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The preparation and challenges of a new college or university president

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: E. Wayne Scott
Abstract:
The study uses a qualitative design to explore the leadership transitions on a college/university campus when a new president is selected from outside the institution. Specifically, the purpose of this study was to examine the transition period of new presidents at Baccalaureate Colleges, as classified by the Carnegie Classification system, and to explore the perceptions of these new presidents regarding their preparation for assuming a college presidency. To accomplish this purpose, nine new college presidents were interviewed. These presidents have been in their positions for at least one year but not more than three years. This allowed a fresh perspective from their view of the presidential transition period.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Dedication iii Acknowledgments iv Abstract v List of Tables x List of Figures xi Chapter Page 1. Introduction 1 Background 2 Statement of the Problem 5 Purpose of the Study 8 Significance of the Study 9 2. Literature Review 11 Effective College Presidents 14 Presidential Search Process 18 Presidential Career Paths 19 Community College Presidential Career Paths 29 Presidential Career Paths in Bible Colleges 32 CCCU Presidential Career Paths 34 Challenges of the Presidency 37 vi

Chapter Page Transition Theory 42 Presidential Transitions 45 Summary 52 3. Methodology 54 Phenomenological Approach 55 Role of the Researcher 56 Setting 57 Participants 58 Ethical Considerations 58 Data Collection 59 Data Analysis 59 Trustworthiness 60 4. Findings 63 Participants 63 First Iteration: Initial Categories 67 Alex: First Iteration 67 Blair: First Iteration 72 Cary: First Iteration 76 Dani: First Iteration 80 Elam: First Iteration 83 Farris: First Iteration 87 Glyn: First Iteration 91 vii

Chapter Page Hadley: First Iteration 94 Isra: First Iteration 98 First Iteration Summary 101 Second Iteration: Emergent Themes 101 Finances 105 Academics 107 Consuming 107 Constituency 108 Culture 108 Mentors 108 Summary 109 5. Discussion of Findings 110 Comparisons among Cases 110 Comparisons among Themes 112 Finances 112 Academics 113 Consuming 114 Constituency 116 Culture 118 Mentors 119 Connections between the Findings and the Literature Review 120 Finances 120 viii

Chapter Page Academics 121 Consuming 122 Constituency 123 Culture 124 Mentors 125 Summary 127 6. Conclusion 129 Significance of the Study 129 Limitations of the Study 132 Implications for Practice 134 Recommendations 135 Areas for Further Research 136 Conclusion 138 References 139 Appendix Page A: Interview Protocol 148 B: Participant Consent Form 151 ix

LIST OF TABLES Table 1: Tenure of Presidents 65 Table 2: Presidents' Prior Positions 65 Table 3: Events Leading to the Presidency 66 Table 4: Alex: First Iteration 68 Table 5: Blair: First Iteration 72 Table 6: Cary: First Iteration 77 Table 7: Dani: First Iteration 80 Table 8: Elam: First Iteration 83 Table 9: Farris: First Iteration 88 Table 10: Glyn: First Iteration 92 Table 11: Hadley: First Iteration )...95 Table 12: Isra: First Iteration 99 Table 13: First Iteration Category Composite 102 Table 14: Second Iteration: Emerging Themes 106 x

LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1: The Standard Promotional Hierarchy for University and College Presidents in the United States 21 xi

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The role of the university president is one of the most prestigious roles in American society, yet very little is understood about what prepares one for the role of president. Unlike the business world, many colleges and universities do not prepare leaders to assume the presidential role at their institutions through strategic succession plans. Instead, many colleges and universities complete the process of selecting a new president with the hiring of candidates from other institutions or, increasingly, from the business world. The president of a college or university has the ability to make a great difference on a college campus. Each institution has many faculty members and students, but only one president. Fifty years ago, Stoke (1959) said, "Higher education has become big business and the period of expansion just ahead will make the present pale by comparison" (p. 4). The National Center for Education Statistics reports in 1995-96 that degree granting institutions generated nearly 2 trillion dollars in revenue. Along with this revenue comes great pressure to please many constituents. The number of constituents that a college or university president must manage can be overwhelming. According to Die (1999), "The sheer number and diversity of the president's constituencies are daunting. These constituents include the board of trustees, the students, the parents of these students, the alumni, the donors, and the community in 1

