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AC Insights

Balancing a President’s Public Appearances

Steve M. Dorman, Contributor, AASCU Consulting

Even the most high-energy individuals reach a limit in the number of things they can do over several days. Time must be allocated with care and forethought.

An important decision the university president will make is how to prioritize requests for their time. Many times, presidents will get more requests than their daily schedules will allow. Everyone wants the president to attend their event, give an introduction or welcome, visit their classroom, attend a performance, or meet with a special guest. This is true of both on-campus and community events. Granted, there are some occasions and meetings that the presence of the chief executive is required, and these must be prioritized. But for all other events, presidential time must be allocated with care and forethought.

Prioritizing attendance
To assist the president in time budgeting, it may be helpful to set up a system in which requests for presidential time go through an appropriate vice president or chief of staff, who might evaluate a request before it is forwarded to the president for consideration. Staff may follow up to fully understand the details of the request before proceeding.

Gathering additional information will help the president answer the following questions:

• What strategic purpose will be served by the president’s attendance?

• Will the event or occasion strengthen some strategic campus theme or direction that is important to the president?

• Does the president have a personal interest or commitment to the event?

• Are dignitaries or donors scheduled to be at the event who would be important for the president to meet?

• Who else will attend this event?

• Is the event a special occasion such as an anniversary or annual recognition?

A system of this type helps the president to prioritize which events to include in the executive schedule and which ones might be handled in other ways. Some presidential offices have schedulers who take care of this type of event triage. If that is the case, the president must clearly communicate the types of events to be included in the regular schedule and those that might be excluded. Regular reviews and debriefings between the president and the schedulers will help determine if appropriate events are getting scheduled at a comfortable pace.

What will the president do at the event?
If the president accepts an invitation, it is important to know what planners of the event want the president to do. If the request is ceremonial in nature, then the president may need only be present, or give a brief greeting, introduction, or welcome. If the president is to give a speech, it will be important to know if there is a special topic the president should address. Time expectations or limitations to the president’s comments should be noted as well. Details are important: Is it expected that the president will stay for the entire event, or can the president give a welcome and leave?

The president will also want to consider how the commitment to the event or schedule will impact the rest of the day. What will the president miss if this event is added to the schedule? If the event is off-campus, travel time will need to be added to the time expectations. If the president is expected to speak during a luncheon, when will the president eat? Priority given to one event will override other time commitments of the day. All this information helps allocate the right amount of time in a president’s schedule.
While most presidents are energetic, even the most high-energy individuals reach a limit in the number of things they can do over several days. An over-scheduled president may end up exhausted or sick, which then impacts the presidential schedule.

Options to connect with campus constituents
Today, options to connect with various groups in the community can help ease the time constraints on a president’s schedule. For example, while a president may be able to send greetings by letter, electronic means are also acceptable. The president might make opening remarks through Zoom or WebEx. A short video message is now easily accomplished. Finally, consideration should be given to the idea that others can represent the president or university, too.

Open and honest communication between the president and schedulers regarding types of events and flow of the presidential calendar and schedule is a must. With a clear understanding of pending requests, and an understanding of their priorities and obligations, presidents can exercise greater control of a valuable and limited resource — their schedule.

Dr. Steve M. Dorman served as president of Georgia College & State University for nine years. He was previously dean and professor in the College of Health and Human Performance at the University of Florida, and professor and head of the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University.

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