Presidential leadership: a documentation of the defining issues confronted by presidents of the University of Texas at Austin from 1967 to 1997



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American colleges and universities represent the most diverse system of higher education in the world. Institutions vary in many dimensions and managing a single institution of higher education with all of its complexities requires considerable energy and training. Demands upon institutional leaders are numerous, as campus constituents require constant attention. In working with these individuals and groups, a wide-range of issues is encountered. The university president, as the institution’s chief executive officer, is usually the central figure around which such issues revolve and the one held accountable by constituents to fulfill the institution’s mission. Therefore, this study examined issues encountered by university presidents in order to provide insight into the complexities associated with this position. Specifically, a case study was conducted investigating the issues faced by presidents of The University of Texas at Austin (UT) between 1967 and 1997. UT is a large public, research intensive institution located in close proximity to the Texas Capitol, the center of legislative activity, and serves as the flagship of The University of Texas System, the state’s largest and most complex higher education system. These elements add to the complicated nature of the UT president’s responsibilities. The researcher used six general issue themes – governance, finance, academics, student life, legal actions and significant incidents – identified at the national level during the same time period as a guiding framework to perform the document analysis. The primary document chosen for analysis was The Daily Texan, the student newspaper. Supplemental sources were also consulted: the Alcalde (the UT alumni magazine), University Council minutes, presidential addresses to the General Faculty and “state of the university” speeches or both, as well as archived information (articles, speeches, press releases, letters of correspondence) found in the UT Office of Public Affairs. In all, approximately 6,700 documents were analyzed. The specific issues identified provided the basic framework for interviewing the former UT presidents or members of their cabinet in order to record their perceptions related to the issues pertinent to their time in office.