The College President and Community Relationships: Pride, Partnerships, and Pressures

The College President and Community Relationships: Pride, Partnerships, and Pressures

Michael T. Miller, Daniel P. Nadler
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4235-7.ch004
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The chapter provides a description of the complexity and depth of college and community relationships resulting in a better understanding of the college president's role in providing support, direction, and leadership in community and college relations. In specific, the chapter focuses on the political relationships between campuses and city councils and local politicians, civic regulatory considerations that impact the college, joint fiscal partnerships, physical and facility partnerships, and curricular opportunities for collaboration between institutions and their communities. The chapter concludes with four strategies that are particularly important for college presidents to consider in working with their host communities, all of which stress the need for open and clear communications.
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Colleges and universities are complex organizations that rely not only on their own organizational structures, but on a variety of policy-related bodies that provide much of the regulatory and financial resource needed for the institution to operate. Beyond the fiscal resources provided to many institutions from public funding, higher education relies on state charters and public agencies to create value for the activities that they undertake, namely, the credentialling of students with formal academic degrees (Miller & Nadler, 2016).

Perhaps the most pronounced relationship between a public higher education institution and public entity is between the college and its host community (Chenoweth, 2017). These relationships result in frequent, daily communications often between college presidents and leaders of the community, such as the major, city manager, and city council members. The result for college presidents is that these relationships must become more than professional points of contact, but rather, develop a degree of closeness that allows for free flowing communication that focuses on the welfare of the institution as not a separate entity, but actually as a part of the town or host community (Gavazzi, 2018).

Another important element in the relationship between the college and its host community is the financial impact of both on each other. In some instances, municipalities have taxed themselves to support a college or university, such as Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and many cities have taxed themselves to support the initial founding of an institution that has later become part of a larger state system, with examples such as the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the University of New Orleans. Host communities also provide key financial incentives for institutions, ranging from the allocation of lands and public use facilities to the institution to providing discounted fees for services. In turn, colleges and universities provide students, faculty, and staff who reside in these host communities and provide the revenue to support local business and pay the taxes that support the infrastructure of the community. Indeed, the idea of town and its college is inextricably linked and both parties are deeply reliant on each other.

These two public bodies have another similarity in that there are multiple points of contact between both with each other. A typical city government have a variety of commissions or departments such as public works and utilities, police/public safety, planning/urban design, parks and recreation, library, finance, civil rights, city attorney, assessor, education, medical examiner, airport, and among many other units possible, municipal courts. These departmental officials typically report up through some sort of administrative structure that might be led by a city council or aldermen, a mayor, and even a city manager. All of these individuals can and often do have points of contact with a university structure that is organized in a wide variety of manners, but typically includes student affairs, academic affairs, business operations and finance, athletics, philanthropy, and research. Combined, there are many different ways in which the city and college interact, and there are equally as many individuals involved in communicating with each other. This means that the college president must convey the important philosophy for working with the community and must provide the leadership in effective collaboration in these “town-gown” relations (Gavazzi, 2018; Hatcher, 2014). Subsequently, the purpose for the current chapter is to describe the complexity and depth of these relationships resulting in a better understanding of the college presidents role in providing support, direction, and leadership in community and college relations. In specific, the chapter explores relationships with political leaders, regulatory considerations, fiscal partnerships, facility partnership, and support for academic matters highlighted through curriculum.

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