Presidential Leadership

On Tuesday night I had the opportunity to attend an informal conversation about leadership in which President David Maxwell shared the history of his leadership experience with students

The evening began with the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEAD) class discussing their capstone project—an initiative that to create more bike lanes in the Drake community to keep cyclists safe. The group’s Drake Ride Around Campus (DRAC) event is meant to raise funds and awareness for food insecurity and bike safety in Iowa.

Dr. David Maxwell began the informal discussion about his leadership experiences by explaining how higher ed is governed. He admitted that as the Dean of liberal arts at Tuffs University, he did not know how to read the budget that he was responsible for overseeing.

But, Maxwell explained, he is a fast learner because he is creative. And though he admits he makes mistakes often, he says his creativity allows him to come up with new solutions each time he does so.

What makes higher Ed unusual, he says, is that the President is not in charge of a much. The Board of trustees are legally responsible for the university and holds a fiduciary responsibility for longevity with the authority to look at everything.A big part of his job is acting as a liaison between the board of trustees and faculty; explain to either entity what either side is doing and how it will effect their work and responsibilities.

He explained his position as President as creating and holding the vision and strategic plan for the university. Finding where the university needs to go to stay competitive in a changing society and finding a way to get there is what Maxwell considers the “fun part” of his job.

When Maxwell first arrived at Drake 16 years ago the university had a $7.5 million operating deficit and declining enrollment. He says he had two options to fix the problem; he could either work through incremental changes or use broad strokes that could either make dramatic changes or make things dramatically worse. Luckily, his “betting of the farm” and no-holds-barred approach worked and helped to transform Drake into the university it is today. He used this experience as an example of “an important lesson about what leadership looks like in this arena.”

In defining his personal mission statement as a leader, Maxwell explained that he has a clear set of personal values. He explained that “I do everything I can to make sure everything I do and say are consistent with these values: people can see these values in my actions. When I reflect on my time I want to know that I did something that mattered.”

When asked about things that have changed in his thinking over his tenure at Drake, Maxwell explained that he now has a profound and new view on social contact of university in community and a deeper understanding of the relationship between the two.

Maxwell highlights that what makes Drake distinctive is that everyone knows Drake mission statement and is focused on creating and improving the exceptional learning environment that they are all a part of. He then explains the direct link to the work that people do in and for Drake and living mission statement. He is proud that everyone is holding up individual part of promise to uphold mission statement.

In general, I agree with President Maxwell’s belief that everyone on campus lives the Drake mission statement. I believe that most students and staff are very driven to achieve their goals to make innovations in the world around them. I believe that the engaging atmosphere that Drake provides to its students through discussion based classes with knowledgeable faculty help members of the Drake community to learn about and live the university’s mission of exceptional learning environment that prepares students for meaningful personal lives, professional accomplishments, and responsible global citizenship through collaborative learning among students, faculty, and staff and by the integration of the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation.

As a leader, I believe that President Maxwell has made great strides in creating and driving the university towards a collective goal that will allow the university to remain competitive in today’s changing society. I believe that, through initiatives like the campus climate survey and the approachableness of faculty and staff to student concerns help to create an open dialogue that was strengthened by the campus climate survey. I hope that the administration takes the concerns of the community that were brought up in survey results into account and take appropriate steps to take steps to make the changes to the campus environment that members of the community want to see. All in all, I believe that the university does its best to respond to student concerns as a part of shared governance, but as always there is more they could do to be more open about their plans and agendas. One example of a time I wish there would have been more transparency between those involved in shared governance – the board of trustees, faculty, and President Maxwell – would have been in response to the event a few weeks ago when Drake was wrongly placed on a list of the 25 most dangerous campuses. While I understand that the university needed to take its own steps to uphold its outward image, I believe it was equally important to keep the internal stakeholders – students and faculty – equally as informed as to what was going on. Since we are all on social media, it would have been easy for someone to post an article without reading it, which could have reflected negatively on the university.


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