Preparing for the freshman year: What four new liberal arts college presidents learned along the way

Frederick Mercer Van Sickle, University of Pennsylvania


This study began by asserting that first-year performance has implications for the success and longevity (or failure) of a college presidency. More to the point was my view that the time of transition between a president's appointment and taking office is a unique "window of opportunity" for a new president to establish a leadership style and broader persona which can later be difficult to alter, and to enjoy an unusual degree of executive maneuverability. If that were the case, then how might a president-designate plan most fruitfully for a high-impact first year? Because the research focused on the first year, the answer to the broader question is unclear. However, the assertion that transition activities have significant impact on the performance of duties in a president's first year was validated. It became clear that better transition preparation on all sides would have created more effective freshman years. This dissertation was based largely on interpretive research, and is qualitative and anecdotal in nature, reporting on the views and experiences gained through extensive interviews with four new liberal arts college presidents. It also includes the observations of representative trustees and faculty members. Each of four case studies suggested a similar set of lessons: dealing with the exit of the old leader, confirming the key institutional issues posited by the search committee, and the personal impact of the presidency on the new incumbent. While it is clear that there is no way to fully anticipate what any presidency will mean to the incumbent or campus, it is worth noting new presidents cannot depend on the cooperation and good will of many others alone--particularly the departing president and board--to give their new presidency more weight than the old one. Transition arrangements should not be left to chance, and should be spelled out in great detail before the job is accepted. This dissertation suggests detailed elements likely to guarantee a successful first year.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Van Sickle, Frederick Mercer, "Preparing for the freshman year: What four new liberal arts college presidents learned along the way" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9721047.