Walking the tightrope in the 21st century:
Stein, Jeffrey Philip
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College and university presidents face immense challenges from globalization, funding shortfalls, massification, technology, and scrutiny from numerous constituencies—all while supporting higher education as a gateway mobility and opportunity. This study explored the roles of presidents and their senior administrative teams in approaching the challenge of shaping campus cultures during politically charged times and amid 1) significant increases in structural diversity in concert with national demographics, and 2) continued protests by students frustrated at feeling like inhabitants on the margins of campus despite decades of campus climate initiatives. Using a multiple-case study methodology (Yin, 2013), qualitative analysis was used to examine institutional documents and interviews conducted with presidents, senior leaders, faculty, staff, and trustees engaged in strategic diversity and inclusion work at two private institutions with liberal arts core curricula. Cases revealed that despite presidents and institutions engaging in significant investments to alter campus climate, bias incidents, differing views on the success of inclusion efforts, and frustration with the pace of change continued on campus. Major findings emerging from the study underscored the importance of presidents utilizing varied frames of leadership, particularly sensemaking (Bensimon, 1990, 1993; Birnbaum, 1992a; Kezar, 2007a; Kezar & Eckel, 2000, 2008; Smerek, 2013), and also working across all dimensions of models for campus culture transformation (Smith, 2009; Williams, 2013). The study also confirmed that institutions and campus cultures remain in flux from their original or founding cultures; therefore, presidents must carefully engage a wide range of strategies to contextualize institutional values, steward campus culture, meet needs for globally competent citizens and employees, provide inclusive learning environments, and ensure that higher education provides opportunity for all. Further study was suggested on the unique role of presidents and senior leaders teaching students to become more effective civic leaders and the organizational connections between diversity and inclusion officers’ with presidents and senior leaders.