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Presidencies Derailed

, 184 pages

1 line drawing

July 2013



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Presidencies Derailed

Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It

University presidents have become as expendable as football coaches—one bad season, scandal, or political or financial misstep and they are sent packing. A derailed presidency can undermine an institution's image, damage its alumni relations, and destroy campus morale, but it can also cost millions of dollars. During 2009 and 2010, fifty college, university, and system presidents either resigned, retired prematurely, or were fired.

These high-profile campus appointments are increasingly scrutinized by faculty, administrators, alumni, and the media, and problems emerge all too publicly. A combination of constrained resources and a trend toward hiring from outside of academia results in tensions between governing boards and presidents that can quickly erupt. Sometimes presidents are dismissed for performance, financial, or institutional "fit" reasons, but there are nearly always political reasons as well. The details of these employment situations, often masked by confidentially clauses, increasingly emerge as social networks and traditional media buzz with speculation.

Former university president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, along with Gerald B. Kauvar and former chancellor E. Grady Bogue, examine what can go wrong—and indeed has—and who in academic institutions has the responsibility to address these issues before things get out of hand. Presidencies Derailed is the first book to explore in depth, from every sector of higher education, the reasons why university presidencies fail and how university and college leadership can prevent these unfortunate situations from happening.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was a long-serving president of George Washington University and the former president of the University of Hartford. He is author of Big Man on Campus: A University President Speaks Out on Higher Education, Reflections on Higher Education, and Speaking His Mind: Five Years of Commentary on Higher Education. Gerald B. Kauvar is research professor of public policy and public administration and special assistant to the president emeritus at George Washington University. E. Grady Bogue was chancellor of Louisiana State University in Shreveport and author of Quality and Accountability in Higher Education: Improving Policy, Enhancing Performance.

"Without qualification, this book is and will remain the classic on why university presidents succeed or fail. Not to mention the lessons also apply to all top leadership!"

"There are few university presidents like Stephen Joel Trachtenberg—at once knowledgeable, creative, commonsensical, likable, and aggressive (indeed, relentless, even outrageous) in the pursuit of institutional uplift and excellence."

"The authors provide a thoroughly researched account of career fiascos."

"It's a book with relevance far beyond academe."

"This book should be read by presidential search committees and purchased by vice presidents worried about their president’s success."

"Every derailed presidency has its own story. And many resignations, abrupt retirements or terminations do not qualify as a derailment... The risk of failure is high."

"This is one of the best professional books I have ever read."

"Individuals concerned for the welfare of their institution should have an awareness of change in leadership and its consequences for the university. Presidencies Derailed is a good resource for those serving on search committees, aspiring presidents, and others interested in leadership transitions. This book certainly offered an overview of many timely, practical examples of derailed presidents."

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