Becoming President: An Autoethnographic Journey Towards Liminality and Emergence

Location: Jepson 120
Date: Fri, April 26
Time: 5:15 PM - 5:35 PM

This qualitative research story offers a detailed account of my advent and practice as the new president of North Central University (NCU) and considers how reputation, credibility, and culture are formed under a new college president. It's essential that we understand the institutional environment and why university presidents, who are new in their roles (less than three years), are leaving their posts earlier than in previous decades and how current and future university presidents are discerning of this trend.

The purpose of this two-year autoethnogrpahic narrative is to explore liminality and emergence through my experience as a new university president set against the contemporary context of turbulent and volatile social and political change. Becoming a college president at age 55 presented a significant pivot for my career. By investigating early experiences of suddenness and inception as a college president, I hope to better understand the larger uncertainties surrounding institutional leadership life and the growing rise of presidential turnover. By critically encountering the juxtapositions of demand and ambiguity that accompany both the president and the presidency, I hope to provide new insights into turnover trends while simultaneously providing a reimagined vision for executive meaning and longevity. My presentation will investigate the following five questions: (1) Are shorter tenures part of a new homeostasis (equilibrium) in higher education? Is this a reasonable pace for organizational renewal? (2) How can a new president use strategic ambiguity by cautiously knowing and doubting their knowledge when they begin? (3) How can a new president mitigate the rapid stream of experience that offers little time for thinking and reflection? (4) How can a new president provide a better perspective on sense-making (how people think) and sense-giving (how others influence thinking)? (5) How do we inspire healthy aspiration in future leaders?