which the institution is located" (pp. 34-35). Included in any list of constituents served by the president would be the faculty and staff members of the institution. Background According to the 2008 Digest of Education Statistics compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 4,352 colleges and universities in the United States. This number includes 2,675 four-year institutions and 1,677 two-year institutions. Of these, 1,685 are public institutions and 2,667 are private institutions. Bogue and Aper (2000) indicated that these institutions have an overall student population of more than 16 million students. Umbach (2003) indicated that each year more than 300 presidents are involved in separation from their institution of higher learning. These separations are because of retirement, resignation, or termination by the board of the institution. As a result, hundreds of colleges and universities are faced with the daunting task of searching for a new president. This requires that a large pool of qualified candidates be ready to assume the leadership of colleges and universities across the United States. Kerr and Gade (1989) estimated that 5,000 persons served as college and university presidents in the 1980s. They indicated that this figure would repeat in the 1990s and lead to 10,000 persons serving during the 1980s and 1990s. Their estimation was based on 3,200 colleges and universities in the United States in 1989. The estimate concluded that these institutions of higher education would average about one-and-one- half presidents per decade. The selection of these presidents occurs with intense interest by trustees, faculty members, students, and a few alumni. According to Kerr and Gade, "No other campus personnel selections will have drawn such attention" (p. 3). 2

Assuming that the average president serves 7 years as Kerr and Gade (1989) suggested, there would be 6,528 persons serving as college and university presidents this decade. If the pattern holds true for 2010-2019, that would be over 13,000 persons serving from 2000-2009 and the decade approaching. This intensifies the need for qualified persons to serve as leaders of these institutions of higher learning. There are a number of available studies that profile today's college and university presidents. The American Council of Education (ACE) has surveyed college and university presidents since 1986. ACE surveys presidents every 4 years to determine the demographics, career backgrounds, and length of service of serving presidents. These data provide a description of the presidents and compare the data to previous studies. It is interesting to note that the study says, "Despite some shifts, the profile of the typical college president has changed little since ACE began this series in 1986" (p. 57). ACE also asks the presidents to identify areas for which they felt insufficiently prepared during their first presidency. The 2007 report of all presidents listed identified the following: capital improvement, budget, entrepreneurial ventures, athletics, and crisis management. The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) conducts an annual study to determine similar information on college and university presidents of four-year colleges and universities. This study can be helpful in developing a picture of college and university presidents, but provides very little data outside of demographics, career paths, and length of service. The CHE asks a question related to an area for which the president felt unprepared in the new role as president. In 2005 and 2006, the item listed by most presidents was fundraising. Selingo (2006) reported in the CHE that presidents felt unprepared for risk management in the second place, compared to managing legislators 3

and other political officials in the report by Bornstein (2005) in the CHE. There have also been several doctoral dissertations and research studies seeking similar information on college and university presidents. Eighty years ago, Rainey (1929) investigated the role of the college presidency. His research focused mostly on demographics and career paths of the presidents. Cohen and March (1974) attempted to identify a clear path to the presidency for individuals seeking the college or university presidency and from their study developed a standard promotional hierarchy. Several studies have followed to compare the career paths of college and university presidents with the hierarchy developed by Cohen and March. Plotts (1998) studied the career paths of presidents of the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Plotts and Cohen and March both reached the conclusion that the clearest path to the presidency was through the academic ranks if the president was to be hired from within. These studies present a picture of the president but do not detail the challenges that a president faces. Anderson (2007) researched for the American Council on Education and in the report on the American College President states, The likely wave of impending retirements among presidents presents a unique opportunity to further diversify the leadership of American higher education. this will require both that a diverse pool of talented leaders are ready to ascend to the presidency and that institutions become more willing to select that do not fit the traditional profile, (p. 58) The fact that 300 new college and university presidents are needed each year indicates that more information on the presidency is needed. It would be a worthy venture to study the transition into the leadership role these new presidents face. To 4

understand what could have been done to better prepare them for their role as a college or university president could be helpful to those seeking such posts. Statement of the Problem The transition of a new college president causes stress for all of those involved. Obviously, the new president must manage the stress associated with beginning a new job. Administrators may wonder how the new president will view his or her role and if their position will be needed. Faculty members may have concerns about their program and whether or not the new president will offer the support needed for them to sustain a successful program. One of the first things that goes through the mind of staff members is the viability of their job. Students must manage the stress of how the new president will change their life on campus and in the classroom. Trustees worry and hope that they made the right decision in selecting the new president. The transition of a new president to a college or university provides opportunities for change within the institution. Each year hundreds of colleges and universities make the transition to a new president. Sanaghan, Goldstein, and Gaval (2008) noted that a presidential transition has a major impact on the life of an institution. When these transitions are neither amicable nor carefully implemented, they can scar both the institution and the president. Moore and Burrows (2001) found that many presidential transitions are untimely, poorly managed, personally dissatisfying, and in some cases even demeaning for the new presidents. Sanaghan et al. shared their 10 commandments for a smooth transition of a new president. The experience of a first-year college president was studied by Miller (1992). This ethnography explored the challenges, complexities, issues, and events of the first- 5

