The changing roles and qualifications of Canadian university presidents and provosts


This paper examines how the stated roles and qualifications of Canadian university presidents and provosts have evolved over the past thirty years and the growing presence of recruiting firms. The study analysed 153 job advertisements published by 22 universities between 1987 and 2017. Roles were categorized according to aspects of organizational life: human resource, political, structural, and symbolic, while we distinguished qualifications as involving traits as well as cultural, human, and social “capitals.” Overall, the expected qualifications for presidential and provostial candidates have increased consistently and their roles have expanded in scope. Trait qualifications and symbolic roles, while mostly absent in 1987, became prevalent by 2017, suggesting a slow but clear shift towards managerialist and charismatic depictions of leadership. This increase took place concurrently with universities’ increasing reliance on recruiting firms.


Research on higher education institutions reports a global trend towards managerialism, with universities undergoing a contested shift away from traditional ways of managing academia and towards approaches borrowed from the corporate world (e.g., Meek et al. 2010; Davis et al. 2016; Deem and Brehony 2005; Blaschke et al. 2014; Hamlin and Patel 2017; Harman 2002; Kohtamäki 2019; Locke et al. 2011; Musselin and Teixeira 2014; Newton 2002; van Ameijde et al. 2009; Watts 2017). This concern is not recent (see Rourke and Brooks 1964), but whether this shift is pervasive across jurisdictions and across institutions, as well as it impacts on institutions, remains the subject of vigorous debate.

This paper approaches this problem from the vantage point of how senior executive positions are defined, and the ideal incumbents depicted by universities themselves. To gauge whether and how these public statements on their very top executives have changed over time, we investigate how the roles and qualifications of Canadian university presidents and provosts have been framed in job advertisements over a period of thirty years. This allows us a window into the potential adoption of managerial logics into the shared understandings that universities publicly espouse about the roles of their most senior academic executives.

Before discussing stated roles and qualifications for university executives, a few disclaimers are in order. While, for some, senior executives play pivotal roles in shaping organizational outcomes (Goodall 2009), for others their real impact on organizations remains modest at best (Hardy 1996; Mintzberg 2013). We acknowledge but do not enter this debate. Our purpose in this paper is not to evaluate the depictions of senior executives nor to suggest that the status quo is optimal or desirable.

Several studies on university presidents and provosts have focused on their career paths, search processes, and the links between these positions. In most cases, these studies surveyed presidents regarding their previous roles. They showed that presidents and provosts are generally selected from the ranks of academia, but that their career paths did not show a sequential and predictable pattern. Several paths are documented, featuring important leaps over key steps such as decanal and provostial appointments (Moore et al. 1983; Twombly 1986; Birnbaum and Umbach2001; Williams 1986; Eckel 2009; Hartley and Godin 2010; Shepherd 2017, 2018b). Other studies have investigated senior executives’ searches taking place in North America. Their findings suggest that universities’ recruitment policies and procedures have gradually showed greater transparency and included an ever greater number of stakeholders (McLaughlin 1985). As noted above, searches have grown in complexity, involve international searches (Loomes et al. 2019), and are subject to greater interference and politicization (McLaughlin and Riesman 1985). Perhaps related to this growing complexity, universities increasingly rely on recruitment consultants (Lingenfelter 2004; Loomes et al. 2019) and tend to select individuals whose credentials are considered as prestigious as those of their hiring institutions (Goodall 2009; Shepherd 2017). Finally, studies have hinted at the close relationship between provosts and presidents. Provostial appointments often lead to presidential ones (Moore et al. 1983; Eckel 2009; Hartley and Godin 2010; Cejda et al. 2002) and provosts and presidents are seen as closely related positions, with provosts often acting as close advisors and as acting presidents (Williams 1986).

In Canadian universities senior executives are experiencing increasingly challenging conditions due to trends ranging from constrained institutional budgets amidst growing costs and expectations, to external calls for increasing educational quality, access, accountability, and efficiency (Fallis 2007; Pennock et al. 2015; Mount et al. 2001). Studies have focused on the implications of this context for university presidents e.g., (Paul 2015; MacKinnon 2014), pointing to their increasing rates of termination (Turpin et al. 2014) and the growing number of unfinished mandates (Cafley 2015). However, studies on career paths of Canadian university senior executives have not been conducted in recent years (Muzzin and Tracz 1981), and provostial appointments remain ignored in the literature.

