Big Rewards, Less Job Security For College Leaders

Ann McClure's picture
Friday, July 6, 2012

Helicopter parents, impatient trustees, overworked professors, entitled athletics boosters and deeply partisan lawmakers with little cash to spare. It's enough to make people wonder why anyone would want the job of college president.

Sure, the pay is pretty good, and the perks sizable, from free housing and a company car to travel budgets. But when it comes to running the 21st century American university, the men and women in the president's office are increasingly on high alert that their stays at the top could prove short.

Look no further than the University of Virginia, where the sudden ouster and subsequent rehiring of President Teresa Sullivan has made national headlines. Or to state flagship universities in Illinois, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin, where presidents resigned or were forced out in the past year after relatively brief stints in charge.

"It's harder now than ever before," said Stephen Trachtenberg, who works for a Washington-based higher education executive search firm after spending a total of 30 years as president at George Washington University and the University of Hartford. "You're trying to fill as many mouths now with short rations."

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