year college president. Miller stated, "Understanding the college president's role is particularly critical as higher education becomes more complex" (p. 1). These complexities of increasing demands that the new president faces along with the decreased resources available make the presidency a tough position. Miller (1992) reached several conclusions following the study of the first-year president, one of the most important being that the first-year president represents change. Change is not quickly embraced in most higher education institutions and can cause great problems if not handled correctly. Another conclusion was that the expectation for action, decision, and vision is immediate. Constituents expect the new president to have new answers for old problems. The first-year president will also be impacted by the indelible mark left on the institution by the predecessor (Miller, 1992). Miller emphasized that the issues and challenges a first-year president faces are not predictable. Each institution is different, and each has its own set of challenges for the new president. In their book The Many Lives of Academic Presidents, Kerr and Gade (1986) provided an orientation to new presidents. They identified three common surprises for the new president: (a) the intensity of the board's internal politics, (b) the existence of untouchables at high levels of the administration, and (c) the importance of the immediate predecessor. Many of the presidents interviewed had common experiences of loneliness, a sense of being driven, a lack of time to read and think, and a sense of being under constant observation. Kerr and Gade (1986) noted that the new president is constantly being evaluated by the trustees, faculty members, alumni, students, and the public. Each group has its own test for the new president. The trustees want integrity, competence, results, good 6

external relations, effective consultation with the board, adaptability, and tranquility on campus. The faculty want acceptance of faculty procedures, support of faculty values, provision of good salaries, and to not be pushed into academic reform. They also desire a faculty-type president. The alumni want the president to be available to alumni groups to discuss campus developments. The students want friendly interest and concern for a supportive academic environment. The public wants no incidents that run against middle-class morality that attracts media attention. It is easy to see that there are many demands placed on the new president. Most studies have focused on acting presidents with very little differentiation noted between new presidents and veteran presidents. It is important that one be prepared for the challenges that will arise once one assumes the role of president at a college or university. Few studies address the difficulties that are inherent in this new position. The survey conducted by ACE asks two questions about the challenges associated with being a president, one of which was if the president felt unprepared upon assuming the role. The CHE asks one question concerning lack of preparation for the role of president. As time passes, veteran presidents will not likely recall the initial difficulties they faced upon becoming a president for the first time. These surveys do not distinguish their results of these questions based on years of service. They simply ask all presidents the same questions and report the results together. The new presidents are keenly aware of the issues facing them and the difficulties they manage on a daily basis. They can identify the most significant challenges the new president faces in 2009-2010. The new presidents can also identify both the most satisfying aspects of the new presidency and the job in their career that provided the 7

greatest training for the presidency. They can identify the areas of preparation that are most critical in preparing one to assume the role of college president. The recently appointed president can provide great insight into the job of the president today. These insights can prove valuable as higher education continues to change and move ahead to face the coming challenges. The experiences of these presidents can help others prepare for the difficulties associated with the presidency. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to examine the transition period of new presidents at regionally accredited institutions with an enrollment of 4,000 students or less located in the Southern and Central states and to explore the perceptions of these new presidents regarding their preparation for assuming a college presidency. These presidents have come to the presidency from another institution or occupation and not from within the university they serve. To accomplish this purpose, nine new college presidents were interviewed. These presidents have been in their positions for at least 1 year but not more than 3 years. This allows a fresh perspective from their view of the presidential transition period. The emphasis on presidents coming to the new role from outside the university provides a perspective of the difficulties of assuming a role at an institution with which the president is unfamiliar. These difficulties will be compared to see if new presidents face the same challenges at multiple universities. This study seeks to answer the following research questions: 1. What do new college presidents identify as the most significant challenges of their transition into a college presidency? 8

