A study of the moral voice of the college president

Date of Completion

January 1996


Education, Administration|Education, History of|Language, Rhetoric and Composition|Education, Higher|Education, Philosophy of




College presidents often become highly visible leaders with ability to exert influence within their educational communities and the larger society. Presidents are in positions to shape and articulate educational philosophies and contribute to institutional philosophies of education and mission. Historically, the presidential role has included concentration on presenting moral issues, principles, and ideals to their constituencies, special attention being given to significance of these matters in the lives of students. The formation of character has been viewed as crucial to the educational task, one in which presidents were important, at times even prominent, figures.^ This aspect of the role of college presidents is clear and has been documented. In addition, much recent attention has been paid to the importance of presidents acting in moral and ethical ways in handling their responsibilities. The president's moral voice (its content, and the manner in which it has been articulated) as integral to presidents' philosophies of education and the missions of their institutions has been less thoroughly studied.^ This study describes and examines both the moral voice of the college president and the history and present state of moral rhetoric in the presidency and presidential leadership. It examines the turn-of-the-century, immediate predecessors, and current presidents at six colleges and universities--Amherst, Clark Atlanta, Columbia, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wellesley. The research includes interviews with the incumbents. Changes which have occurred, especially in the face of the increasing complexity and demands of the college presidency are explored.^ The moral voice emerges as an essential contributor to the shape and articulation of presidential educational philosophy as well as to institutional philosophy and mission. Presidential rhetoric is demonstrated in matters of the character formation of students, free speech and academic freedom, major national and global concerns, the ethical dimensions of education, and the social responsibilities of educated individuals and institutions. The research examines the changes in the moral voice during the last hundred years, contributes to understanding moral leadership as integral to the college presidency, and in these findings grounds observations about the present state and future prospects of the moral voice. ^