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Big Time University Presidents February 5, 2015

Posted by gordonwatts in university.

I was going to write about something else this month, but this really got to me. My university, the University of Washington, just lost its president, Michael Young, to Texas A&M. I have issues at many levels with this. First, on the trivial side, I went to the University of Texas at Austin. Big football rivalry… they would catch our mascot and brand him, we would… well. You get the idea.

First let me say that I like the guy. And I think what he has been doing at the UW is generally the right thing. He has seems effective, and the state legislature seems to like him (amazingly important for a State school). I have no real problems with him as president at UW. In fact, I wish he would have continued. He as been quoted in papers as saying that money is the reason he is leaving – but it is the size of the funding for Texas A&M, not his salary. The Texas schools are remarkably well funded for public institutions, btw. This is probably true. But still…

But there are several things that really get to me about this move. First, he just arrived. He was settled on as a president of UW in April of 2011, and started the following summer/fall. The University of Washington is like a giant container ship: if you are going to turn it, it will take many years to do it! I don’t think he really has been at UW long enough to effect any real change. Course adjustments, and some ground work for a new directions, perhaps. But that is all. We’ve had a revolving door of presidents recently – no one staying for very long. Public education is going through a very bumpy time right now – it seems that in general the public is divesting itself, and navigating the politics of establishing a new relationship with the state requires a relationship with the state legislature. Beyond that, there is just the idea that UW needs to settle down and concentrate on doing things, rather than being constantly distracted by searches like this. I believe we are the largest recipient of federal grants for research of any public university in the United States. We should be concentrating on teaching and research (and our hospital), not distracted by another year long search for a new president. As a result I find this sudden departure frustrating on an intellectual level.

But I find this frustrating on a more emotional level as well. It took me a day or two to figure this out. But these presidents that show up, are basically rock stars, and then walk away, discarding the old institution as if it was just a stepping stone on their career goals. What am I? Chopped liver? Smile The problem is that I put a lot of my self into this job. You insult my job, you insult me. Ok, perhaps not the most healthy, but, frankly, I can’t imaging doing a job that I wasn’t passionate about. And Young being here for such a short time and then moving on (to what sounds like a much higher paid job) is difficult for me to swallow. Is money really all that drives presidents of large universities these days? I want a president that is as invested in my University as I am. And so this really “irks” me.

Again, I have to ask. Texas A&M? Really? Winking smile