2. What aspects of their career paths do new college presidents feel were most significant in preparing them for their role as president? 3. What aspects of preparation do new college presidents feel are most critical in preparing higher education leaders to assume the role of college president? Significance of the Study Miller (1992) stated, "Few studies have specifically examined the experiences of the new college president" (p. 1). This statement notes the value of a study related to the experiences of the new college president. Many will benefit from the information that can be gleaned from the mind of the new president. Trustees can benefit from the study as they approach the hiring of a new president for the college or university they serve. They will see the challenges that are inherent and understand the many demands that are placed upon a new college president. This can help them select an individual that has faced difficulties and managed them successfully. This study can also help trustees to identify the type of leader needed to bring success to their institution. Transition teams will benefit from this study to make the path as smooth as possible for the new president. They will be able to identify the difficulties that the new president faces and help the president transition into the role with knowledge of some of these problems. Hopefully, this will assist in a smooth transition for the college/ university and the president. The members of the faculty of the institution will understand some of the difficulties associated with the role a new president assumes. This should be helpful in keeping the faculty from being defensive as questions are asked about their program. 9

This will also allow them to introduce their programs to the president in a peaceful way. It will allow faculty members to put themselves in the shoes of the president. The individuals seeking the presidency will recognize some of the transitions through which a new president goes upon assuming the role. This will give these individuals an insight as to what was particularly valuable in the career path of the new president. In a sense, it can give them an idea as to what would prepare them to assume a presidency. Finally, this study will provide valuable insight to new presidents as they assume the role of president. The new presidents will understand that they are not alone in the struggles they face. This could help them to determine what course of action to take as problems arise during the early days of the presidency. \ 10

CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Sanchez (2009) correctly emphasized that the role and duties of a college or university president have become far more complex since the inception of higher education. According to Burton (2003), the presidents of colleges and universities in the 1600s and 1700s did not come through academic ranks to achieve the presidency. Instead, the majority of presidents were appointed from the clergy. The United States followed the model used by Germany and Great Britain when colleges were established. (Sanchez, 2009). The role of today's college president changes on a continual basis. The role a president played in the early 1900s was more of a scholar leading the scholars. The president of today must be involved in much more than scholarly activity. Today's society changes at a quick pace, and higher education struggles to maintain pace with the changing society. Yet, change is inevitable and continues to occur on college campuses across the United States. History provides a good view of college presidents from an early time to today. Records also provide a look at the demographics and career paths of past college presidents. Many researchers have sought to provide higher education with advice on the proper role of the college president. Gordon (1953) noted that the "rapid growth and development of resources of higher learning in America have caused some confusion in recent years as to the 11

functions and qualifications of university and college presidents" (p. 135). Gordon was responding to writers who believed the new president needed mastery in business, finance, and public relations. The same concerns regarding business and finance are made today as well. His study concluded that presidents in 1900 needed the same skill set as presidents of institutions in 1950. The position of president brings with it much responsibility. Michael Bauman (2004) lamented that higher education crumbles unnoticed around college presidents, because today's presidents are not educators. He proposed they are by training businessmen and fundraisers, not teachers. He believed that today's presidents are dedicated to the idea that the college is a business and should operate like a business. According to Bauman, the fundraising activities trump all other activities. This is in stark contrast to previous generations of presidents of colleges and universities who were academicians first. Fifty years ago, Stoke (1959) speculated as to why anyone would want to become a college president. He also asserted that a successful president would not enjoy the role or office. Fisher (1991) believed that the job of the college president is one of the toughest and most important jobs in America. Dodds (1962) believed that the academic presidency required a combination of managerial competence and a talent for educational leadership. The ability to have managerial competence and academic abilities is often viewed as being mutually exclusive by some in the academic world. Dodds believed the only way for presidents to be both competent managers and educational leaders was to involve themselves in only the most important matters. This allowed the presidents to delegate to subordinate officers. This is much easier said than done when leading an 12

institution. Dodds believed that the president's involvement in the most important matters was the critical role the effective academic president had to play. Much has been written on the college presidents in America. A review of literature about American college presidents yields much information about the chief executive officer of American colleges and universities. It is to be noted that as times change so does higher education. Most successful businesses have a succession plan in place for the retirement or termination of their chief executive officer or president. This ensures a smooth transition when the president leaves and the least possible interruption in the functioning of the business. Yet, few colleges have a succession plan in place. It seems that a search is not initiated until the president decides to retire or is terminated. When a new president is finally selected, the search committee often is seeking a candidate who has new ideas on how to lead an institution of higher education. The career paths of new presidents, as well as the transition issues they faced in their first 3 years of service will be examined herin. The following pages are a review of literature related to college and university presidents in the United States. The review begins by examining effective college presidents in the 1900s. This is followed by research based on a successful presidential search process. The Standard Promotional Hierarchy developed by Cohen and March (1974) is reviewed and then the career paths of presidents from research institutions, private colleges, community colleges, and Bible colleges. Finally, the review of literature is concluded with research on transitions and presidential transitions. 13

