Presidential transitions can be rocky. Here's one university's solution.

Experts recommend internal leadership pipelines

Imagine if, before taking office, a college's incoming president spent months shadowing the outgoing one, learning the ins and outs of the great responsibilities he or she will soon face.

This has not been the norm in higher education, but the University of Dayton (UD) applied an overlap period to their recent transition—and experts say it could set a new standard for higher ed leadership transitions.

Recently, colleges and universities often hire presidents from the business world. These outside leaders, typically found through executive search firms, take their post after the previous president has already been gone for months, with an interim president filling the gap.

Coming from outside of higher education, business leaders often have an onerous learning curve to understand the current challenges facing their new institution.

UD officials decided to break from the paradigm in several ways when they recently selected a new president.

First, UD's president-elect worked alongside the previous president for many months before assuming his role. Leaders say the overlap created a smoother transition; when UD's new president started his tenure, he fully understood the institution's goals and challenges.

UD's trustees played an important role in the transition as well. They worked alongside the new leader every step of the way and took the transition into their own hands rather than delegating it to a separate staff. 

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UD leaders say the collaboration safeguarded the new administration against the common conflict between new appointees and governing boards that plagues many institutions.

"When selecting and working with new chief executives, most higher education trustees can and should do better," says Clara Lovett, the former president of Northern Arizona University.

In addition to creating an overlap period, experts recommend that trustees:

  • Take the institution's data into account;
  • Identify and clarify the institution's status and needs; and
  • Act as advisors rather than observers to the new leader.

(Carter, Education Dive, 11/9; Lovett, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/6).

More ways to ease the transition to a new leader

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