Survey examines university presidents

Yale President Richard Levin participated in a national survey released last week by The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing 764 college presidents’ backgrounds and opinions on a number of issues in higher education.

The publication’s 12-page confidential Survey of College Presidents was distributed to 1,338 four-year college presidents and chancellors and consisted of 39 questions, Chronicle Business & Politics editor Jeffrey Selingo said. The survey, returned by university leaders in 48 states and the District of Columbia, spanned a range of topics from important administrative tasks to opinions on political issues and found that while presidents are predominantly male and white, they reported a wide range of views on national politics and social issues.

Of the presidents responding, about 80 percent were male, while about 20 percent were female. As female leaders are moving up administrative ladders at institutions nationwide, Levin said, the ratio is likely to shift in the future.

“Of course, I think in every leadership area the percentage of women will increase over time,” Levin said. “Of the five people that have left Yale to become presidents, 60 percent are women.”

The survey found that the majority of responding college presidents served as provost immediately prior to assuming the presidency, with 32.1 percent following the path from provost to president. About 7.2 percent of the presidents had served in various other academic positions, and 6.7 percent had been deans of graduate or professional schools, according to the survey.

Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said the president’s role stresses scholarly experience.

“The last three presidents of Yale have not been former provosts,” he said. “It’s one of the most important requirements that the individual have a long-standing credibility for scholarship.”

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said he thinks college deans possess skills suited for the president position, though individuals occupying other academic posts could also lend important abilities.

“We bring a certain background through our experience, and being dean of the Graduate School is somewhat different than being the undergraduate dean,” he said. “They all would bring a certain experience to bear, and generally speaking I’m sure that experience is regarded as positive.”

About 21.5 percent of respondents had also previously served as president of another institution.

The survey reported that 18.8 percent of respondents were registered Republicans, while 40.7 percent were Democrats and 21.5 percent identified as Independent. On the question of affirmative action, 76.8 percent said they felt there was still an important place for affirmative action policies in college admissions, while 16 percent disagreed.

The survey also addressed leisure activities and the ways college presidents relieve stress. The highest daily percentages were spending time with family, at 58.8 percent, and exercise, at 43.1 percent.

Although the Yale presidency requires long hours, Levin said, he finds time to balance his work with leisure activities, including daily exercise, two-week hiking trips with his wife every summer and reading history books.

“I do exercise and try to get time for other dimensions of life as well,” he said.

Levin has served as president since 1993, before which he served as chair of Economics and as dean of the Graduate School for eight months.

He said his experiences as a member of several University committees, including the University Budget Committee, during his time as a faculty member serve as some of his most relevant administrative skills.

The Chronicle produced the survey to measure the activities and characteristics of college presidents beyond basic demographic information, Selingo said.

“Our feeling was that nothing along these lines has ever been done before,” Selingo said. “These are opinion leaders in many ways, and we wanted to gauge their opinion on different issues.”

The Chronicle survey found that the most frequent activity for a college president is fundraising, with 52.7 percent of the participating presidents encountering the issue on a daily basis.

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