Pressure on the Presidents

Survey of college leaders finds significant minority in public sector feel pressure from governors. And as lawmakers want colleges to use climate surveys on sexual assaults, presidents support concept, but only a minority say their institutions are doing so.

October 30, 2014

Twenty-eight percent of public four-year college and university presidents say they feel pressure from their governors to conduct their presidencies in ways that differ from their judgment about what's best for their institutions.

That is among the findings of the latest snap poll of presidents -- conducted by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed -- on breaking issues. A total of 620 presidents responded to the latest survey. They were assured anonymity, but their answers were grouped by sector. The latest survey was conducted amid the latest push by allies of Texas Governor Rick Perry to force out Bill Powers as president of the University of Texas at Austin, and amid growing debate over the use of climate surveys as one tool to combat sexual assault on campuses. (Powers survived, but in part because he was agreeing to retire anyway, just on his schedule instead of the governor's.)

The results showed that a considerable minority of public university presidents (but very few private college presidents, who typically have less interaction with state politicians) appear to have a tough balancing act with respect to their governors. And the results showed mixed feelings about climate surveys.

Politics and the Presidency

Only 6 percent of private college presidents have said they felt pressure from their governors to change their approaches to their presidencies.

Among presidents of public institutions that part of systems, 41 percent said they felt pressure from the system office to conduct their presidencies in a particular way.

Of course, state government isn't the only possible source of outside pressure. A significant minority of all presidents (37 percent) report feeling pressure from at least one branch of the federal government. But private college presidents are more likely than those at public institutions to feel that way, perhaps as a result of the high value many private institutions place on their independence, and the deep skepticism of many private college leaders about the Obama administration's plan for ratings of colleges.

Presidents Reporting Pressure From Federal Government

  Yes No Don't Know
Overall 37% 60% 3%
Public 27% 71% 2%
Private 49% 49% 2%

Despite the political pressures, the survey showed that most presidents are not worried about being removed from office, and only very few are worried about it. But public presidents are more concerned than are private presidents.

The presidents were responded on a five-point scale. (Those who said that they didn't know are excluded below, so figures do not add up to 100.)

How Worried Are You About Being Removed From Office?

  5 (very concerned) 4 3 2 1 (not at all concerned)
Public 3% 4% 10% 30% 51%
Private 2% 3% 7% 23% 63%

Climate Surveys

Most college presidents back the idea of conducting campus climate surveys related to sexual assault. But that doesn't mean their institutions are actually conducting the surveys, the new poll found.

Proponents -- including senators pushing legislation in Congress -- argue that the information collected can help colleges understand whether their students feel safe, whether they have confidence in security and judicial systems, and whether parts of campuses are perceived as hostile or dangerous. Critics -- including the American Council on Education -- have said that it would be difficult to develop meaningful national surveys and that the effort might not help anyone.

The results of the poll show that while 60 percent of presidents believe all colleges should conduct surveys, only 21 percent said that their institutions have done so in the last two years. And only 37 percent of those whose institutions have not conducted such a survey in the last two years have plans to do so in the next two years.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given that only a minority of institutions are conducting the surveys, a majority of presidents opposes the Congressional legislation that would require them.

College Presidents on Sex Assault Surveys

  Yes No  Don't Know
Do you support the call for all colleges to conduct campus climate surveys on sexual assaults? 60% 28% 12%
Would you favor a policy that mandates campus climate surveys for all colleges? 32% 52% 16%
Has your institution conducted such a survey in last two years? 21% 68% 11%
For those who answered previous question No, do you plan to conduct a survey in the next two years? 37% 32% 31%



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