The new university president: How nontraditional presidents construct their presidencies
Davies, Robert O
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"The college presidency is one of the most influential of all positions because the future leaders of the world sit in our classrooms. The academic presidency also is one of the most important of all positions because it is chiefly on the campus that knowledge--the foundation of the future--is created" (Rhodes, 2001 p. 223). As a reflection of a shift to the research agenda during of the late 19 th Century, by the end of the Second World War an overwhelming majority of university presidents were academicians-individuals who had spent a majority of their careers inside the academy (Corrigan, 2002). As a result, the universal career ladder for a president during the latter half of the 20 th Century was: Faculty [arrow right] Department Chair [arrow right] Dean [arrow right] Vice President/Provost [arrow right] President (Cohen & March, 1974). While this ladder is still popular, it is not the single pathway it once was. Both internal and external forces shifted the expectations and required experiences of the modern university president. As a result, new pathways to the university presidency have emerged. Because of the difficulty of cutting costs, providing more services, responding to political and market forces have provided the foundation for universities to increasingly select presidents from outside the academy--the nontraditional president. This thinking is based on the assumption that the experiences of leading major corporations, nonprofit organizations or government agencies are more aligned with leading a university than a scholarly background. As stated by Atwell and Wilson (2003), "If college and university presidents continue to be drawn largely from the ranks of persons who are primarily scholars, there will be an increasing disconnection between the skills necessary to lead our institutions and the qualifications of their leaders" (p. 24). This study is focused on how the nontraditional president creates his or her presidency. To accomplish this, a case study approach was used. Eight presidents were selected based on their individual career paths and because of their initial success at their respective universities. The eight presidents include: Dr. Gregory Geoffroy from Iowa State University, Dr. Shirley Tilghman from Princeton University, Dr. T. K. Wetherell from Florida State University, Dr. John DiGioia from Georgetown University, Dr. Lee Todd from the University of Kentucky, Dr. Shirley Jackson from Rensselaer Polytechnic University, Dr. Robert Gates from Texas A&M University and Dr. Bob Kerrey from the New School University. Each president represents one of four possible career paths: Scholar; Administrator; Dual-Experienced; and Outsider. The basis of the analysis was the use of four lenses: Leadership and Decision Making Style; Action Preference; Focus and Orientation; and Connection to the University. The major findings of this study include: nontraditional presidents are used to transform a university, hired for specific agendas, are very quick to act, rely on the managerial leadership style for control, decision making, and communication, and have a strong personal relationships to the universities they serve. This study also revealed that nontraditional presidents are not hired solely for an external focus or for fund raising needs, can be very effective internal leaders and can have an incredibly strong commitment to the concept of shared governance. In addition, the study reveals several ways in which nontraditional presidents overcame this perceived liability and have been embraced by the academy.
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