Can new wave of college presidents last 5 years or more in the job?

The past three years have been fraught with leadership change in higher ed. Will that pattern continue?
By: | August 10, 2022
New Purdue University President Mung Chaing

Tom Insko recently announced he would be relinquishing his position as president of Eastern Oregon University in late September to become president in a new industry: wood products. For Insko, the switch back to timber was not surprising, on two fronts. He led Boise Cascade for nearly two decades before moving into the presidential chair at EOU, and he is among the high-volume group of former higher education presidents seizing opportunities to exit during the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Insko has led EOU for the past seven years. Many leaders who have announced their departures this year have struggled to last that long, let alone 2,555 days. As a recent article from Oregon Public Broadcasting noted, Insko and the University of Oregon’s Michael Schill were currently the last university presidents in the state standing since 2015 – that is, until Schill just took the Northwestern University job on Thursday. OPB said many of the other regional publics either have installed new leaders in the past two years or are in the process of replacing current leaders.

Those who worked closely with Insko gave him high marks for helping boost access and diversity at Eastern Oregon, even if his term turned out to be less than a decade.

“Tom was a non-traditional president with a background in operations and financial management, but it proved to be exactly the kind of leadership we needed,” said Richard Chaves, chair of the board of trustees. “He set a high bar for our next president, but we are confident we will attract a high-caliber leader who can continue to advance the path forward.”


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The EOU position is among a number of president and chancellor jobs that remain open nationally as boards as contend with departures, including one at the University of New Haven and another at Ocean County College in New Jersey. In its job posting, Ocean County is looking for someone who will “increase enrollment, retention and completion” and “continue to generate new sources of revenue in a time of decreasing traditional resources.” Not too challenging, right? But that is the landscape in 2022, as pressure mounts on presidents to hit those numbers, manage tight budgets, travel heavily, appease faculty and reach campaign targets. Interestingly, a number of more youthful presidents have emerged this year to replace outgoing leaders in their 60s and 70s, including the 46-year-old Sian Beilock at Dartmouth, 45-year-old Mung Chaing at Purdue University and 41-year-old Steve Soule at Canisius.

So, will that new generation of talent remain for a decade or three? Or could the career-tenure days of Eliphalet Nott, who led Union College from the early 1800s through the Civil War for 61 years, be long gone? Since 2018, more than a dozen leaders with 30-plus years of experience have decided to walk away, including Freeman Hrabowski at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, William Harvey at Hampton University and Janet Eisner at Emmanuel College in Boston in the past year. Those institutions that have opted to go younger can look to the example set by music conductor Leon Botstein, who was hired at 23 to be president at Bard College and is still going strong 47 years later.

LASTING IN HIGHER ED

Here are some of the presidents (and those who have transitioned to chancellor) who are among the longest-tenured leaders in the United States. Some are more active in their roles than others:

49 years: Richard Gouse, New England Institute of Technology; Bob Jones III, Bob Jones University

48 years: Lionel Bordeaux, Sinte Gleska University (SD)

47 years: Leon Botstein, Bard College (NY)

43 years: Janet Eisner, Emmanuel College (MA) (being replaced soon)

42 years: Pat Robertson, Regent University (VA)

34 years: John F. McArthur, The Master’s College (CA); Charles Conn, Lee University (TN)

32 years: Scott Miller, Virginia Wesleyan (VA); Jerry Davis, College of the Ozarks (MO); Gary Cook, Dallas Baptist University (TX)

31 years: Jack Hawkins, Troy University (AL)


FLAGSHIP LEADERS: THE SHORTLIST

These are current presidents (and a few chancellors in state systems where that title doesn’t exist) at flagship universities in the United States and the year they began their tenures. Remarkably, about half have or will have taken their posts since the pandemic began:

LESS THAN ONE YEAR

Pennsylvania State University: Neeli Bendapudi (2022)

University of Alaska Fairbanks: Pat Pitney (2022)

University of Colorado Boulder: Todd Saliman (2022)

University of Connecticut: Radenka Maric (interim, 2022)

University of Michigan: Santa Ono (president-elect, 2022)

University of South Carolina: Michael Amiridis (2022)

University of Wisconsin–Madison: Jennifer Mnookin (2022)

LESS THAN FIVE YEARS

Indiana University Bloomington: Pamela Whitten (2021)

Louisiana State University: William Tate IV (2021)

Texas A&M University: Katherine Banks (2021)

University of Iowa: Barbara Wilson (2021)

University of Rhode Island: David Dooley (2021)

University of Utah: Taylor Randall (2021)

Rutgers University: Jonathan Holloway (2020)

University of California, Berkeley: Michael Drake (2020)

University of Maryland, College Park: Darryll Pines (2020)

University of Nebraska–Lincoln: Ted Carter (2020)

University of Nevada, Reno: Brian Sandoval (2020)

University of North Dakota: Andrew Armacost (2020)

The Ohio State University: Krista Johnson (2020)

University of Oklahoma: Joseph Harroz Jr. (2020)

University of Tennessee: Randy Boyd (2020)

University of Texas at Austin: Jay Hartzell (2020)

West Virginia University: E. Gordon Gee (2020, second term)

University of Wyoming: Edward Seidel (2020)

University of Idaho: C. Scott Green (2019)

University of Minnesota: Joan Gabel (2019)

University of Mississippi: Glenn Boyce (2019)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Kevin Guskiewicz (2019)

University of Vermont: Suresh Garimella (2019)

University of Montana: Seth Bodnar (2018)

University of Maine: Joan Ferrini-Mundy (2018)

University of New Hampshire: James Dean (2018)

University of New Mexico: Garnett Stokes (2018)

University of South Dakota: Sheila Gestring (2018)

University of Virginia: James Ryan (2018)

FIVE YEARS OR MORE

University of Kansas: Douglas Girod (2017)

University of Missouri: Mun Choi (2017)

University of Alabama: Stuart Bell (2015)

University of Delaware: Dennis Assanis (2015)

University of Florida: Kent Fuchs (2015, will depart in December)

University of Massachusetts Amherst: Marty Meehan (2015)

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: Timothy Killeen (2015)

University of Oregon: Michael Schill (2015)

University of Washington: Ana Mari Cauce (2015)

University of Hawaii at Mānoa: David Lassner (2014)

Clemson University: Jim Clements (2013)

Purdue University: Mitchell Daniels Jr. (2013)/Mung Chiang (2023)

University of Georgia: Jere Morehead (2013)

MORE THAN 10 YEARS

University of Arkansas: Donald Bobbitt (2011)

University at Buffalo: Satish Tripathi (2011)

University of Kentucky: Eli Capilouto (2011)