Great Books for Higher Education Leaders (Part 1)

A Dozen Books that Higher Education Leaders Should Read – Part 1 (1-6).

Every year, hundreds of books related to higher education are published.  Some are interesting; many are not.  I am often asked to recommend books related to higher education.  Therefore, I have provided the titles, authors’ name and short description of 6 (of 12) books that have impacted the way I think about higher education.  I recommend each of these books and encourage anyone who is interested in being a leader within higher education, to take the time to read these books in the years ahead.  These authors will broaden your perspective, deepen your insight and likely enhance your effectiveness as a leader in the Academy.  Short descriptions are included which reflect text that is adapted from the publishers.  A link to purchase the book or read more is provided simply for convenience.

Recommended Books 1-6 (In No Order) are:

1.   Universities in the Marketplace (2003).  Derek Bok  

This is a good book to understand higher education’s focus on profit and education ventures.  As Harvard’s two-time president, Derek Bok argues universities are jeopardizing their fundamental mission and suggests only those institutions that uphold academic values will retain public trust and retain the respect of faculty and students.  Bok argues leaders must be able to walk away from potentially lucrative ventures.  An excellent read from one of America’s great educators.

2.   Wise Moves in Hard Times (1996).  Leslie & Fretwell

Something of a classic and a must read for higher education leaders responsible to bring a college through difficult financial times.  As we continue to navigate the rough waters of leading colleges today, a review of this book is timely.  These authors bring together a message of urgency and a call for tough decisions.  However, they also confirm that the most effective leaders are those with experience, wisdom of opportunism and a deep appreciation of the uniqueness of working in higher education.  The book is based on extensive research and provides good case studies. This is a book that I had missed, but was recommended by my own Dissertation Chair and I am certainly glad  he did.  It avoids the naiveté that management experts so often bring to colleges and universities.

3.   Making Reform Work (2009).  Robert Zemsky

A scholar who has made ‘shaking up the system’ his life’s work in higher education, Zemsky might be considered the Godfather of higher education management thought leaders.  This book is a critique of higher education (American but some aspects are generalizable to Canada) and serves as a practical narrative of ideas about American higher education.  As a former professor of mine at the University of Pennsylvania, Bob Zemsky is one of a select group of scholars who participated in Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education.   This is an excellent book to begin to understand the structural issues and challenges facing higher education.  Bob is one of America’s leading higher education consultants and can be reached at Penn or at The Learning Alliance for Higher Education.

Note: Zemsky’s newest book will be released in late Fall or early 2013…  a book some are waiting anxiously for and others are dreading.

4.  How Academic Leadership Works: Understanding Success and Failure in the College Presidency (1992).  Robert Birnbaum  

Perhaps considered a Bible of higher education leadership, this book reveals the complex factors that influence the real and perceived effectiveness of academic leaders.  Birnbaum, Professor Emeritus at University of Maryland, reveals the qualities commonly thought to be indicators of good leadership are irrelevant and often counterproductive. It explains that successful academic leadership can be defined by the extent to which strategic constituencies—faculty, students, and others who share in campus leadership – work with the president.  This is not a marketing book; it gets into the real issues and strategies required to make academic leadership work.   If you have a chance, pick up Birnbaum’s other classic, his 1988: How Colleges Work.

5.   A Larger Sense of Purpose: Higher Education and Society (2005).  Harold Shapiro

Outstanding book by Canadian Harold Shapiro who believes higher education institutions have evolved into multifaceted organizations with complex connections to government, business, and the community.  This book is based on the 2003 Clark Kerr lectures, and draws from Shapiro’s twenty-five years of experience leading major research universities (former president of both Princeton and University of Michigan).  He raises several important topics that are insightful and timely.  An excellent book to understand challenges and complexities of leading an institution today.   I can certainly say that this book had a direct impact on the way I view higher education today.

6.   Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line (2003).  David L. Kirp

This professor at UC Berkeley explores the growing commercialization of higher education and the challenges faced by presidents when their institution is short of funding.   David Kirp explores concepts such as students being treated like customers and what happens when industry gets too close to an academic enterprise.  He addresses “What happens when the life of the mind meets the bottom line”.   This book takes the reader on a cross-country tour of the most powerful trend in academic life today–the rise of business values and the belief that efficiency, immediate practical usefulness, and marketplace triumph are the best measures of a university’s success.  Controversial, yes, but an interesting perspective of the trends higher education leaders should be aware, from one of America’s public policy thought leaders.


About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
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1 Response to Great Books for Higher Education Leaders (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Great Books for Higher Education Leaders (Part 2) | Kent MacDonald

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