Today of all days, I realized I failed to share a reflection on politics in Why It Matters. I can’t let another day pass without sharing it. Hopefully, those who follow me on LinkedIn and plan on voting in future primary elections will heed my advice.
Henry Kissinger is credited with saying, “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” He is also credited with, “The politics in higher education are so intense because the stakes are so low.” I don’t know if Kissinger said the former, but he told me that he did not say the latter. Regardless of who said the latter, it is true that politics in higher education can be very tense.
Given recent events at the University of Florida and in the University System of Georgia, some might think my reflection on politics is motivated by the recent selection of Sonny Purdue, former governor of Georgia and former US Secretary of Agriculture, to be the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, or Ben Sasse, currently a US Senator from Nebraska, to be the next president of the University of Florida. Those events are not what
motivated me to post my reflection.
A dear friend advised me to never vote in a primary election if I aspired to lead a university. He learned the lesson the hard way. He made the mistake of voting in a primary when one-half of his bosses (university trustees) had been appointed by a Democratic governor and the other half had been appointed by a Republican governor. His choice of the political party for which he cast his votes was published in the newspaper the week after he voted.
His presidency of the university did not last another year. So, when Mary Lib and I made our way to Arkansas for me to be the chancellor of my undergraduate alma mater, we registered as Independents, not Democrats and not Republicans. During my 11-year tenure as chancellor, I voted in a primary election one time and, just like my friend, the party affiliation of my votes in the primary were published in a newspaper the following week.
If you believe this situation would not occur for the leader of a private university. Think again. The polarization that exists in today’s society has resulted in politics influencing our lives in ways that few are prepared to handle. So, my advice to university leaders is quite simple: don’t vote in primaries. And, by the way, my advice is not limited to university
leaders. The same situation can occur in businesses and in nonprofit organizations.
As a leader of any organization, pay attention to politics. Who you vote for in general elections is not public information, but in primaries the party you choose to vote for is. Such is the price of leadership, a chipping away of one of our freedoms in a democratic society.