American University
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Presidential succession and modes of departure in higher education

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posted on 2023-08-04, 14:53 authored by Anita Fitzgerald Henck

This study was designed to collect data and quantify general issues with respect to presidential succession in higher education, focusing on four aspects of the chronology--past president's departure, use of temporary leadership, search and selection process, and new president. Specifically, the study focused on establishing a database and defining institutional profiles relative to presidential transitions in the 1988-89 academic year, with particular emphasis on the differences between routine and non-routine departures. The cohort population was defined by the following criteria: U.S. collegiate institutions with regional accreditation that offered degrees at the baccalaureate or greater levels, having enrollments of 500 or greater, that had a presidential transition during the 1988-89 academic year. Each of the 164 institutions fitting this profile received a survey about the presidential succession process. Ninety-two responses (55%) were included in this study. The profile of the respondents mirrored the general cohort population. The study found that 61% of the presidential departures were routine and 39% were non-routine. No significant difference was found in mean search lengths and mean number of search meetings between institutions experiencing routine and non-routine departures. But, mean time between announcement and presidential departure was significantly different, with mean times of 6.73 months and 2.55 months, respectively, for routine and non-routine departures, with a modal response of zero months. While no significant difference was found in the use of "Interim President" and "Acting President" titles between schools experiencing routine versus non-routine departures, there was significant correlation based on institutional affiliation. Public institutions that use a temporary president are significantly more likely to use the title "Interim President" and private institutions that use a temporary president are significantly more likely to use the title "Acting President.". Cycles of announcement and departure of presidents are related to the academic calendar, with the preponderance of the announcements of impending departures occurring in June and December (routine and non-routine alike); a substantial majority of the departures occurred at the ends of the academic and calendar years. This finding has important implications for institutions in transition, as they plan their search and selection processes. Institutions are urged to develop presidential succession plans, particularly in light of the requirements of planning and implementing presidential search and selection processes.







Ph.D. American University 1996.


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