As four major universities look to fill presidential vacancies this year, search committee members said they are seeking candidates with the potential to succeed in an increasingly complex and far-reaching job.
Duke University, Rice University, the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University are currently searching for candidates to occupy their presidential offices as their top officials step down. Successors of current presidents will face “one of the toughest jobs that [exists] in our country,” Duke University Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations John F. Burness said.
Burness said the scope of the president’s role is widening.
“It’s a 24-7 job,” Burness said. “They are [like] managers of small cities — we have [university] hospitals, we have [dormitory] ‘housing projects.'”
Search committees from each school have the responsibility to choose a president who will best fit the school’s character while keeping in mind several qualities common to all presidential searches, Burness said.
“The search committee has its numerous priorities — maintaining the current momentum of the university, expanding financial resources, and to continue to strengthen the quality and depth of the faculty,” University of Pennsylvania spokeswoman Lori Doyle said.
A president also needs energy to have as long a tenure as that of Yale President Richard Levin, University spokesman Tom Conroy said. Levin has served as Yale’s president for 10 years.
Because of the taxing nature of demands placed on college presidents, a tenure as long as Levin’s is uncommon, American Council on Education Policy Analysis Assistant Director Melanie Corrigan said. But departing presidents at Duke, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rice all enjoyed equally as long or longer tenures than Levin.
Outgoing Duke President Nannerl Keohane and University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin both enjoyed 10-year terms. Rice President Malcolm Gillis is leaving his office after 11 years.
Corrigan said presidents often leave when they feel they are no longer serving the best interest of their university. Conroy said such a choice is made on a case by case basis and that having a long tenure does not necessarily mean that a president is ready to leave office.
“The question to ask when someone departs is, ‘Why are they departing?'” Conroy said. “If the individual is as enthusiastic as he or she ever was — it doesn’t make sense to have a change. It has to do with enthusiasm for the challenge. Some people’s enthusiasm and energy stay at a high level for a longer period.”
The pressures placed on the new presidents are extremely high, Burness said.
“The only thing that’s left off [committee considerations] is, ‘Can this person walk on water?'” Burness said.
Sometimes newly-appointed presidents fail to fulfill student and faculty expectations. Boston University’s presidential search committee recently appointed a president, Daniel Goldin, who was ultimately dismissed with a severance package the day before he was officially slated to begin his term.
The university’s governance committee is currently compiling a report detailing goals for its new presidential search.
“We’re moving forward,” Riley said. “Leaders make mistakes and have to acknowledge them.”
Spokesmen from Duke and the University of Pennsylvania said their search committees plan to take their time in selecting the right person for the job.
Corrigan said communication is the most important aspect in a search for a new president.
“It’s really about information sharing,” Corrigan said. “The only way to get a good fit between the multitudes of constituencies and candidates is to have a clear communication of expectations.”
Levin’s longevity belongs to a category representing one quarter of all presidents, according to a study by the American Council on Education, Corrigan said.
The survey found that one quarter of presidents served more than 10 years, one quarter served from six to 10 years and the remaining presidents served for fewer than six years.
“It’s not uncommon to have a president that serves that long,” Corrigan said. “It’s not a rare breed, but there aren’t as many. Ten years is a long time.”
Conroy attributed Levin’s long tenure to his abilities and to his experience.
“It’s a blend of his talents and his experience together that have allowed him to be so successful and continue his tenure,” Conroy said. “He has been able to remain very fresh.”