Leadership Turnover among University Presidents**

Article excerpt

This study examines leadership succession among university presidents. Strategy researchers have emphasized that changing leaders is an important organizational decision which is likely to affect the strategic direction of the organization (e.g. Hambrick/Fukuto mi 1991). Using longitudinal data on German university presidents and rectors, three issues are addressed: (1) Presidential tenure is related to selected organizational features. One characteristic to which particular importance is attributed in the succession literature is organizational size. This study analyzes on an organizational level how the office tenure of current university presidents and rectors relates to university size. (2) On the level of the overall university system, a longitudinal study is conducted in order to determine how the average tenure of German university presidents changed between 1960 and 2000. Five different methods for measuring presidential tenure are developed and compared. The results indicate a decrease in presidential tenure since the early 1990s. (3) In order to analyze potential determinants of the decreasing time in office, correlation analyses are conducted. The results suggest that public funding for teaching and increasing pressures for reforms are significantly related to presidential time in office. Resource endowments for research are not related to presidential tenure. Finally, the implications of the decreasing office tenure for managing organizational change in universities are discussed.

Key words: Leadership Turnover, Succession, Presidential Tenure, University Presidents, Organizational Change


Higher education institutions, like businesses, non-profit organizations or the military, face the challenge of leadership succession. Turnover among university presidents is inevitable, and the transition of leadership is likely to affect the ongoing operations as well as the long-term direction of the institution (Neck 1996, Wiersema/Bantel 1992). The perceived significance of a leadership succession event has led to number of publications, particularly in recent years (Boyne et al., 2001). Between the 1970s and 1990s alone, the number of articles on this issue in management and strategy journals rose by 250% (Kesner/Sebora 1994). Most of the studies on leadership turnover have, however, been conducted for private firms (Haveman 1995, Virany et al. 1992), a few focus on public organizations (e.g. Boyne et al. 2001), and even fewer on educational institutions (e.g. Padilla 2001). If leadership succession is an important event in the private sector, it is reasonable to suggest that succession events can have profound effects on change in higher education institutions, too. Cohen and March (1986) have pointed out that identifying the dimensions of when and why university presidents leave their office helps to understand how universities deal with changes in their external environment and how they translate these changes into their internal organizational structures. Since leadership turnover touches fundamental organizational processes such as deep organizational change and structural inertia (Hannan/Freeman 1984), this topic is of particular relevance for managing large bureaucratic organizations such as universities (e.g. Miskel/Cosgrove 1984).

The role university leadership ought to play in initiating organizational changes has also assumed an important place in the current higher education reform debate in Germany. A number of authors and policy makers (e.g. Muller-Boling/Kuchler 1998) attribute educational leaders a critical role in determining the levels and quality of university processes and outcomes. Accordingly, the calls to further strengthen university leadership have become louder. Decentralized governance structures with strong and influential university leadership are seen to be more responsive and better able to deal with individual university contingencies than centralized governance systems. …


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