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Should a President Teach?

FEBRUARY 2, 2019

I have spent more than 38 years of my professional life in Christian higher education, the first 33 years of that time in administration, before moving into my current consultative role in semi-retirement.  I began my career serving as the Dean of Students/Vice President for Student Development at Cairn University in Langhorne, PA.  This was followed by serving as the President of Providence University College and Seminary in Otterburne, MB and the President of Simpson University in Redding, CA.  I also had the privilege of serving as the Executive Director of the Association for Biblical Higher Education (accreditation agency) in between my two presidencies.  In my first leadership role as a student development professional, I also taught part-time, usually one or two undergraduate courses per semester.  In my first presidency, I continued to teach.  I taught one graduate-level course per semester, but it always in a block format one morning per week so that I could focus primarily on my administrative duties.  In my second presidency, I did not teach any courses.  However, I did occasionally serve as a guest instructor and was a regular speaker for chapel services and student groups.  As a president, I thought I was wise to focus my attention on being a full-time leader and administrator and not on teaching.  Though I am a good teacher, I believed that my real "value added" was in fund development and strategic direction.  At the time, I thought I was being wise.  However, the pattern that I followed may not be true for all presidents.  Some may choose to do some part-time teaching.  There is value in teaching at least one class or seminar every year.

First, teaching can be a source of joy when administrative joy can be in short supply.  College and university leaders live in a world of stress.  Many leaders serve under great enrollment and financial pressure.  Others struggle to meet the conflicting demands of multiple constituencies in a time of limited resources.  Interaction with students can be a way to escape the pressure and recharge your emotional and spiritual batteries.

Second, teaching can help you do your "day job" more effectively  As a campus leader, you are frequently called upon to explain the value and importance of what your institution does to serve the church and society.  Being able to draw upon stories from your own teaching teaching experiences and your own interactions with students can help make your presentations more compelling, less abstract, and more human.  

Third, teaching can help remind you, when times are tough or complicated, of the essential purpose and value and Christ-centered higher education.  A few hours in the classroom or with a student group can restore a sense of clarity and mission and remind you of why your job, helping your institution not just survive but thrive, is a high calling as you develop students in mind, faith, and character to serve the church and the world.

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant
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