John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What elements of your work do you want to leave as a legacy?

I have recently gone through a “transition” exercise that is called “succession planning.”

There is a school of thinking that argues that great organizations must attend to succession planning. Some organizations do much better at this than others. I didn’t want to leave this to chance.

In my case there was no urgency about this. As far as I know, I am well and I can continue to “work” as long as I want. About 3 years ago for our annual audit, I was asked by the auditor what my succession plan was. His question took me quite by surprise. And I was actually a bit offended by it. But I realized he was doing exactly what good auditors were supposed to do: assessing organizational risk.

We created a new non-profit organization in spring 2007 and with it executed a very deliberate decision to try to institutionalize my work and especially the values it had been built on, in such a manner that this line of work with which I have become so associated, will outlast me and flourish long, just as my work has at the University of South Carolina after my retirement in 1999 (most there would say that my work has been more successful since I left than when I was there!)

Anyway, our Institute then decided to appoint a successor in waiting, an heir apparent—or at least to try to move in this direction. So we have done just that. And we will have an announcement about this September 1.

But I want to suggest something larger about this idea and something that is directed to you, my reader. If you were to be so fortunate as to influence the selection of your successor, what would be your criteria?

In my own thinking about this process, my criteria were these. I wanted someone:

1. With whom I would be personally comfortable.

2. Someone who shared my basic values in life, many in a full range, from educational, to family, to politics.

3. Someone who had extensive experience in undergraduate student success/transitions work.

4. Someone whom I could honestly call an intellectual.

5. And a gentleman or gentlewoman.

6. Someone with a strong sense of moral compass and ethics.

7. Someone who shares my vision for supporting students in transition, and our higher education system in transition.

8. Someone who is a good writer, thinker, and creator of potential new lines of work.

9. Someone who is entrepreneurial but without the down sides for the people involved that often characterize entrepreneurial pursuits in the for-profit world. In other words, a person who will always put people before money.

10. Someone who would treat my subordinates with respect and be both a wonderful colleague to work with and for.

11. Someone who shares my passion for social justice.

12. Someone who can take my work to the next level of impact, replication, and institutionalization.

And just who have I decided meets the above criteria? Stay tuned till September 1 for an announcement.

What criteria would you chose to select your successor? What elements of your work do you want to leave as a legacy for your successor to carry on?

John N. Gardner

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