Structured pathways to the presidency: Becoming a research university president

Velmer Stanley Burton, University of Pennsylvania


The study of pathways to the college and university presidency has long captured the interest of higher education scholars and researchers. Based on a survey of current presidents at all doctoral-granting (research) universities, this study seeks to both create a profile of current research university presidents and to identify empirically factors predictive of becoming the president of three types of research universities: Association of American Universities institutions, Carnegie Research/Doctoral Extensive institutions, and Carnegie Research/Doctoral Intensive institutions. In light of the previous literature, control variables to be utilized in logistic regression models include prestige of president's doctoral degree, type of doctoral degree, discipline of earned doctoral degree, institutional prestige of previous faculty and administrative appointments along the career path, scholarly identification, significant (star quality) scholarly and professional accomplishments, race, and gender. Additionally, a separate analysis for gender is undertaken. The findings reveal that the factor most predictive of becoming an AAU president was the prestige of previous appointments at AAU institutions along the career path. Moreover, being defined as a scholar and star accomplishments were, although to a lesser extent, significant predictors of holding a research university presidency. Difference of means tests indicate that this variable is significantly different for AAU versus Extensive and Intensive presidents. Additionally, the interaction product term of gender and proportion of previous appointments was significant. This research indicates that, among research doctoral-granting universities, “outsiders” to higher education are not becoming presidents. Additionally, while it is possible, statistical outliers (e.g., with the appropriate degree, previous experiences, etc.) rarely become president at research universities unless they bring star accomplishments or notoriety (e.g., scholarly reputations) to the university. Concluding remarks suggest that becoming president at a research university, especially at a more prestigious institution, is a highly structured process from the earning of the doctorate degree to where academic and administrative experience is obtained. Finally, suggestions for future research endeavors studying research university presidents are offered.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Burton, Velmer Stanley, "Structured pathways to the presidency: Becoming a research university president" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3084874.