Early last month, before coronavirus launched our massive, worldwide experiment in distance learning, Julie and I had the good fortune to spend a few days at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business. Over the last three years, Gies decided to take its MBA programs online — first creating a new kind of curriculum, custom-designed for the medium, from the ground up; then doubling down and discontinuing its residential programs altogether.
Now more than 3200 students from all over the world are enrolled in the Gies iMBA, where they learn from a first-rate faculty, supported by a large and innovative e-Learning Team and a small army of course assistants. For Gies students, recorded video lectures are only the textbook. The real learning happens in vibrant live discussions, running simultaneously on the main screen and in the chatbox; in well-attended virtual office hours; and in group projects worked out through Zoom, at all hours of day and night.
Most higher ed communications leaders recognize the importance of a strong communications platform for their institution’s president or chancellor. It’s not about self-aggrandizement for the boss, but the understanding that the presidential bully pulpit is a key component of an integrated, comprehensive communications strategy to advance mindshare, reputation and engagement.
Julie and I carefully monitor trends in higher education media coverage, and we continue to be impressed with the way in which college and university leaders use their bully pulpits to address not only institutional and sector challenges but also issues of deep societal concern — in their own strong and authentic voices.
I’ve overseen three university presidential transitions, and now in our consulting roles Julie and I have advised several in-house teams as they plan for a new president or chancellor.
It’s an important time in the life of an institution, and strategic communications planning is critical – both to ensure a smooth transition and to create a solid foundation for a new leader’s future direction. The most effective communications efforts happen with careful pre-planning and coordination among several college units. When this works well, everyone comes together to craft strategies that celebrate the legacy of where the institution has been, and excitement about the next chapter.
After facilitating quite a few in-house planning sessions with colleagues and clients, I offer some guideposts for making the most of leadership transition:
In our work with higher education leaders, we help college presidents and other leaders identify compelling topics and make their voices heard through op-eds, speeches and written communications. Doing so benefits their institution, contributes to the sector, and can influence both policy and public opinion in powerful ways. And given the coarsened nature of our public dialogue, these carefully considered perspectives become even more important.
As we noted in our recent essay about trends for Inside Higher Ed, the past year saw a number of leaders speaking up strongly on relevant issues. We reviewed the past year’s worth of presidential communications, and we offer below those contributions we thought were among the most interesting and impactful.