Opinion: Why public university presidents are under fire
University of California, Berkeley, will have to find a new president at the end of the year.
June 19th, 2012
04:08 PM ET

Opinion: Why public university presidents are under fire

Editor's note: Jeremi Suri is the Mack Brown Distinguished professor of global leadership, history, and public policy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, "Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama."

(CNN) - We know an industry is in crisis when its top institutions cannot establish stable leadership. That is the case with some of our nation's best public universities today.

When the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia pressured President Teresa Sullivan to resign on June 10, she became the fourth leader of a flagship public university to leave office under a cloud of controversy recently.

The other casualties included the highly respected leaders of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois and the University of Oregon. The president of the University of California at Berkeley has also announced that he will step down in December. Leaders of public universities in other states face equally strong pressures to go. The men and women in these jobs seem to have a target on their backs.

This can't go on.

Our nation's public universities are the heart and soul of our higher education system, which is the envy of the world.

Flagship public universities educate more of the brightest high school students than private universities in many states. They conduct the lion's share of advanced research. They also attract the largest number of foreign students. If our public universities fall into a decline because of a leadership vacuum, then our entire system will decline, too.

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  1. Paul

    SJ – right on.

    June 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  2. JS

    The "highly respected" leader at the University of Illinois was let go after a numerous incidents of autocratic response, devaluation of shared governance, limited perspective, charges of ethical misconduct from key staff members, among other issues. Rather than a "target on the back" perhaps the question should be raised about what abilities and qualifications good to excellent leaders, along with societal support. Generic statements without context or detail is endemic of why there is a continuing issue in education and the value of education.

    June 20, 2012 at 10:34 am |