Paul L. Caron

Friday, October 21, 2005

Top University Presidents Are Top Scholars

Interesting new paper by Amanda H. Goodall (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick), Should Top Universities be Led by Top Researchers and Are They? A Citations Analysis, 62 Journal of Documentation ___ (forthcoming 2006).  Here is the abstract:

This study documents a positive correlation between the lifetime citations of a university's president and the position of that university in the global ranking. Better universities are run by better researchers. The results are not driven by outliers. That the top universities in the world -- who have the widest choice of candidates -- systematically appoint top researchers as their vice chancellors and presidents seems important to understand. This paper also shows that the pattern of presidents life-time citations follows a version of Lotka's power law.

Yesterday's Inside Higher Ed followed up on the Goodall article in Presidents Who Are Scholars, by Scott Jaschik:

Conventional wisdom holds that presidents these days are selected for their skill as fund raisers and lobbyists, not for anything so mundane as original scholarship. Sure, a Ph.D. is still a requirement at most institutions, but in an era of career administrators, a presidential bio is supposed to boast of capital campaigns not journal articles.

Actually those who long for the days of universities led by real scholars may be surprised by a new study that found a correlation between being a well respected (and published) researcher and obtaining a top presidency....

What Goodall found — in both American and non-American institutions — was a significant correlation between the quality of research done by presidents and how high up on the prestige ladder they were situated. The best universities have as presidents people with the most distinguished scholarly records. In terms of citations, those leading the top 50 universities (a group that is made up primarily of American institutions) are two and a half times more likely to be cited than presidents in the next group of 50. And a president in the top 20 (of which 17 are American universities) has almost five times the citations of a president in the fifth quintile.

Goodall's findings are directly contrary to my argument in What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, 82 Texas L. Rev. 1483, 1552-53 (2004), that law school deans need not be top scholars:

The conventional wisdom in legal education — by insisting that deans when hired be leading scholars and that they continue to be engaged in substantial scholarship during their deanship — is contrary to the lessons in Moneyball. Billy Beane’s example suggests that the revolutionary dean . . . may turn out to rank below the mid-range in scholarly productivity and impact measures. But Dean Beane will have the requisite talents, tenacity, and temperament to drive all law school players to better performance. Dean Beane will confront tradition head on, challenging the conventional wisdom with the certainty of one who has seen (and lived) its limits first-hand.... The innovative law school of the future (like the Oakland A’s of today) very well might be one which would never have hired its dean as a faculty member (or its general manager as a player) in the first place.

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