Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Higher Education (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


James O. Hammons

Committee Member

Karen Hodges

Second Committee Member

Carleton Holt


Education, AASCU, Acclimation, Executive transitions, Lessons learned, Public higher education, University presidents


The purpose of this study was to learn the acclimation practices of new, first-time presidents at regional, public comprehensive institutions. An original survey conducted from January through March, 2015, was completed by 61 new CEOs for a 59% response rate. They reported numerous activities that were helpful to learn their organization so as to become sufficiently comfortable in their understanding of campus culture, governance processes, operational practices, regional partners, and state policy climate to lead their organizations forward. With experience they learned that acclimation took longer than they expected. The study found higher rates of female or minority CEOs, and more chief academic officers than reported in profiles of CEOs nationally. There were fewer “outsiders” to higher education, but fewer selected from within their institutions. They described the operational environment of their institutions and the immediacy of operational problems. Many were surprised by the immediacy of these challenges. Several areas were analyzed for gender differences, and also whether CEOs responses varied based on the operational environment they inherited. The CEOs reported similar professional pathways and preparation for the presidency, and shared feelings of rewards, successes, and frustrations. The CEOs indicated they removed significant numbers of inherited top executives. Female CEOs reported stronger empathy than male CEOs. This was reported both in those stakeholders with whom female CEOs developed strong relationships, and those with whom they struggled to connect. Finally, nearly 30% of the new CEOs reported they seriously thought about leaving their positions.