Performance evaluations in all kinds of industries make most people anxious, and presidential assessments in colleges and universities are no exception; they make boards as well as presidents uncomfortable. The complexities of reporting to a whole board and leading an academic institution make assessing presidential effectiveness especially challenging. Boards sometimes just go through the motions, trying to avoid doing any harm, but not always satisfied they have done any good.
Presidents live in a 24-7 public forum, and faculty, students, and the public at large can be harsh critics.
So, how can boards get past the noise and maximize the value of the assessment process to identify problems, improve performance, build relationships, and align the institution’s leadership and constituents on clear and common goals?
Here are some guidelines:
- Make assessment a planned and regular event. The board should conduct an assessment of the president annually and have a policy or contract provision requiring that a comprehensive assessment be conducted periodically (commonly at the end of the third, fourth, or fifth year).
- Don’t conduct a review in reaction to an incident or event; that will set the wrong tone and overwhelm other purposes.
- Engage the president in planning the process. Discuss the policy, timing, steps, and individuals who will be involved.
- Base the periodic assessment on mutually agreed-upon goals, which should be inclusive of annual assessments for the review period.
- Focus on formative outcomes in conducting the review. What can the president and board learn that will contribute to the president’s ability to improve in areas that need attention, achieve future goals, and build a shared understanding of institutional direction?
- The president’s ability to lead can be enhanced or impeded by the way the board works. Assess the board/president relationship as part of the review and conduct a board assessment periodically or jointly with the presidential review.
- Use an interview protocol with key constituencies and an objective outside expert to lead the process. Simple rating scales or surveys won’t garner meaningful input for comprehensive assessments.
Appointing, supporting, and evaluating the president are among the most important and consequential acts of the board; take care to get each right!