University presidents as CEOsUniversity presidents are symbols of the ivory towers for which they work. They not only represent a university’s intellectual competence but are also responsible for developing schools based on their leadership. The JoongAng Ilbo’s annual rankings of 100 of the nation’s four-year universities have awakened us to the solemn fact that university presidents are at the center of efforts to improve universities’ domestic and global competitiveness.
The presidents have always spearheaded reform drives, whether their universities’ rankings ascended dramatically or began to rebound amidst a crisis. The JoongAng Ilbo’s latest college rankings vividly show that presidents play a pivotal role in presenting a vision for the advancement of their schools, leading professors and students to a better future through active communication.
Sungkyunkwan University is a good example. Both former President Seo Jung-don and current President Kim Jun-young played key roles in the school’s remarkable elevation to tie for fifth place for the first time since the JoongAng Ilbo began ranking colleges 18 years ago. Shepherding the school for eight years until 2010 under the slogan “qualitative, not quantitative, competition,” Seo launched an aggressive reform campaign to reduce the undergraduate student body by more than 10 percent, restructure existing departments and introduce incentive programs for distinguished professors.
After taking the helm of the university, Kim followed in his footsteps and kicked off an ambitious project called Vision 2020. The goal was to increase the number of professors from 1,250 to 1,700 in 10 years and raise the number of academic theses published in world-renowned academic journals to 5,000, a twofold increase.
Kim is convinced that, in a globalized world, university presidents must act like CEOs to make quick, creative decisions in order to reflect rapid changes in the world. As the results of this year’s college rankings show, most of the university presidents who notched up their schools’ rankings possessed a CEO-like mindset.
Without competitiveness, universities cannot survive in tough times. Externally, they have to compete with the top universities in the world, and internally, they are faced with the difficulty of recruiting new students due to a fall in applicants. The more drastic the required changes, the more central the role university presidents must play. Needless to say, the future of our universities depends on their presidents’ ability to deal with challenges.