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UVI’s Leader Talks With The Buzz

This story is a part of the series “Presidents Corner” about the unique experiences, vision and leadership styles of each president at our nation’s 107 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The leader of University of the Virgin Islands, a small historically black college or university (HBCU) in the US Virgin Islands, is David Hall. He is the university’s fifth president.

He sits with The Buzz to talk about the culture on campus, his leadership, UVI’s monumental alumni giving rate and much more.

Robert: You all have the best alumni giving rate among HBCU’s, according to last fiscal year. How did this happen?

President Hall: For the last three fiscal years we have made our alumni giving rate an institutional priority. It started with our 50th Anniversary celebration in 2012 where I challenged the institution and our alumni to a “50 for 50” campaign where 50% of our alumni would give back to the University as a way to recognize our 50th anniversary. We were not able to achieve the goal but we did raise our percentage from 13% to 42% in one year. The factors that contributed to this enormous success were; 1) declaring the goal as an institutional priority and asking everyone to assist in its achievement, 2) soliciting from alumni at community events we knew they generally attended, for example, the Agricultural Fair, Reichhold Center for Performing Arts events, World Food Day, etc.3) creating class captains who solicited their classmates, 4) conducting volunteer calling campaigns, 5) securing the services of a company that conducted a calling campaign on our behalf. We have continued to employ these strategies and approaches each year and were able to reach a level of 52% this past year. Each member of the Development Staff, but especially our Director of Alumni Giving, has devoted enormous hours, energy and creativity to making this goal a reality.

Robert: What is your leadership style?

President Hall: It is difficult to capture and explain in a few words my leadership style, because there are various components to my style of leadership. I have adapted aspects from various styles that appear in the literature on leadership and thus there is not one label that captures how I attempt to lead. In general, I believe that leadership is more about who we are and the values we possess and manifest, and less about what we do on a day to day basis. I also believe that it is important for leaders to help create and articulate a collective vision for the institution, and inspire people to embrace and achieve that vision. I strive to be an inclusive, collaborative and caring leader. I also believe that the spiritual and emotional intelligence of an organization must be nurtured and cultivated in order to create a healthy and vibrant work environment. My leadership style also embraces strong management ingredients such as measurable goals, accountability, and assessment. Inspirational and transformative leadership without sound management is like a beautiful ocean liner without a steering mechanism. You will end up some place and the ride will be nice, but you will not reach your expected destination.

Robert: Explain “Pathways to Greatness”. How is this important to University of Virgin Islands?

President Hall: This is the title of our strategic plan for 2012-2017, which is a bold and ambitious vision and plan for the University. There are six areas of focus to the plan that includes, Academic Quality and Excellence, Student Development and Success, Community Engagement and Globalization, Modern and Safe University Environment, Organizational and Human Development, and Financial Sustainability and Growth. There are fifty goals and ninety-six measurable objectives within the plan. If we are able to achieve the goals and measurable objectives contained in the plan by 2017, we will have transformed the University from a very good University to a great University. We define greatness as a combination of programs, infrastructure, service and values. Each goal is strategically positioned to move us closer to the next level of excellence.

Robert: What advice do you have for aspiring HBCU presidents?

President Hall: First, make sure that you are prepared for this enormous undertaking. Preparation occurs from the various positions and exposure you have had in your career. It also includes the mentorship and advice of existing university presidents and chancellors. Second, you must be ready to dedicate a major portion of your life to the institution. Though having a healthy work/life balance is critical, the reality is that the institution you lead will end up becoming the major influence in your life and day. Therefore you have to love what you do and have a genuine desire to do it. Never take on a presidency because of the desire of title and authority. This is a service position by its very nature and you end up serving various constituencies. Third, make sure you surround yourself with dedicated, candid and hardworking individuals who share your vision for the institution. They need not agree with you on the specific paths to the destination, but they must embrace the destination or you will be fighting an uphill battle. Fourth, make sure you understand the role of the Board and be willing and able to develop collaborative, respectful and open relationships with the Chair and other key members. Fifth, remember that the students are the primary reason for wanting to lead a university or college, and they should be a major source of your inspiration as you contemplate the role and assume it.

Robert: How do you create a “culture of leadership”?

President Hall: By ensuring that as President you are not monopolizing the reservoir of leadership. In a culture of leadership your primary responsibility is empowering others to lead and giving them the tools and time to develop their leadership skills, values and abilities. A “culture of leadership” occurs through the examples you provide in how you seek advice, consultation and input from various individuals and constituency groups. The University’s challenges must be owned by everyone in the institution, and the President is encouraging individuals to take ownership of the problems in their area and not just provide top down solutions for problems that are better understood and resolved at other levels. A culture of leadership is formed through the shared governance mechanisms that exist, and how they are used in key decisions that affect the university. At UVI, we now have a Career Advancement Policy that requires each manager to discuss with his/her direct reports their career aspirations and have them develop a plan for achieving those goals. When each individual understands that the University is concerned about their growth, then it increases the possibility that they are concerned about the growth of the University, and willing to “lead” it to another level of growth and excellence.