The extant literature focuses on American university presidents. Studies involving other jurisdictions and provostial appointments are sorely missing. Furthermore, presidential and provostial positions have been, at times, investigated in tandem, but not in relation to one another. Finally, research has done little to clarify presidents’ and provosts’ expected qualifications and roles, and whether these had changed over time. To that end, this paper presents the findings from a study of Canadian university presidential and provostial job advertisements published between 1987 and 2017. The study aimed to answer the following questions: What qualifications are required for these positions? How are their roles framed? To what extent are recruitment firms involved in searches? Have things changed between 1987 and 2017?

Collegial and managerial logics in higher education leadership

Potential shifts in the qualifications and roles of senior executives are related to broader changes in university administration. One such change involves the balancing of collegial and managerial logics in universities, which has long been an important source of debate (e.g., Rourke and Brooks 1964). Collegial logics refer to organizational arrangements where decisions are made collectively by individuals appointed by their colleagues to represent them. Managerial logics, on the other hand, refer to decisions being made by individuals appointed by their superiors based on their managerial aptitudes (O’Connor and O’Hagan 2016).

Collegial and managerial logics operate conjointly in most universities (Bolman and Gallos 2010). In universities, several areas, for example recruitment offices, are organized hierarchically, while others, for example academic departments, are organized in flat hierarchies and operate through consultation and committee work. Collaboration between areas operating under different logics in turn adds complexity to the roles of academic administrators (Davis et al. 2016) and urgency, scope, and convenience often shape how collegial and managerial logics are resolved (Blaschke et al. 2014; Rowlands 2015).

In addition, arrangements between governments and universities have shifted to place a greater emphasis on economic efficiency and accountability (du Gay 2000; Stein 2001). These expectations, several of them labeled as managerialism by some (Shepherd 2018a) have in turn impacted universities (De Boer et al. 2010). Meanwhile, the growth of higher education, both in size and complexity, has increased the demands on universities’ decision-making structures and led to new administrative areas being created and academic administrators’ roles shifting towards management (Boyko and Jones 2010; Wolverton et al. 2001).

That being said, since collegial and managerial logics operate alongside one another, the individuals tasked with implement them are exposed to both logics. As such, it is possible that, as individuals move through their careers, collegiality becomes more managerial and that management becomes more collegial. Moreover, as universities hire faculty members to fill most senior administrative positions, collegial logics seep across departments through these individuals (Kohtamäki 2019). On the other hand, greater responsibilities and greater complexity pushes academic administrators to turn towards managerial logics (Deem and Brehony 2005). As such, universities may articulate their managerial and collegial expectations towards their senior executives, in our case those articulated in job advertisements, may vary greatly and may evolve through time.

Qualifications and roles of Canadian university senior executives

Canadian universities have grown in size, complexity, and functions in the last thirty years (Fallis 2013; Shanahan and Jones 2007). Concurrently, universities have expanded their administrative units and formalized their decision-making processes, shifting their posture away from collegiality, but, according to a few studies, only mildly so (Metcalfe et al. 2011; Boyko and Jones 2010). In North America, senior university leadership is understood to include both presidents and provosts, with the former being focused on external relations and the latter on internal ones. Accordingly, these positions translate into additional roles framing their respective performance. For example, presidents are often associated with networking and fundraising, while provosts are often associated with labour relations and academic planning (Bennett 2019). While many claim that the shift in organizational logics has had an impact on the positions of presidents and provosts, the extent and nature of this shift remains unclear.

To investigate how Canadian university senior executive positions have changed, this paper examines how institutions framed their advertised qualifications and roles. We used two different frameworks for our analysis, as qualifications and roles were not suitably captured by a single framework. We organised qualifications by referring to cultural, human, and social capital, and traits. Capital describes acquired assets possessed by a candidate, which can take several forms. Human capital includes skills candidates can leverage in their roles (see Becker 1993). Managerial skills fall in that category. Social capital, on the other hand, describes relations and networks candidates can bring to bear (see Bourdieu 1975). Cultural capital describes candidates’ knowledge and understanding of their organizational environment and includes, in the case of universities, past scholarship and academic recognition, which signal an understanding of university dynamics (see Schein 2010). Finally, qualifications also include references to traits, which are internal qualities possessed by candidates such as energy, passion, or vision (see Zaleznik1977).

