Inside or outside: Succession in presidential appointments

Michael D Williams, University of Pennsylvania


This study provides an intriguing look at presidential succession among comprehensive universities and liberal arts colleges. Among the five different Carnegie Classifications, these two segments of the higher education community have the lowest rate of internal presidential succession. This study sought to find out the rationale for the preponderance of external succession. This study also attempted to unearth how external and internal candidates differ in skills, institutional knowledge, and relationships. Once selected, how do these presidents perform given their abilities and deficits in skills or knowledge? A review of the corporate and higher education literature provides an enlightening backdrop for this study. At the heart of the conversation regarding inside or outside succession appears to be one fundamental debate. Those who would advocate outside succession would base this belief on the notion that leadership is a skill that is transferable. Conversely, those who would advocate inside succession would hinge their theory on the fact that leadership is contextual. The research methodology for this study is a mixed-methods design. The quantitative component examined the raw data of the American Council on Education's 2007 American College President study. The qualitative component examined interviews conducted with presidents, board chairs, and search consultants of nine different church-related, comprehensive universities or liberal arts colleges who recently installed a new president. Three of these presidents were selected from within the institution and four were selected from outside the institution. Two of the selected presidents had served as both an insider and outsider. The contrast of their relationships and knowledge provided the essence of this study. The findings of this research suggest that there are distinct barriers to the internal candidate for the presidency. The infrequent internal succession is a direct result of the predisposition to the external candidate. Yet, the findings of this project demonstrate that insiders do begin the presidency at a marked head start. Their accurate assessment of the institution, contextual and cultural understanding, and earned relationships enable them to make quick and decisive decisions early in their presidency. Conversely, it takes time for external presidents to acquire institutional knowledge and build relationships.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Williams, Michael D, "Inside or outside: Succession in presidential appointments" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3311545.