President as Kaleidoscope

We’ve heard many metaphors for the role of chief executive of an institution of higher learning: orchestra conductor, ship’s captain, plate-spinner, traffic cop. One of my favorites is “meatgrinder.” In these roles, one must take input from a vast array of competing factions, mix it all together—like sausage—and somehow make something productive out of it.

In reflecting on my first year in my first chancellorship—one in the highly political environment of Wisconsin—I realize the most appropriate metaphor might be that of president as kaleidoscope. Most of us remember these low-tech, old-school toys, with tiny bits of glass in a tube and an ever-changing rainbow of symmetrical patterns at the other end.

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