To examine roles, we drew from Bolman and Deal’s (1991) four leadership frames. In this framework, organizational activities and leadership are framed as structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. The structural frame emphasizes the rational side of organizational activities and the role of organizational structures and processes. The human resource frame, on the other hand, relates to the impact of organizational activities on individuals. The political and symbolic frames refer to the less rational aspects of organizational activities. The political frame focuses on conflict and the role of coalition-building in resource-limited settings, while the symbolic frame emphasizes the role of culture, traditions, stories, rituals, and vision in organizational activities.

We associated the structural frame with roles emphasizing universities’ structures, norms, and general management. The reason for this choice is that management roles cannot be readily associated with managerial logics as they can also mean the implementation of collegial processes such as consultations and committee-based decision-making. On the other hand, references to bold leadership, branding, motivation, personality, ceremonies, fundraising, and vision setting were classified within the symbolic frame, as they refer to executives being prophetic, providing meaning, and managing culture. Finally, the human resource frame was used to categorize references to collaboration and working climate improvements, while labour relations, governance roles, external representations, and allocation of scarce resources were assigned to the political frame.

Tying these frameworks to the aforementioned collegial and managerial logics, we consider managerial logics to be linked to human capital qualifications; these include managerial experience and trait qualifications, which celebrate individual characteristics, as well as symbolic roles, which emphasize vision and inspiration. We view collegial logics as associated with cultural capital qualifications, which highlight the relevance of understanding universities, and structural roles, which emphasize the proper functioning of collegial decision-making structures.


Job advertisements are increasingly being used to characterize higher education occupations (Croneis and Henderson 2002; Gorsky et al. 2018; Hoffman and Bresciani 2010; Pitt and Mewburn 2016; Ritzhaupt et al. 2010). Job advertisements are readily available formal institutional statements about the required roles and qualifications attached to an occupation. In the case of university presidents and provosts, they are public representations signalling to candidates as well as to the university’s community what is expected from the eventual incumbent. Obviously they do not describe what real qualifications guided the selection, nor the real roles the incumbent will be filling.

We drew job advertisements from a sample of 22 Canadian universities evenly distributed across the country and along the three MacLean’s magazine institutional categories: primarily undergraduate universities, comprehensive universities, and medical-doctoral universities. These universities are variously located in urban and rural areas across the Canadian provinces. We built the dataset by collecting job advertisements published in the University Affairs magazine and the Canadian Association of University Teachers bulletin. Data collection covered a period ranging from June 1987 to June 2017. In the first stage, we collected all presidential (220) and provostial (241) job advertisements published during that period. From this broad sample, we selected 22 universities, among the hundred or so operating in Canada, that had enough job advertisements from the first period to the last, for both presidents and provosts. Though this criteria limited the size of our sample to approximately 22%, it made comparisons across time more robust. The final sample included 79 presidential and 74 provostial job advertisements evenly distributed across time, university types, and regions.

Analysis relied on open coding in the first phase and sought to list and group codes for qualifications and roles. We identified 20 categories for qualifications and 22 for roles. In the second phase, these codes were distributed according to the categories we outlined in the conceptual framework. For qualifications, these were: cultural capital, human capital, social capital, and traits and personalities. Some codes were broad and tended to overlap categories. In those instances, the study returned to the initial coding, thus dividing codes into sub-codes, which were then refined. All job advertisements were coded by a single individual, and periodically reviewed for consistency.

We considered including additional materials accompanying some of the advertisements, but decided to excluded them for a number of reasons. They were not available for all jobs over the time period, either because they were not public documents or because they were no longer available. To ensure consistency across institutions and time, we decided to focus on the job ads. The study concentrated on identifying differences between presidential and provostial ads across time, but also took an interest in noting the growing use of recruiting firms. As recruiting firms bring an external and non-academic perspective to searches, we sought to quantify the extent to which Canadian universities were increasingly relying on their services and, if so, whether a change in use frequency accompanied other shifts.


The analysis of the 74 presidential and 79 provostial job advertisements from 1987 to 2017 reveals several shifts in the way Canadian universities depict the qualifications and roles of their chief executive and chief academic officers. These in turn occur in step with an increased reliance on recruiting firms.

Table 1 provides general information about the advertisements. Job advertisements generally exhibited similar structures. They contained a description of the institution, of the qualifications required, of the expected roles, followed by details on the application process and a notice that the university followed best practices with regards to equity and diversity. It is also worth noting that, between 1987 and 2017, Canadian university job advertisements moved from magazines to the Internet. This brought a change in the length of the ads. As job descriptions moved from paper to web, most ads nearly doubled in length. Interestingly, this increase was not associated with more detailed descriptions of qualifications and roles. Instead, the additional space served to provide lengthy and aggrandizing descriptions of universities’ strengths, whose purpose seems to attract candidates.

