23.3.12

DAVE BRISTOL AND GENE MAUCH, REDUX.

There are no bad baseball teams, only bad managers.  If Napoleon didn't say it, Yogi Berra probably did.  Nonetheless, the tradition in baseball is that when a team does badly, the manager gets fired.  (No matter that one of the pitchers is a head case, the shortstop doesn't concentrate, and an outfielder ignores the take sign.  I'm talking about you, Chicago Cubs.)  But the two gentlemen named in the title served as serial managers in major league baseball, never mind the relative infrequency of pennants on their resume.  And a more successful manager, Sparky Anderson, once told a Detroit reporter that he wasn't concerned about having a bad season and being fired by the Tigers because he effectively had tenure.

A similar phenomenon might be at work in university administration.

A few weeks ago, Cold Spring Shops hailed an assertion of professorial authority at the University of Illinois. "What's encouraging about the article is news of faculty resistance to enrollment initiatives, branding, and directives that originate from the president rather than from the faculty."

The president in question, Michael Hogan, will be resigning to return to faculty, which used to be the tradition among university presidents.  (The increases in pay for going into the presidency have increased since the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain era, but faculty pushback against serial administrators has also intensified.)  It's amusing that the Chicago Tribune coverage of developments in Urbana refers to a faculty "mutiny."  It's more accurate for the Tribune to write of a reassertion of responsibility by the faculty for carrying out the core function of the university, and Cold Spring Shops, impending retirement or not, will remain on the alert for other instances in which the faculty, whether an institution's most highly regarded, or not, reclaims what is properly its responsibility, and its authority, from the usurpations of serial administrators.

What's intriguing, however, is that Michael Hogan is really Gene Mauch in a different kind of uniform.  A commenter at University Diaries points to Inside Higher Ed's coverage of Mr Hogan's departure.  There were clues that something was wrong at ZooConn, but that candidate had prior experience at a state flagship, land-grant institution.
Some faculty critics and higher education observers say Hogan’s problems at both institutions represent a broader failing of the presidential search process, in which boards are so eager to secure experienced presidents that they are willing to overlook flaws and too concerned with protecting the anonymity of candidates to properly vet them.

Labor economists have documented that, in professions such as entertainment and management, previous experience is overvalued. Boards would prefer someone who has demonstrated some level of competency rather than take a risk on someone not working out, and they are willing to pay large salaries for that experience.

“Any profession where the ability of inexperienced workers is subject to much uncertainty, and where performance on the job is to a large extent publicly observable, is a likely candidate for market failure in the discovery of talent,” wrote Marko Terviö, an economist at Aalto University in Finland, in a paper entitled “Superstars and Mediocrities: Market Failure in the Discovery of Talent.” “This market failure would manifest itself as a bias for hiring mediocre incumbents at excessive wages.”

Terviö even notes that college and university presidents are ripe for this type of failure. He quotes Raymond Cotton, a Washington lawyer specializing in contracts for college and university presidents, as saying, “What all universities are trying to do is find a successor who has been someplace else as president.” Throughout the Illinois search, board members repeatedly said they were looking for someone who had held a similar role.
Yeah, that La Russa kid is promising, but he's had no prior managerial experience. Let's go with Mauch.

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