University Presidents and Performance: Testing the Theory of Publicness Fit




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For more than half a century, scholars have examined the qualities that distinguish public organizations from their private sector counterparts with the goal of understanding how and whether these distinctions influence organizational structure, personnel management, work-related attitudes, and goal setting. At the same time, the management literature has been dominated by studies about the importance of leadership on organizational performance. These deep streams of research converge in the theory of publicness fit, a succession effects model which posits that organizational performance is driven in part by the match of an executive’s previous management experience and the publicness of the organization that he or she is hired to lead. An analysis of 114 four-year, high-level research universities and their presidents finds that institution-level performance improves in the years immediately following a change in leadership. Although presidents with private sector experience are found to secure more research and private funding, limited support is found for the theory of publicness fit as a predictor of student-centered outcomes, resource acquisition, or prestige. By contrast, significant relationships are observed between university performance and several institutional characteristics, including sector, institution age, endowment, and student demographic makeup.



Education, Higher, College presidents, Universities and colleges—Administration


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