changing Times

Mark Guthier, University of Wisconsin–Madison

 “Liberal and conservative have lost their meaning in America. I represent the distracted center.”
— Jon Stewart

This quote from comedian Jon Stewart makes me smile for two reasons. First, it is fairly easy for me to summon images of large portions of the population that are simply not interested in what their leaders are discussing. The potential impact that those leaders can have on their lives seems so remote that they barely pay attention—much to the chagrin of those very leaders. And secondly, it’s a reminder to me not to take my own role as a leader too seriously—both at work and within the Association. If I’m not careful, I may Guthierfind myself representing the “distracted center” of the organization—something I’d much rather avoid.

The role I play this year in representing the Association came home to me with my recent attendance at the Council for Higher Education Management Associations (CHEMA) meeting in Portland, Ore. CHEMA hosts a meeting each year in which the executive directors and presidents of the various higher education associations (approximately 45) spend two and half days together networking and sharing best practices. Having the opportunity, along with Marsha Herman-Betzen, to represent ACUI at this year’s meeting was a true pleasure. And I can assure you that those who were in attendance were not the “distracted center” from the higher education environment.

As we all know, higher education is in a state of great flux. The relatively stable model many of us have known for decades is being tested in ways we would not have predicted. New models will emerge—and those models will most likely not have the same shelf life as the one we’re leaving behind. That much is certain. What this means is that ACUI, as well as the other professional and educational associations that serve higher education, are in the difficult position of not only supporting members through the flux, but also attempting to lead the discussion at the same time. Participating fully in coordinating councils like CHEMA is an important step ACUI takes in providing that leadership.

Over the course of the meeting, each representative had equal opportunities to share their best practices as well as learn new ideas, concepts, and delivery methods for their programs and services. There isn’t enough space in this column for everything, but I would like to share a few items of note:

  • Higher Education Landscape: We were reminded that “strained resources” is the foremost critical issue that higher education faces. Will finding a way to be “true to mission” in an environment with fewer resources actually mean we’ll need to reexamine our core mission?
  • Relevance/Data/Social Media: All of these were discussed in relation to our changing membership—younger, more diverse, and interconnected like never before. What do we really know about our members and their needs? Can we do better?
  • Diversity of Members and Leadership: Recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest means having volunteer and staff leadership that reflect the diversity of our profession. What does “diverse” mean to us? Are there hybrid approaches to elections and nominations processes that might help us get there?
  • Collaboration and Strategic Partnerships: Given the “strained resources” mentioned, can we really afford not to build stronger and more alliances with our sister associations in the years to come? Reaching out and being accessible as a partner is more important than ever.
  • Practical Consensus: Higher education has a habit of searching for consensus on all matters. Today’s truly nimble and agile associations must develop a new approach: practical consensus. Make a good, sound business decision—and then move on. (This is one takeaway I intend to use at the Wisconsin Union, too!)

So, drop me a line if you’d like to begin a discussion on any of the above—or anything else at all. Representing the Association this year is one of my top priorities. And that includes everyone, especially the “engaged majority”—which I know is most of you—who make all the difference in our association.