McClain must not be limited by term limit
The gold standard for the tenure of a university president is five to seven years, enough time to launch initiatives, see them through and weather fluctuations in financial and political support.
By that standard — one that he has himself endorsed — newly appointed University of Hawai'i President David McClain has a difficult job ahead.
McClain accepted the post of permanent UH president, but on the condition he would serve for just three years.
That fits with McClain's long-stated desire to move on to other endeavors by the time he is in his early 60s.
Fair enough. But it also places the new president in a tough position as he attempts to put the university system on a stable and growing course. Those who oppose his initiatives or have ideas of their own may be inclined to simply wait him out.
It has happened before.
Indeed, the leadership challenge facing McClain is to find the right combination of ambition, vision and energy to push the university into the future, even with the relatively short time-frame he faces.
The list of work already on the table is substantial. McClain could keep busy just wrapping up projects and proposals already under way, many of them launched by former President Evan Dobelle. These include new dormitories on campus (designed to create more of a campus "community"), a new campus at West O'ahu and a new campus in Kona.
Then there are tuition increases, a backlog of repair projects and what undoubtedly will be continued campus unrest over the planned Navy UARC contract.
But even on a limited time schedule, McClain cannot and must not content himself with business at hand. He needs to charge in and produce a vision that will carry forward long after he has gone.
He needs to stand strong against political pressure to manage the university from outside, yet it is imperative that he find ways to work cooperatively with legislators and others who play a role in the university's future.
McClain has convinced the regents that it makes sense to take him on, even for a limited three-year term. Now he must approach the job with a sense of investment in the university's future and with the vision of a president intending to stay for the long haul.