Effective College Presidents Over a 3-year period, Foster (1913) visited some 105 colleges and universities listed in the reports of the United States Commissioner of Education as universities and colleges. During this time, he became sufficiently acquainted with 51 of those colleges to form judgments concerning the success of their presidents in meeting the expectations of those constituencies they served. He concluded that 34 of the 51 presidents were regarded as failures by their constituents. A majority of the faculty, students, and alumni of these institutions appeared to be in favor of replacing the current president with a new president. Foster concluded that nearly two of three presidents were not successful in their service as president. He then identified the characteristics necessary for a successful college president during the early 1900s. Foster identified eight characteristics or obligations. His obligations were based on the 17 presidents who seemed to be embraced by their constituents. Foster's (1913) first identified obligation was that the president be a scholar. It was important at the turn of the century for the president to be someone who had demonstrated the intellectual ability to lead the educational institution. The next obligation was that the president be a teacher. It was important that the president have experience in the classroom setting, as the focus in higher education was on academic excellence. The third obligation was that the president directly supervise classroom teaching. The fourth obligation was that the president needs to have a strong business sense to run the institution, and the fifth obligation was that he be an effective fundraiser. The sixth and seventh obligations of the presidency were to the social obligations of the office, including speaking in public. The final obligation was leadership. Foster felt that 14

leadership was the rarest and possibly the most important of the obligations of a successful university president. Eighty years ago, Rainey (1929) researched college presidents and sought to answer several questions. His research included 192 presidents identified by Association of American Universities, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools from the College Blue Book for 1928. Rainey sought to answer the following questions: What has been the professional training and history of college presidents? From what vocations had the presidents come? What percentage of the presidents were ministers? What percentage of the presidents had gone through the various ranks of the teaching professions? What did the presidents teach? What executive experience had the presidents completed before assuming the presidency? How many presidencies had they served before assuming their role? How long had the presidents been in their current positions? What degrees did the presidents hold? What was the present age of the acting presidents? How old were they when they assumed the presidency? From the 192 presidents researched, 97% had come from two professions, teaching and ministry. Rainey (1929) also observed that the average age of the presidents in his study was 56 years. In the early 1900s it was not unusual for the president of a college to have a background in ministry. Stoke (1959) noted that a college may have many faculty members, but they have only one president. Stoke asked, "Why isn't there a school for training future college presidents" (p. 13)? Stoke made this observation about the qualifications of college 15

presidents, "In recent years the factor of educational distinction has declined while factors of personality, management skills, and successful experience in business and administration have increased" (p. 15). This trend seems to have leveled off in recent years. Stoke (1959) offered advice to presidents and presidential hopefuls by addressing different areas of the president's work. He noted the importance of their role in administration, fiindraising, public relations, and relationships with faculty, students, and the board of trustees. Stoke believed that "the most important qualification a college president can bring to his job is a philosophy of education" (p. 161). This will give the president a sense of direction and will serve everyday as a guide for administrative decisions. Thus, this will be the compass for the new president's leadership of the university and highlights the need for a philosophy of education to be an effective president. Fisher, Tack, and Wheeler (1998) identified and studied effective college presidents. They surveyed 485 individuals who were administrators of private foundations, scholars of higher education, and randomly selected presidents of private and public institutions and asked them to identify effective college presidents. From these recommendations, 222 presidents were identified and surveyed. Fisher et al. also surveyed a random sample of presidents who were not included in the effective list. Each of the selected presidents was asked to complete a questionnaire. When compared with the randomly selected presidents, the effective college presidents were found to: • Be more inclined to rely on respect than affiliation. • Be more inclined to take risks. • Be less collegial and more distant. 16

Full document contains 165 pages
Abstract: The study uses a qualitative design to explore the leadership transitions on a college/university campus when a new president is selected from outside the institution. Specifically, the purpose of this study was to examine the transition period of new presidents at Baccalaureate Colleges, as classified by the Carnegie Classification system, and to explore the perceptions of these new presidents regarding their preparation for assuming a college presidency. To accomplish this purpose, nine new college presidents were interviewed. These presidents have been in their positions for at least one year but not more than three years. This allowed a fresh perspective from their view of the presidential transition period.