An occupational performance profile of college presidents

Date of Completion

January 2001


Education, Administration|Education, Higher




This qualitative study systematically examined the occupational performance of eight college presidents of four-year, private, independent, non-profit, comprehensive or liberal arts colleges and universities in New England, all of whom were serving in their first presidency. Occupational profiles and a comparison of occupational performance among the presidents were accomplished through the triangulation of data collected from personal interviews, curriculum vita, and institutional documents. ^ Each generation of college presidents faces new challenges. These presidents are trying to assert their prominence as leaders in higher education at a time when the public is cynical and there are limited resources. Results of the study indicated that there are remarkable similarities in how these presidents orchestrate their daily lives and have acquired and sustained the confidence of others in order to be effective leaders. ^ The use of an ecological model, the person-environment-occupation model used in the field of occupational therapy, showed that the presidents' occupational performance was the product of the dynamic, interdependent, and transactional relationship that occurred between them, their specific occupations, and the campus communities. Prominent themes emerged from the presidents' descriptions of their work and included their remarkable stamina, productivity and perseverance, ability to make connections with constituencies to achieve institutional goals, and manage a web of temporal, physical, social, cultural and community influences. Issues related to spirituality emerged and imply that the ability to be mindful and attach personal meaning to one's life is a central consideration. ^ The findings of the study suggest that the presidency is context bound and that increased attention to the personal aspects and meaning of being a president within the context of a particular campus community may be key to effective presidential leadership. In looking toward the future, higher education may be best served if college presidents and the academy assume responsibility for creating, in partnership, college environments that will foster conditions for success and support the values of higher education. This approach may enable higher education to identify, develop and sustain effective presidential leaders in the 21st century. ^