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Changing of the Guard: Key Questions Surrounding a Presidential Transition

The EvoLLLution | Changing of the Guard: Key Questions Surrounding a Presidential Transition
Presidential turnover can create a tidal wave of shifts across the institution, from new strategic directions to changed priorities and revised processes.

So, you check your email on Monday morning as you typically do. What do you find? Your current president has announced they will be retiring at the end of the academic year and you may or may not have seen this coming. What automatically goes through your mind?

I am sure there are several things that immediately race through your mind if you did not see it coming. What’s next? Oh, no! How will this impact me? Depending on how you feel about the announcement, you may be happy or disappointed. If you work directly for the current president, you may immediately think about your own future employment to the institution. Do you have to find a new job? Will you be safe? Or, do you choose to wait it out and see?

There will be staff at the institution who may be so far removed and they may have no opinion or perception about the pending presidential transition. There may be faculty members who may feel strongly one way or the other on the transition depending if the president was supportive of faculty or not. There may be administrators that immediately think they must find new employment. After all, how many key administrators are left when a new president comes on board? Take a look around at your current institution. If you were not there for a presidential transition, ask around. I am pretty sure you will find employees who can give you the gist of what happened during the last presidential transition.

After the initial shock and water cooler conversations, the next step will be the institution has to begin the presidential search process. You then may ask yourself or others if the search process will be open to all to be involved. Will the search process include all key constituencies of the institution? Who will be included on the search committee? Will the institution use an outside higher education search firm that is versed in higher education chief executive officer searches to assist in the process or will the institution keep the presidential search in-house? This process is key for faculty, staff, administrators, and the institution. The Association of Governing Boards (AGB) wrote the book on the process, literally. The search and selection of the new president should meet the needs of the institution and should also be as close a fit as possible.

There are several factors that should be considered when it comes to the type of president the institution needs. Should it be someone with a fundraising background? Someone who has experience working well with regional accreditors? Someone who has board of trustee management experience? Maybe a strong athletics program person, or a person from a military-friendly institution? Maybe an internal candidate? Should it be a former president, or someone who has not been a president before? A person who took a non-traditional path to the presidency? Or maybe someone who has been successful in the past regardless of the position?

If an internal candidate may fit best, who may it be? What qualities and experience do the potential internal candidates have? Do any internal candidates come immediately to your mind? How many come to mind?

All in all, the search process will be a challenging one for any institution.

What if the search process produces a non-fit or if the search firm and search committee cannot find a good fit? There may be a chance the initial search does not produce the right type of candidate. Does the current president stay or does the institution go with an interim president until the search is complete? Who will the interim be if that is what is decided? It could be a trustee, a current administrator, or someone from outside of the institution. What are the perceptions of the stakeholders if this occurs?

Lastly, oh, what about the students?

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