Lessons Learned: Reflections of a University President

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Overview

Lessons Learned gives unprecedented access to the university president's office, providing a unique set of reflections on the challenges involved in leading both research universities and liberal arts colleges. In this landmark book, William Bowen, former president of Princeton University and of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and coauthor of the acclaimed best-seller The Shape of the River, takes readers behind closed faculty-room doors to discuss how today's colleges and universities serve their age-old missions.

With extraordinary candor, clarity, and good humor, Bowen shares the sometimes-hard lessons he learned about working with trustees, faculty, and campus groups; building an effective administrative team; deciding when to speak out on big issues and when to insist on institutional restraint; managing dissent; cultivating alumni and raising funds; setting academic priorities; fostering inclusiveness; eventually deciding when and how to leave the president's office; and much more. Drawing on more than four decades of experience, Bowen demonstrates how his greatest lessons often arose from the missteps he made along the way, and how, when it comes to university governance, there are important general principles but often no single right answer.

Full of compelling stories, insights, and practical wisdom, Lessons Learned frames the questions that leaders of higher education will continue to confront at a complex moment in history.

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Editorial Reviews

Harvard Business Review
William G. Bowen somehow makes many of the things that drive nonacademics crazy about universities—tenure, specialization, faculty politics, student protests—seem necessary and even a little bit wonderful.
— Justin Fox
Times Higher Education
This is a sensible and sensitive account of the job. . . . These are lessons learned sometimes the hard way, and Bowen is quite prepared to admit it.
— Sir Drummond Bone
South China Morning Post
This illuminating book written by a former president of Princeton, one of the world's top-ranking universities, demands to be read by anyone interested in good leadership, academic or otherwise, and in higher education. . . . [T]he principles he writes of are too fundamental and too good to be ignored by any university administrator with a heart. Think fund-raising. Think freedom of speech. Think uniting members of a university community. . . . An invaluable guide.
— Louis Lee
Teachers College Record
For readers interested in senior administration in higher education, Lessons Learned is a valuable and distinctive addition to available literature. Written with wit, humor, candor and clarity, the volume offers an engaging and thoughtful guide to the nuances of presidential leadership. His humility and collaborative spirit resonate throughout, making the work as inspiring as it is practical.
— Michael Steven Williams
Higher Education
The lessons that President Bowen cites in this book are thoughtful and wise, which any academic leader or aspiring leader could learn a lot from.
— Dian-Fu Chang and Hsiao-Chi Chang
New Stateman
[Bowen's] advice on how to be a successful leader of a university is invariably spot-on.
— Alan Ryan
Australian Universities Review
This book should be read by all Australian Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors and those aspiring to these roles.
— Bernard O'Meara
Caut Bulletin
[T]he more I read the more familiar Bowen's observations became. The most important lesson arising from this book for me is that there is a generic culture to universities.
— Emoke Szathmáry
Diverse Magazine
[T]his book could provide valuable guidance to any administrator in education or manager in some field far removed from college life. Certainly, any new college president should devour this book, and keep it handy.
— Angela P. Dodson
Library Journal
Bowen (president emeritus, Princeton Univ.; Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities) has written the essential manual for university presidents, based on 40 years of experience. More than a memoir and less than a handbook, it distills presidential experiences into useful maxims and advice with examples of both successful decisions and unfortunate missteps (also related to his work as a trustee at Denison University and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation). Bowen discusses working relations with the board of trustees, forming effective administrative teams, determining or overhauling university governance, setting budgets and aligning academic priorities, maintaining relations with the alumni and raising funds, overseeing student life and issues of diversity, and defining the role of the university in society. VERDICT Bowen's well-written, authoritative counsel will be helpful to university presidents and administrators as well as leaders in other complex organizations. It could easily be used for exemplar case studies in leadership, organizational management, and business administration courses. Highly recommended.—Jane Scott, George Fox Univ. Lib., Newberg, OR
Times Higher Education
This is a sensible and sensitive account of the job. . . . These are lessons learned sometimes the hard way, and Bowen is quite prepared to admit it.
— Sir Drummond Bone
New Stateman
