Witt/Kieffer: What it Takes to be a University President (A Second Time)

Javier Cevallos, PhD, recently left a 12-year tenure as president of Kutztown University to take on the top job at Framingham State University. How did he know when to go? What pitfalls stood in the way at Framingham State? When does the honeymoon of a new presidency end?

Cevallos shares thoughts in a new Witt/Kieffer Leader Profile, “A College Presidency: The Honeymoon and Beyond.”

Below is a brief Q&A with Cevollos about the challenges of interviewing for a new presidency and saying goodbye to the previous one.

Near the end of your tenure at Kutztown, you were open about your pursuit of other positions. What prompted this?

Cevallos: I had developed an excellent working relationship with my board, and with a couple of members, I became close friends. I thought it would be unfair if I blindsided them by not letting them know. After 12 years, it didn’t surprise anyone. It was rewarding to have a lot of people expressing sadness, but by and large they were very supportive.

I understand that some situations are different. Not every board is as supportive as I had there and as I seem to have here at Framingham. Personalities play a big role: in my own style, transparency and being honest and open is the way to go.

Did people see you differently when they knew?

Cevallos: No. I was afraid of that, but the reality was that we had big projects underway. One of the things I wanted to finish was the renovation of the visual and performing arts center — that was part of the capital campaign. Fundraising was well underway, and my departure helped because people donated in my honor. That was a humbling thing.

What’s different about vying for a presidency now, as opposed to when you were hired at Kutztown? Did you have to “market” yourself any differently?

Cevallos: Experience certainly helps. Twelve years ago, I thought I knew what a president had to do. This time, I could tell them concrete examples of exactly what I had done, or what my team had done. So in that sense it was easier to be a candidate than before.

Without experience, it would be more difficult today. Certainly the challenges that education faces are more complicated than 12 years ago. MOOCs, edX, Educause, and Coursera weren’t around. Committees are going to be asking you questions about all those things. How do we reach out to a generation that is so wired and connected that they no longer communicate in the same way?

What’s the most challenging thing about the process of interviewing for a presidency?

Cevallos: On-campus interviews are long. If you’re going to be a college president and you can’t interview for two days from seven-thirty in the morning until nine at night, you’re not cut out to be a college president.

Thought leadership category