Being a university president is a demanding, exhausting job at any time, involving service to multiple constituencies with competing – sometimes mutually exclusive – interests. But 2020 will go down as a year that’s been historically hard for university presidents. They’ve been called upon to cope with an unprecedented public health crisis, plunging revenue, frighting budget deficits, campus protests over racial injustices, and a highly polarized political environment surrounding the upcoming national election.
Although most presidents have adroitly steered their institutions through this remarkable confluence of conflicts and challenges, others have not fared as well, coming under intense criticism that ranges from angry campuses and suspicious local communities to votes of no confidence and even several high-profile terminations, retirements or resignations.
Dozens of campus chief executives have recently announced they’ll be retiring from their posts in the upcoming year. And the list of highly prominent presidents who’ve already been forced out of their jobs or indicated they’re stepping down is stunning. Beyond the typical annual churn of campus leaders, this year has seen several unusual and unanticipated departures.
Call the roll. Jerry Falwell, Jr. out at Liberty University. Bruce Harreld suddenly ending his tenure at the University of Iowa. And Jay Golden, stepping down under questionable circumstances after less than one year as President of Wichita State University.
Add to those departures several other well-publicized presidential failures, flip-flops, and fumbles related to the major issues of the day. A vote of no confidence in University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel. Widespread objections to the high-handedness of the University of Missouri’s Mun Choi as he responded to social media complaints over his performance.