In a report last year by the American Council on Education, nearly one-quarter of the more than 1,600 college presidents surveyed said they were also unprepared for the rigors of fundraising — whether for academics or athletics.
At Syracuse University, president and chancellor Nancy Cantor is headed to the much smaller Newark, N.J., campus of Rutgers, two years after firing an assistant basketball coach who'd been accused of sex crimes but never charged.
Former University of Colorado president Betsy Hoffman, who left Boulder amid a football recruiting controversy, resurfaced as provost at Iowa State and is now an economics professor. And Martha Saunders, who left the University of Southern Mississippi after an athletics audit found a $1 million shortfall, quietly became provost at the University of West Florida, the school where her academic career began three decades ago as a public relations professor.
"What I miss least is not having any control over my own life," said Saunders, who said she wanted a change after five years in charge at Southern Miss. "College presidents are on the job 24-7, especially in a small town." With public funding declining, presidents must spend more time raising private funds.
Insiders in academia are hesitant to label such transitions as a trend, noting the uniqueness of each situation and varied circumstances of people moving into and out of top college jobs.
"There are many kinds of second acts that we see," said Molly Corbett Broad, a former University of North Carolina system president who now leads the American Council on Education.
But Broad and her colleagues acknowledge that leadership stints now tend to be shorter. The average stay is seven years, down from 8.5 six years ago, according to the latest data.
Recent research by The Council of Independent Colleges, an association of 640 small and mid-sized schools, similarly found a growing hesitation among other academics to move up into the top jobs.