The Solutions Exchange
NACUBO 2020–21 Board Chair Robert Moore believes that now more than ever, leaders need to be comfortable making decisions openly, communicating information clearly, and admitting that they may not always have an answer during this unprecedented pandemic.
By Randy Roberson
Robert Moore, acting co-president and senior vice president for finance and administration, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, learned early on the value of higher education. Raised in a family with four children and a father who did not want him to leave home to attend college, Moore says that “had it not been for taxpayers in Arizona and public higher education, I never would have had an opportunity to go to the Northern Arizona University and meet faculty who helped change my life.”
In his senior year, Moore’s faculty advisor suggested he consider a graduate degree in public administration and offered to connect him to a faculty member at the University of Colorado. First, Moore decided to join the National Guard. After completing eight months of active duty, when Moore was looking for a job, he received a call from the same University of Colorado faculty member. As a result, Moore’s mentor helped him find a full time job working for the City and County of Denver while attending graduate school full time.
Post-graduation, Moore continued working for the local and state governments where he fully understood the economic impact universities have on cities and the significance of a state’s support of higher education. After years of service for the Colorado General Assembly, he began working for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, where he learned the importance of effective information sharing and decision making while trying to create a win-win approach for all involved in higher education.
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, Moore recognizes that chief business officers have many more challenges to address and decisions to make while helping run institutions at a time when the goal lines seem to constantly be moving. Despite an uncertain environment that continues to evolve, campus leaders must continue to focus on students, he emphasizes.
In this interview with NACUBO, Moore discusses the skills needed by CBOs to address challenges brought on by the pandemic, the role advocacy will play in the post-pandemic higher education landscape, and his goals as NACUBO’s board chair.
Early in your career, you were the staff director for the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado General Assembly. Talk about your transition into higher education, and the skills you learned that have been particularly relevant to your career in higher education.
The joint budget committee was a bipartisan group of legislators who worked nearly full-time for a few months before the annual legislative session began through the session. The committee developed a detailed budget bill.
In summer, the committee traveled the state. I saw every state-owned facility, fish hatchery, experiment station, college campus, and prison. Visiting these facilities was informative; I realized the state’s tremendous economic impact. I also developed a clear understanding of how the state transformed lives by supporting higher education. I remember thinking that it would be great to be a part of higher ed.
I had an opportunity to become the deputy director at the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, which was the state coordinating board. In this role, I saw a different side of higher ed. I worked with a commission of nine people who had responsibilities that included dividing up the state higher ed allocation among the six governing boards of higher education.
As deputy executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, you made presentations to legislators, higher education officials, and the general public concerning higher education finance, enrollment planning policy, and master planning issues. How did those experiences help prepare you for your current position at Colorado College?
I watched decision makers sit day after day and have information presented to them. I saw them struggle to retain and process the information. Then when it came time to make decisions, I saw their difficulty of recalling what was important.
There are about three things that a person can remember about any major issue. You have to keep that in mind if you're going to present information to someone. What are those two or three things you hope they’ll remember?
I also observed the power of storytelling. If you can include the three important facts in a story, it's much easier for most people to retain and remember those. These are two lessons that I gained from those experiences that I now use.
Higher education is facing unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. What skills do CBOs need to effectively handle these challenges and move their institutions forward in strategic ways?
Higher ed employs smart and focused people. Unfortunately, the many good ideas that employees come up with will always exceed an institution’s resources. Business officers must take those ideas and prioritize them.
If you're going to create a community, you've got to be open and direct in your communications. You've got to get the information out there and help people understand it. We should think about ways to present the message, clarify it, restate it, and then continue working on communicating more clearly and effectively.
We also must be comfortable in saying what we don't know, especially during uncertain times. Business officers try to make data-driven decisions, but in this pandemic there is no good set of data to guide us. Leaders must be willing to say that this is the way I am going to approach this and will try to do the very best I can. Some decisions will be wrong. But we'll learn from them and rethink our next approach.
We also must be willing to take risks to preserve institutions. For example, a risk could be what classes you decide to teach in person or online. We have to focus on the students we're trying to serve and figure out how to protect people who are vulnerable. The pandemic is an explosion of all the normal challenges a CBO faces in running a high-performing institution when the goal line keeps moving on you.
More About Moore
- Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona
- Grew up in a family of four children
- Attended Northern Arizona University for his undergraduate studies
- First college graduate in his immediate family
Served in the National Guard
- Obtained an MPA from the University of Colorado
What role will advocacy play in the post-pandemic higher education landscape? What advice can you give to campus leaders who either want to start advocating or deepen their advocacy efforts for their campuses?
Government and other decision makers will have to make big decisions. Most decision makers accept the fact that higher education is a public benefit. However, we have to appreciate the challenges that decision makers are facing as they try to balance all the priorities in front of them.
We also have to help people, like those at NACUBO and others who advocate for us, by giving them the information they ask for, not the information we think they ought to have. When they say that they need these three things, give them only those three things while trying to understand why they're asking for that.
Finally, campus leaders still need to clarify the message that higher education is not just about personal economic advantage. We're trying to do other more important things in our society, and we need to think about how we describe those things.
You have worked as WACUBO president, served on NACUBO’s Small Institutions Constituent Council, and been a member of many boards in your community. How has your work with these groups informed your career development?
I think about people who helped me along the way, and I want to pay that forward. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to try to give to others. Many of the organizations I volunteer for are focused on professional development, information sharing, improving communities, and giving back to others. When you volunteer, you meet and learn from other volunteers, so there is an immediate personal benefit.
What are your thoughts about your upcoming year as NACUBO’s board chair? What would you like to accomplish?
The NACUBO staff have a very clear vision of what they’re trying to accomplish on behalf of higher education and it's a heavy lift. They're capable, but they also need to feel supported by the NACUBO board.
Our board members come from a variety of institutions, and we're all facing pressures about how our institutions spend money. We need to do our best to help our institutions understand that there is tremendous value in what NACUBO is trying to accomplish.
Higher education is an outstanding investment that returns significant value to individuals, communities, and our nation. As board members and business officers, we have an opportunity to contribute to and help NACUBO. What a great opportunity it is to share an idea, respond to a survey, or provide new information that helps NACUBO staff in their work to support higher education.
RANDY ROBERSON is the vice president of leadership development, NACUBO.