Hiring college and university presidents: communication, agency, and culture

Maria Dwyer, Surabhi Sahay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The presidency in higher education is becoming a revolving door, with ever-shortening tenures. One reason for this trend is difficulties when presidents and governing boards interact. Scholars have recommended improving how these actors communicate and share information to remedy this, yet problems persist. This study primarily focused on exploring the communication competencies that college and university board members sought when selecting new presidents and the degree of alignment between boards and presidents on their importance. Mixed methods consisting of qualitative data collected using Flanagan’s Critical Incident Technique preceded a survey and statistical analysis. Qualitative data was used to design the quantitative phase. We found that board members sought passion for the school, communal and thorough communication, credibility and trust, interpersonal relationship skills, and listening. Presidents underestimated the board’s emphasis on most of these. Results conform with expectations derived from leadership communication competency models, agency theory, homophily, cultural matching, and three perspectives on organizational culture. Differing prioritizations of communication competencies and behaviors and the cultural ambiguities they represent may be complicit in increasing turnover and shortening tenures of presidents in higher education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Leadership in Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Strategy and Management

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