Presidential spouses enjoy role, but need more clarity in responsibilities

Dive Brief:

  • A new study reveals partners and spouses of college presidents are happy with their campus roles, but wish they had more detail about those roles before arriving at their institutions.
  • More than 80% of respondents of a survey taken by more than 450 presidential partners say their roles are satisfying or better, but only 17% of respondents indicated that the spousal or partner role was explicitly explained during the interview or offer stage, and only a quarter of those surveyed indicated a belief that the expectations for their involvement influenced their spouses' acceptance of, or resignation from, a position.
  • Nearly 50% of respondents indicated that their employment status changed after their partners accepted a presidential appointment.

Dive Insight:

The presidential partner maintains a critical role in multiple areas of campus presentation, acting as an ambassador to donors and students, and sometimes as an unofficial cabinet member or spokesperson for the office of the president. Depending on the geography and culture of each individual campus, these roles can increase or decrease based upon the gender of the president and the needs of the institution, but too often aren’t clearly explained by the hiring board; they are just assumed by the leadership and the campus community.

College presidents can be more active in shaping the terms of this role for those who will follow them by asking their partners to outline their duties real and perceived, and presenting them to the board as a potential guidance document for campus leaders who will follow them. It may make the difference in the ease with which institutions hire presidents and the capacity in which the office may function under future executives.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed
Top image credit: Eric Ward