Yale School of Management

Chief Executive Leadership Institute

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Higher Education Summit Considers the Responsibilities of Academic Leaders

Chief Executive Leadership Institute

Dozens of college and university presidents and trustees gathered at the Yale School of Management on January 14 to discuss pressing issues facing higher education leaders, including the role of higher education in confronting social injustice.  

The event, the first Yale-AGB Summit on Leadership in Higher Education and America’s Future, was hosted by Yale SOM’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute and the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) of Colleges & Universities.

Welcoming the participants, Yale University President Peter Salovey, said that the protests that occurred at Yale and on other campuses in recent months are a reminder of the responsibilities of institutions of higher learning. “As microcosms for society,” he said, “when there is controversy, when there is protest, [universities] have a chance to lead and should take advantage of that opportunity.”

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the public relations firm Edelman, also addressed the imperative for leadership in a talk titled “Trust and Wisdom in University Leadership.” The firm’s research, he said, indicates that “the public wants [academe] to be part of the solution for social problems… [But] you have to use a new model for leadership… You can’t just talk to elites; you have to talk to the mass population.” 

One interactive session, titled “Worlds in Collision: Leading Institutions through Clashes in Values,” featured a free-flowing conversation among panelists about society’s expectations of academe and how higher education can better promote its value proposition to the public, among other topics. Haverford College President Kimberly Benston said that a key question leaders need to ask is, “Are campuses social mirrors or social experiments?” In an informal audience poll, a sizeable majority of the group agreed that leaders in higher education are risk averse and are not taking a strong enough stance on social issues. 

The full-day summit also included panels titled “Trusting Your Trustees: How to Execute Well on Available Board Opportunities: Internal Engagement and External Advocacy,” and “Higher Education and Society’s Expectations.” 

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Yale SOM’s senior associate dean for leadership programs and the founder and president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, commented after the conclusion of the summit: 

“We were delighted to partner with the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges & Universities for this first Higher Education Leadership Summit. It was very gratifying to see such an enthusiastic nationwide response to this short notice call to the nation’s leaders across public and private, large and small, old and young schools to gather in the aftermath of a season of elevated cultural campus tensions.  This new extension adds an important dimension to the recent CELI build out of key constituencies such as through our new Yale Mayors College.”

About the Event

Bringing together university presidents and board members, along with other thought-leaders in higher education, the AGB-Yale Leadership Summit on Higher Education focused on core issues facing higher education today for university board members, including financial pressures; technological disruption in teaching, research, administrative processes;  reaching new constituencies; alternative models of shared governance;  establishing public trust; navigating clashes in values; and bringing ethics in higher education leadership into the foreground.