Why Being a University President Isn’t a Stable Job Anymore

A generation ago, it wasn’t unusual for the president of a public college or university to stay on the job for 10 or 15 years. Today, that kind of stability is pretty much gone. Lately, every month has seemed to bring news of a president stepping down in strained circumstances. It happened in June at the University of Louisville, in August at the University of California, Davis, and in October at the City College of New York. The details vary, but it’s clear that the job of university president is becoming more precarious all the time, all over the country. Of the 81 public universities in America classified as “Research 1” institutions, 56 have experienced presidential turnover over the past five years. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, budgets for public colleges and universities are under severe stress. Nearly all states have cut support for higher education, and many of them have at the same time imposed caps on tuition increases. Presidents find themselves constantly second-guessed about spending priorities by politicians, faculty, alumni, parents and students. Even as states cut back on funding, they are demanding greater accountability...

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