A college administrator reflects on his life and career, using his experiences as a road map for other leaders.
In this debut memoir, Muller focuses primarily on his role as president of Bellevue University, which he ran for more than two decades. The book traces Bellevue’s path from its founding in the 1960s by earnest academics determined to bring a strong liberal arts culture to a small Nebraska city, through a period of dysfunction and financial mismanagement, to a re-evaluation of its mission and success as one of the leading providers of online and corporate education. Muller explains the thinking that went into his leadership and decision-making, offering Bellevue’s story as an object lesson for other executives struggling to reinvent their organizations and as “a Midwestern cultural success story,” with location a key element of the school’s development. He demonstrates how the school was able to thrive by understanding that adult learners were its core constituency. The college focused on them rather than accommodating the needs of recent high school graduates, designing programs that allowed these older students to combine academics with their workplace experience. At the same time, Muller’s skepticism about Bellevue’s evolution since his retirement also allows the book to serve as a cautionary tale, demonstrating the challenges of moving forward after the departure of a single committed leader. Although the book is occasionally repetitive, particularly when it comes to reminding the reader that the goal of Bellevue’s founders was to create a “blue collar Harvard,” Muller displays a talent for pithy descriptions, like his first look at the utilitarian campus: “I thought I had arrived at the back end of a supermarket.” The result is a concise narrative that is both readable and practicable, offering insights into one of the less glamorous aspects of higher education while presenting strategies for change that can be applied to industries far removed from the world of academia.
A knowledgeable and experienced educator deftly shares the story of leading a university through challenging times.