Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy ETDs

Publication Date



Over the coming years an increasing number of college presidencies will change hands. Choice of a new president who will effectively lead an institution is a decision of great importance to individuals within the organization and to the community the college serves. Most colleges employ a search process composed of representatives of key constituent groups to help identify and choose the new president. Yet, numerous participants in this activity and researchers have suggested that the academic search process has become more of a symbolic ritual than a process that effectively and consistently chooses the best candidates for executive leadership. A singular issue in the search process is the continued domination of presidential suites by white males (The American College President, 2007) contrary to changing demographics of student and national populations. For the most part, the search process has resisted examination partly because of issues of confidentiality and partly because of an amorphous mystique that wards off close examination. Traditional organizational analysis fails to completely penetrate the process. When institutions, participants, and processes are also viewed through an anthropological lens it becomes far easier to understand how participants develop meaning for their roles in search processes, how they relate to institutional culture, and how the search process may, in fact, contribute to a continued lack of diversity in executive ranks. This study, a critical ethnographic study of presidential searches at two comprehensive community colleges begins the process of deconstructing presidential searches by viewing the process through the eyes and experiences of individual participants. Through their stories we recognize the presidential search process as a ceremonial activity focused on serving varied constituencies as a means of conveying legitimacy on the final selectee. We see the process as a central activity within the culture of higher education and yet as one that has inherent flaws posing risks to candidates, participants, and potentially falling short of the stated objective of choosing the next best president for the institution. Nevertheless, as the research evolves we begin to identify ways in which the key ceremonial nature of the process can be maintained yet functional components changed in order to better protect the individuals involved and position the institutions to recruit and select the next best president.


Community college presidents--selection and appointment--Case studies, Community college presidents--Selection and appointment--Social aspects, Discrimination in higher education--Social aspects, Sex discrimination in higher education--Social aspects

Document Type




Degree Name

Educational Leadership

Level of Degree


Department Name

Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy

First Committee Member (Chair)

Alicia F. Chávez

Second Committee Member

Steve McCleery

Third Committee Member

Breda Bova

Fourth Committee Member

Eliseo "Cheo" Torres