So Why Did Paul Ferguson resign from Ball State?

Who knows? But, whatever the reasons, it’s shocking that someone would suddenly resign after so brief a “tenure” of fewer than two years, and with an initial five-year contract. (The University of Maine System, by contrast, usually gives only an initial two-year contract for its seven campus presidents, where the Trustees themselves have one and, if renewed, a second five-year term, unpaid, to be sure.)

As is well known, many college and university presidents serve only three, four, or five years these days, whether voluntarily or not. Higher educational institutions that, like the U.Maine System, embrace a corporate model of short-term results along with bold objectives like huge enrollment increases that might take years to achieve, want their top de facto executives to transform complex institutions almost overnight. Often ignorant of the profound differences between big corporations and colleges and universities, these top managers and their boards of directors (or trustees or regents) sometimes harm the very institutions they profess to care about.

It is revealing that Ball State University hired a “crisis manager” to handle the fallout not just from President Ferguson’s shocking resignation but also from the refusal to shed any light on the reason(s) behind it. True, personnel matters like this one are frequently shielded from disclosure to protect the affected party—but, let us be honest, to control the narrative provided to the public and, with state-funded Ball State, the taxpayers.

In other cases the existing public relations unit offers press releases and even press conferences that sometimes are no more illuminating–or convincing–than Hillary Clinton’s convoluted explanations for changing her position on nearly every major issue she has ever addressed till now.

Despite these efforts, the real reason(s) behind sudden presidential resignations and departures do come to light. Maybe Ball State will one day be among them.

Similarly, when finalists for presidencies who are named as such and who have visited campuses, suddenly withdraw from those searches, it is invariably because they realize that they will not get the crown. Former U.Maine President Robert A. Kennedy, despite professing his love for Orono, nevertheless was a finalist for at least three other campus presidencies which went to others: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Ohio University, and Kansas State University. Once the winner was announced, it was obvious why Kennedy had withdrawn–and it wasn’t because he cared much about U.Maine, rest assured.

Finally, lest Paul Ferguson’s departure seem hasty, consider what is going on as I compose this at Boston’s Suffolk University. After a mere seven months on the job, President Margaret McKenna  is being pressured to resign from Suffolk’s Board of Trustees. But in her case, she refuses to leave, at least for now. Stay tuned.