[Bowen's] advice on how to be a successful leader of a university is invariably spot-on.
— Alan Ryan
South China Morning Post
This illuminating book written by a former president of Princeton, one of the world's top-ranking universities, demands to be read by anyone interested in good leadership, academic or otherwise, and in higher education. . . . [T]he principles he writes of are too fundamental and too good to be ignored by any university administrator with a heart. Think fund-raising. Think freedom of speech. Think uniting members of a university community. . . . An invaluable guide.
— Louis Lee
Harvard Business Review
William G. Bowen somehow makes many of the things that drive nonacademics crazy about universities—tenure, specialization, faculty politics, student protests—seem necessary and even a little bit wonderful.
— Justin Fox
Australian Universities Review
This book should be read by all Australian Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors and those aspiring to these roles.
— Bernard O'Meara
Higher Education
The lessons that President Bowen cites in this book are thoughtful and wise, which any academic leader or aspiring leader could learn a lot from.
— Dian-Fu Chang and Hsiao-Chi Chang
Caut Bulletin
[T]he more I read the more familiar Bowen's observations became. The most important lesson arising from this book for me is that there is a generic culture to universities.
— Emoke Szathmáry
Diverse Magazine
[T]his book could provide valuable guidance to any administrator in education or manager in some field far removed from college life. Certainly, any new college president should devour this book, and keep it handy.
— Angela P. Dodson
Teachers College Record
For readers interested in senior administration in higher education, Lessons Learned is a valuable and distinctive addition to available literature. Written with wit, humor, candor and clarity, the volume offers an engaging and thoughtful guide to the nuances of presidential leadership. His humility and collaborative spirit resonate throughout, making the work as inspiring as it is practical.
— Michael Steven Williams
New Statesman - Alan Ryan
[Bowen's] advice on how to be a successful leader of a university is invariably spot-on.
Sir; Times Higher Education - Drummond Bone
This is a sensible and sensitive account of the job. . . . These are lessons learned sometimes the hard way, and Bowen is quite prepared to admit it.
Harvard Business Review - Justin Fox
William G. Bowen somehow makes many of the things that drive nonacademics crazy about universities—tenure, specialization, faculty politics, student protests—seem necessary and even a little bit wonderful.
Teachers College Record - Michael Steven Williams
For readers interested in senior administration in higher education, Lessons Learned is a valuable and distinctive addition to available literature. Written with wit, humor, candor and clarity, the volume offers an engaging and thoughtful guide to the nuances of presidential leadership. His humility and collaborative spirit resonate throughout, making the work as inspiring as it is practical.
South China Morning Post - Louis Lee
This illuminating book written by a former president of Princeton, one of the world's top-ranking universities, demands to be read by anyone interested in good leadership, academic or otherwise, and in higher education. . . . [T]he principles he writes of are too fundamental and too good to be ignored by any university administrator with a heart. Think fund-raising. Think freedom of speech. Think uniting members of a university community. . . . An invaluable guide.
Australian Universities Review - Bernard O'Meara
This book should be read by all Australian Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors and those aspiring to these roles.
Caut Bulletin - Emoke Szathmary
[T]he more I read the more familiar Bowen's observations became. The most important lesson arising from this book for me is that there is a generic culture to universities.
Diverse Magazine - Angela P. Dodson
[T]his book could provide valuable guidance to any administrator in education or manager in some field far removed from college life. Certainly, any new college president should devour this book, and keep it handy.
Higher Education - Dian-Fu Chang and Hsiao-Chi Chang
The lessons that President Bowen cites in this book are thoughtful and wise, which any academic leader or aspiring leader could learn a lot from.
Times Higher Education - Sir Drummond Bone
This is a sensible and sensitive account of the job. . . . These are lessons learned sometimes the hard way, and Bowen is quite prepared to admit it.
Caut Bulletin - Emoke Szathmáry
[T]he more I read the more familiar Bowen's observations became. The most important lesson arising from this book for me is that there is a generic culture to universities.
From the Publisher

"[Bowen's] advice on how to be a successful leader of a university is invariably spot-on."--Alan Ryan, New Statesman

"This is a sensible and sensitive account of the job. . . . These are lessons learned sometimes the hard way, and Bowen is quite prepared to admit it."--Sir Drummond Bone, Times Higher Education

"William G. Bowen somehow makes many of the things that drive nonacademics crazy about universities--tenure, specialization, faculty politics, student protests--seem necessary and even a little bit wonderful."--Justin Fox, Harvard Business Review

