Former University of Illinois President Michael Hogan, forced out in March after less than two years on the job, wasn’t so lucky. In his case, faculty opposition doomed his brief presidency, which came after a 2009 admissions scandal drove out Hogan’s predecessor.
At Oregon, Richard Lariviere was fired in December 2011 after defying his bosses’ orders not to increase employee pay. His time on campus? Twenty-nine months.
The first female president at Texas A&M, Elsa Moreno, abruptly resigned in 2009 after just 17 months in office. Mike McKinney, the chancellor of the larger Texas A&M system, who some thought helped drive away Moreno, resigned in May 2011, five years after the former chief of staff for Gov. Rick Perry took over under a business-driven reform movement.
And in Madison, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin left in June 2011 after lawmakers failed to support her plan to split the flagship campus from the rest of the state university system. Martin, who spent three years at Wisconsin, stepped down to take the presidency at Amherst College.
The trend isn’t a new one. In 2006, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers resigned after a five-year stint following a faculty no-confidence vote and a series of public missteps, including comments about the intellectual aptitude of female scientists that some viewed as sexist.
Molly Corbett Broad, a former University of North Carolina system president who now leads the American Council on Education, said university governing boards “have become much more politicized.” She said they’re wrapped up in power struggles with campus presidents who can’t — or won’t — always mollify the competing interests of board members while also remaining attentive to students, parents, donors, professors and politicians forced to cut public spending on higher education as many states struggle to emerge from the recession.
“A president really cannot succeed in leading unless she has a working majority of those constituencies,” she said. “And their interests are not typically aligned.”
“Each of these constituencies play different roles in the life of the university, and it’s the president’s job to keep them reasonably together,” she added.
Trachtenberg, now a higher education consultant with Korn/Ferry International, said the job of university leader remains an attractive one, despite the higher stakes and declining job security.