RU is auditioning provosts. Since I'm away from campus, I can't attend the auditions in person--but since I'm on sabbatical, I actually have the time to read through the finalists' vitae and application materials and watch the videos of their Town Hall meetings.
And I have. Watched them all.
(Listen. It's cold and it's snowy and the cats sleep a lot.)
Obviously, I'm not privy to the real meetings and interviews, and so much of what one sees in a Town-Hall style interview depends on not-strictly-relevant performance skills. I've dutifully given my feedback to the search committee, but I don't imagine that I see the full picture or that I'm the best judge. That said, watching all four of the finalists in short succession and hearing them talk about their various initiatives or the way their current institutions have handled such things as Gen Ed requirements, accreditation, or assessment, has clarified why it's valuable to hire from the outside--and why administrative turnover isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Now, anyone who's worked in a college or university knows why it's frequently a bad thing. There's a type of upper-administrator who parachutes in only to be airlifted back out a few years later; he arrives talking about "vision" and "mission," excites the trustees, starts an institute or erects a few buildings, and then--C.V. sufficiently enriched--moves on to the next job. These are what a friend refers to as "tourists at the top": people with only the shallowest interest in or understanding of their new institution, how it works, and what it might really need.
But it's certainly possible to hire a smart and talented outsider: someone who's genuinely interested in and attentive to the needs of the place that hires him, and who intends to stay long enough to see whether his ideas pan out. He needn't stay forever (there are problems with that, too), but he doesn't see himself as just passing through.
The bigger problem, it seems to me, is not that administrators parachute in from outside, but that so few of the other people charged with helping the university run come from outside. Unless you're at an R1, most of your tenure-line faculty and lower administrators have probably spent the bulk of their careers at your institution. That's not a bad thing--it means stability, institutional memory, and a shared understanding of the college's identity and mission--but it limits their hands-on experience with systems other than their own. RU rarely hires at the associate or full level, and though most members of my department have worked elsewhere (either on the tenure track or off), it's not usually for very long. That means little if any service on university-wide committees, and certainly no longitudinal perspective on how certain approaches, policies, or curricula might have played out elsewhere.
Sure, we all have friends who teach elsewhere. And sure, we all do research when a change is proposed: what's the norm for colleges or departments like ours? How have other institutions handled these challenges? That goes a long way. But when all your upper administrators come from outside and very few of your lower-administrators (or committee chairs, task force members, faculty senators, and so on) do, there's likely to be friction or suspicion.
When someone parachutes in and starts talking to the natives? Both parties are quick to declare the other the ignoramus.