"For readers interested in senior administration in higher education, Lessons Learned is a valuable and distinctive addition to available literature. Written with wit, humor, candor and clarity, the volume offers an engaging and thoughtful guide to the nuances of presidential leadership. His humility and collaborative spirit resonate throughout, making the work as inspiring as it is practical."--Michael Steven Williams, Teachers College Record

"The essential manual for university presidents. . . . More than a memoir and less than a handbook, it distills presidential experiences into useful maxims and advice with examples of both successful decisions and unfortunate missteps. . . . Bowen's well-written, authoritative counsel will be helpful to university presidents and administrators as well as leaders in other complex organizations. It could easily be used for exemplar case studies in leadership, organizational management, and business administration courses. Highly recommended."--Jane Scott, Library Journal (starred review)

"This illuminating book written by a former president of Princeton, one of the world's top-ranking universities, demands to be read by anyone interested in good leadership, academic or otherwise, and in higher education. . . . [T]he principles he writes of are too fundamental and too good to be ignored by any university administrator with a heart. Think fund-raising. Think freedom of speech. Think uniting members of a university community. . . . An invaluable guide."--Louis Lee, South China Morning Post

"This book is well worth reading and with less than 200 pages it does not take long to read. The personal reflections of the former Princeton President are clearly and concisely presented and the lessons learnt are those you would expect from any good university leadership."--Bernard O'Meara, Australian Universities Review

"This book should be read by all Australian Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors and those aspiring to these roles."--Bernard O'Meara, Australian Universities Review

"[T]he more I read the more familiar Bowen's observations became. The most important lesson arising from this book for me is that there is a generic culture to universities."--Emoke Szathmry, Caut Bulletin

"[T]his book could provide valuable guidance to any administrator in education or manager in some field far removed from college life. Certainly, any new college president should devour this book, and keep it handy."--Angela P. Dodson, Diverse Magazine

"The lessons that President Bowen cites in this book are thoughtful and wise, which any academic leader or aspiring leader could learn a lot from."--Dian-Fu Chang and Hsiao-Chi Chang, Higher Education

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691149622
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2010
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


William G. Bowen is president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University. His many books include "Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities" and "The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions" (both Princeton).
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Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE: Preamble and Context 1

CHAPTER TWO: Governing 7

The Trustees and the Resident Campus Community 8

Consultation and Decision-making on Campus 16

The ROTC Debate as an Illustrative Case of Shared Governance 21

CHAPTER THREE: Administering 24

Building an Effective Administrative Team 24

Structuring Interactions 30

Compensation—for Administrators and for the President 32

CHAPTER FOUR: The University in Society: "At a Slight Angle to the Universe" 35

Basic Principles 35

The Proposed Boycott of J. P. Stevens 42

Divestment and South Africa 44

Freedom to Speak—and to Hear 46

Handling Dissent and Invoking Discipline 53

CHAPTER FIVE: Setting Academic Priorities: Annual Budgeting 59

Process 59

Principles 61

CHAPTER SIX: Setting Academic Priorities: Strategic Decisions 66

Coeducation 67

Investing in the Life Sciences 73

Graduate Education and Professional Schools 76

Strategic Decision-making in General 81

CHAPTER SEVEN: Building the Faculty 84

Recruiting and Retaining Faculty 84

Reviewing Tenure Recommendations and Salary Proposals 91

Faculty Diversity 95

CHAPTER EIGHT: Undergraduates: Admissions, Financial Aid, and Inclusiveness 98

Diversity and Financial Aid 99

Affi rmative Action and Race 101

Socioeconomic Status 106

Athletic Recruitment 109

Religious Divides: Jewish Students 112

Residential Life 115

CHAPTER NINE: Fund-Raising and Alumni Relations 119

Knowing Your Needs—and Your Donors 120

The Robertson Foundation Saga 124

Alumni Relations in General 127

Contending with Hostile Groups 129

CHAPTER TEN: Life in a President's Offi ce—and When to Leave 133

Partners, Colleagues, and Friends 133

Deciding What Not to Do as Well as What to Do 136

On Leaving 140

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Epilogue: Why Colleges and Universities Matter So Much 144

Acknowledgments 149

References 155

Index 161

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