Table 1 Publication Venue, Average Number of Codes and References to Codes per Advertisement, and Proportion of Advertisements Produced by Recruitment Firms, for 74 Presidential and 79 Provostial Job Advertisements, by Period

The results from Table 1 also show that the average number of codes per advertisement was lower in 1987 and increased gradually after, while, as mentioned earlier, the length of descriptions provided for qualifications and roles did not change much. As codes are categories of qualifications and roles, we can deduce that the breadth of qualifications and roles increased by 100% for presidents and by 50% for provosts during the period.

The average number of references to codes also grew significantly from 1987 to 2017. References describe instances where a code was mentioned. For example, while presidential advertisements averaged eight codes per advertisement, they also averaged twelve references, meaning that, again on average, codes were referenced 1.5 times in each advertisement, suggesting a fair level of redundancy. For presidents, this ratio gradually increases. For provosts, a similar trend is observed. The increase over time is marginal, but the ratio remains high throughout the period, starting already at close to two references per code in early advertisements.

The results also show that Canadian universities increasingly relied on recruiting firms during the period. The proportion of advertisements relying on recruiting firms grows from 18% in the first period, to 100% in the 2002 to 2006 period for presidents. Provostial advertisements started from 0% in the first period and also reached 100% in the 2002 to 2006 period.


Table 2 shows the proportion of job advertisements making references to each of the qualification frames, by period. Overall, the proportion of presidential and provostial advertisements with references to any of the four frames increases steadily over the period, though the proportions in early years are higher for provosts than for presidents.

Table 2 Proportion of Canadian University Job Advertisements Containing References to Qualification Capitals or Traits, for 74 Presidential and 79 Provostial Job Advertisements, by Period

Between 1987 and 1991, Canadian universities, when looking for their next presidents, emphasized either an understanding of universities, strong administrative skills, and, to a lesser extent, connection with either government or industry. Furthermore, they made no reference to specific personality traits. Given the low percentages, we can also deduce that presidential job advertisements included at most two categories of qualifications. The results for the 2012 to 2017 period differ markedly. Today, Canadian university job advertisements generally make references to three or four categories of qualifications and references to traits, which were absent between 1987 and 1991, are now abundant. References to social capital have, however, remained the same, while all other categories have increased.

For provosts, references to cultural and human capital, that is an understanding of universities’ culture and strong administrative skills, were always preponderant and remain mostly constant from 1987 to 2017. These findings suggest that Canadian universities have consistently understood provosts as requiring both academic and administrative experience. Over time, job advertisements have added new requirements, mainly with regards to candidates bringing a useful network of relation to the position, but also displaying specific personality traits such as being charismatic or inspiring.

Thirty years ago, provostial ads included a broader set of qualifications than presidential ads. Nowadays, this difference has more or less vanished. Canadian universities have increased the breadth of their expectations about candidates mainly by adding trait requirements. Social capital remains less frequently mentioned in job ads for both positions, which is surprising given their role in government and alumni relations, as well as fundraising. Finally, job ads are increasingly referring to traits. Taken together, these changes show a perceptible shift in how Canadian universities frame presidential and provostial positions and an increasing focus on individual characteristics, compared to skills, knowledge, credentials, or connections. In 1987, presidents required either academic or administrative experience, while provosts required both academic and administrative experience. Today, both positions require this dual experience, in addition to having personality traits such as passion or energy.


With regards to how Canadian universities understand and signal presidents’ and provosts’ roles, Table 3 shows the proportion of presidential and provostial job advertisements with references to human resource, political, structural, and symbolic roles, between 1987 and 2017. Overall, the proportion of presidential and provostial ads with references to one of the four frames has steadily increased over the period. However, these proportions are systematically lower than those for qualifications, suggesting that Canadian universities are more deliberate in clarifying who they are looking for than in defining what the position entails. As well, the greatest increase over the period is observed for symbolic roles. These go, between 1987 and 2017, from 0% to 84% of job advertisements for presidents and from 21% to 69% for provosts. This shift is reminiscent of the shift mentioned earlier for traits.

