Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Introducing AU's new President, Neil Kerwin

American University devoted five days of last week to celebrating the inauguration of our new President, Neil Kerwin. The story of how this ‘native son’ rose to AU’s highest office, after having matriculated as an undergraduate, was told and retold, as he appeared at event after event. Here is my introduction, from an event during an inauguration week day devoted to ‘Teaching and Learning.’ that the Center for Teaching Excellence hosted.

Opening our conversation today is President Neil Kerwin, whose inauguration we celebrate this week. Now I’m not going to give a traditional introduction of our new President. You have and/or will hear this on several occasiona this week. instead. I want to quote from what I wrote for CTE’s Newsletter, Arete, which means excellence, when I heard that Neil had been chosen - I happened to be working at a research center in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

My first reaction was that Neil’s journey from first-year student to President is a remarkable saga that will appeal to prospective students and their parents. The trustees decision also affirmed his contributions, perhaps not fully appreciated, to raising AU’s academic profile, both externally and internally.

But naming a new president is not about rewarding past services, however meritorious. It is about looking to the future. Having recently completed Chapter 3 - “Level 5 Leadership” - in Jim Colllins’ best selling management book. From Good to Great, I was reassured by the author’s findings. His profile of good to great leaders, bore a surprising resemblance to Neil Kerwin. Collins writes, "Ten of eleven good to great CEOs came from inside the company.  The comparison companies turned to outsiders with six times greater frequency - yet they failed to produce sustained great results. (p. 32). "...Level 5 leaders employ a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will... They are ambitious to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.” (p. 21)

CTE looks forward to working with faculty colleagues and President-elect Kerwin in the coming year and the years ahead. I am optimistic that a transition “from good to great” may be in our future.


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