The Elementary Reasons Why a University President Should Strive to Be Like Sherlock Holmes:

By Bob Glenn

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Ever since I first read the Adventure of the Red Headed League in my eighth grade literature book I have been a serious fan of Sherlock Holmes. During college I read and reread the fifty-six short stories and four short novels that comprise The Canon. After college I became acquainted with the The Baker Street Irregulars, that society of Sherlockian enthusiasts formed in the late 1940’s by author Christopher Morley that now boasts over 300 chapters in the United States as well as chapters across the world. My wife, Laurie, and I have had the good fortune to be a part of two such groups over the years. Recently while reading a marvelous little book called Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova, it occurred to me that many of the things I strive to do as President of Athens State University are very similar to the traits and habits of the famed detective. So, with apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. John H. Watson, I will in the next few Athens State Blog posts attempt to list all those reasons why a university president should strive to be like my favorite detective.

“You see but you do not observe,” is an oft-quoted line that Sherlock Holmes delivers to Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia. The remark is made after Holmes asks Watson how many stairs there are from the front door of the house they live in, up to the door of their rooms. It is a path Watson has tread every day, and yet he has never noticed how many steps there are because while he saw the stairs, he did not observe them. This is at the root of what is arguably Sherlock Holmes most famous ability, seeing what all others fail to see, and then acting upon it.

In like manner, one of the most important skills of a university president is to see what others do not, and to take action on it. A university is a complex organization and as a result is not always as nimble as it needs to be in order to be on the cutting edge. It is important that the president be able to look at the landscape of higher education and, like Sherlock Holmes at the scene of a crime, look at a path on which many had traveled and pick out the footsteps to follow to a successful conclusion.

I believe that Athens State has been able to do just that in a number of cases, although I hardly think I was alone in seeing the possibilities. Since I have been here we have launched into a new and innovative collaboration with Calhoun Community College in the arts. We have launched three new majors in the College of Business and now have over 300 students in those new majors. And, we launched an Adult Degree Program with the goal of assisting adults in the work force to finish their college degree. We started in January with a goal of 50 students, now we have 100 and our first graduate in the program graduated this month.

And so I would argue that, like Sherlock, we saw what others did not, we observed, we acted on our observations, and we found a path to success. New opportunities arise each day and we are now looking at new possibilities, like a partnership with the city and county to build a new civic center. It is every bit as exciting as solving a mystery.

In my next post we will talk about another famous trait of Sherlock’s: focus.