Table 3 Proportion of Canadian University Job Advertisements Containing References to Role Frames, for 74 Presidential and 79 Provostial Job Advertisements, by Period

Thirty years ago, presidential ads tended to emphasize political and structural roles, while provostial ads greatly emphasized structural roles. Nowadays, presidents’ roles are depicted more broadly, with greater proportions found for each role category, though with an increasing emphasis on symbolic roles. Also, the low proportions found suggest that most job advertisements in the early years made reference to one or two role categories, most likely political and structural, while, in the later years, job advertisements are more likely to include at least two role categories, one of which is most likely a reference to their symbolic roles.

For provosts these low percentages indicate that, between 1987 and 1991, Canadian Universities referred in great majority to their structural roles and were likely to mention a second role. Thirty years later, references to structural roles remain prevalent, but are likely to be found alongside a reference to their symbolic roles, with the possibility of a third role being mentioned. Interestingly, references to political roles have remained constant over thirty years and higher for presidents than for provosts, but as the other roles are more frequently referred to, their relative presence has decreased.

To sum up, Canadian universities tend to emphasize their presidents’ symbolic roles and are less likely to make references to their human resource roles. This is different than thirty years ago, where most job advertisements focused on either their political and structural roles and did not mention symbolic roles. For provosts, their structural roles have remained central and unavoidable, while Canadian universities have increasingly emphasized human resource and symbolic role categories. This characterization suggests that, broadly, provosts are expected to maintain a positive working climate and ensure organizational functioning to a greater extent than presidents, who are expected to act as catalysts and deal with the intricacies of academic governance.


The past thirty years have witnessed presidential and provostial job advertisements change in four ways. The advertised variety of qualifications required and role expectations have increased, reliance on recruiting firms has gone from very rare to widespread, and references to personality traits and symbolic roles have increased in a similar manner.

The increasing number of references to qualifications and roles and the increasing number of different qualification and role categories identified in the study can be explained in two ways. Firstly, such increases may be the result of gained experience. In this case, universities gradually recognized the need to be more explicit and comprehensive in their descriptions. The second explanation for the increase is that these positions have grown more complex and that universities’ expectations have grown over time. These potential explanations align with other findings on presidents’ short or unfinished mandates (Turpin et al. 2014; Cafley 2015) and the growing complexity of higher education management (Boyko and Jones 2010).

References to cultural capital, which relates to having an understanding of the field, suggest that Canadian universities are looking for academics to lead them. Yet, human capital references also imply that managerial experience is valued and required. As these two dimensions were as prevalent thirty years ago as they are today, the conclusion is that collegial and managerial logics do not appear to have shifted significantly. However, the sharp increase of trait qualifications and symbolic role depictions point to the rising valuation attributed to charismatic qualities in academic leadership. Such focus on individuals’ exemplary natures and heroic virtues are common in corporate leadership literature (Joullié and Spillane 2015) and assume that organizational performance is in great part explained by senior executives’ ability to adapt or ignore rules to implement their vision, in contrast with a bureaucratic service ethics (du Gay 2000). While this framing of leadership remains contested in the literature (see Mintzberg2013), the idea has nonetheless made its way to higher education (see Goodall2009).

The data also show that references to personality traits and symbolic roles were nonexistent thirty years ago yet are now prevalent. These references cast these leadership positions in a highly ceremonial manner and celebrate intrinsic and immaterial qualities. Yet, old qualifications and roles have mostly remained the same. As such, Canadian universities have not reneged on traditional qualifications and roles, but have added to the lot a new ceremonial aspect, where executives’ energy, vision, and charisma matters as much as skills, connections, understanding, and experience. This increase of references to trait qualifications and symbolic roles suggests a shift towards managerial logics, as they reinforce a view of executives based on independent managerial abilities.

Interestingly, the increase of references to personality traits and symbolic roles also points outside of the collegial-managerial debate. Indeed, the type of references categorized under trait qualifications and symbolic roles point not to the importance of managerial skills and hierarchical decision-making structures, but to the primacy of individual qualities, such as energy and passion, and the related ability to mobilize through vision. This third dimension now sought by Canadian universities echoes Weber (2008/1921) depiction of the charismatic leader, whose power come from exemplary nature or heroic virtue. Moreover, Weber (2008/1921) classification frames collegial and managerial arrangements as pluricratic and monocratic rational bureaucracies respectively. Thus cast, today’s presidential and provostial job advertisements present a blend of charismatic and rational depictions that are in part pluricratic, involving flat hierarchies, and monocratic, involving vertical hierarchies.

Though the study cannot determine whether a causal link exists between the increasing references to trait qualifications and symbolic roles, they nonetheless show that Canadian universities have gradually included new considerations in describing presidents’ and provosts’ qualifications and roles at the same time as they became more reliant on recruiting firms. Nevertheless, the now prevalent presence of recruiting firms in senior executive search processes suggests that Canadian universities are recognizing the stakes and complexities of presidential and provostial searches, but also that they have refused to take on the challenge independently. This echoes the situation described in other jurisdictions, in particular in the United States and Australia, where recruiting firms are also widely used in university executive searches (Lingenfelter 2004; Loomes et al. 2019). While using recruiting firms may present advantages, they also present risks (Twombly 1992; Ware 2003; McLaughlin and Riesman 1985; McLaughlin 1985) and the almost absolute reliance of Canadian universities on recruiting firms warrants further investigation.

Finally, the findings clarify how the positions of president and provost are framed in relation to one another. In North America, these positions are often considered (e.g., Bennett 2019). Job advertisements should therefore exhibit some level of role complementarity. However, as provostial appointments are also considered to be likely steps towards presidential ones, presidential qualifications are expected to build up from provostial ones. However, provosts’ job advertisements show a greater number of codes and references to codes than presidents’ job advertisements (see Table 1). In addition, presidents’ advertised qualifications were very similar to provosts’ advertised qualifications, except for social capital qualifications, which were mentioned in a slightly higher proportion of presidents’ job advertisements (see Table 2). On the other hand, provosts’ advertised roles showed a very different pattern than presidents’ advertised roles, with provosts’ job advertisements mentioning with greater frequency responsibilities regarding human resource and structural roles, and presidents’ job advertisements mentioning political roles more often (see Table 3). Taken together, these findings depict the two positions as complementary, but also portray provostial positions as more complex.

Overall, the results of the study show a clear drift towards charismatic depictions of leadership, accompanied by the growing presence of recruiting firms in search processes. This in turn suggests that Canadian higher education institutions are gradually taking for granted the assumption that universities’ senior executives have an important impact on organizational performance, despite the lack of clear evidence to support such claims (Mintzberg 2013). In the face of greater complexity, organizations often rely on the advice of experts and import solutions in vogue in other sectors (Meyer and Rowan 1977; Birnbaum 2000). As recruiting firms work with different universities, they facilitate the transfer of practices across organizations, gradually changing and levelling practices within their sectors (DiMaggio and Powell 1991). As a result, how presidents’ and provosts’ positions are framed becomes more strongly coupled with recruiting firms than with recruiting universities.


This study is the first to present a portrait of the stated roles and qualifications of Canadian university presidents and provosts, in relation to one another and over time. It makes three key contributions to the literature. Firstly, it shows that Canadian universities have become clearer and more explicit in defining presidents’ and provosts’ qualifications and roles. Secondly, it establishes the emergence and rise of charismatic depictions, which are related in some ways, but not entirely, to managerial logics. Finally, the study contributes a Canadian perspective to the international literature on senior executive academic positions, showing how these positions have been framed and defined in this country.

Though the study breaks new grounds, it also beckons further investigation. For instance, because it relies on job advertisements, the study does not purport to discuss the enacted roles and the distinguishing qualifications of presidents and provosts. Rather, it focuses on what Canadian universities choose to highlight as ideal and important. Accordingly, future studies could attempt to determine whether the profiles of those selected for interviews, those appointed, and those reappointed to senior executive roles reflect these depictions. The same holds true for roles.

Future research might also seek to reproduce this study in other jurisdictions. Such work would clarify the extent to which our results hold true in other contexts. Comparing not only the qualification and role profiles for these positions, but also the rising prevalence of recruiting firms in academic leadership search processes would reveal whether the ideas about university executive are converging internationally. For instance, the extent to which a similar trend towards representations of charismatic leadership is also observed in different contexts would suggest a convergence in thinking about academic executives in ways reminiscent of managerialism, which is commonly assumed to be encroaching in many areas of higher education administration.

Finally, this study did not seek to determine whether job advertisements matter or whether selecting different presidents and provosts would lead to different organizational outcomes. For example, it remains possible that job advertisements have no impact on who gets ultimately selected and that they only shape the broad pool of applicants instead of the final decision. Such areas of inquiry remain of great relevance to the field, and the results of this study can arguably serve as a launching pad for a more in-depth investigation of the presidential and provostial selection process.


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Lavigne, E., Sá, C.M. The changing roles and qualifications of Canadian university presidents and provosts. High Educ (2020).

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  • Higher education
  • Presidential searches
  • Provostial searches
  • Leadership
  • Job advertisement