Educational Administration, Department of


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A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Sheldon L. Stick. Lincoln, Nebraska: May 2010
Copyright (c) 2010 Douglas N. Searcy


This qualitative research addressed presidential leadership during the strategic transition of the respective Boards of Trustees at Gardner-Webb and Wingate Universities (private, Christian institutions in North Carolina). In addition to interviewing each institutional President, personal 60-minute interviews were conducted with selected faculty members, trustees, administrators, and students and relevant documents were perused for substantiating information. The objective of the study was to learn how each institution’s President guided their respective constituencies toward acceptance of change while conveying a sense of stability and focus on visioning.

Leadership theories and studies were introduced illustrating presidential considerations, roles, and implications encountered during institutional change (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 2007; Lawton, 2004; Nanus, 1992). Additionally, strategic change models were discussed to provide a greater understanding of the change environment (Goodstein, Nolan, & Pfeiffer 1992; Lewin 1952; Mintzberg 1973). Denominational affiliation created complex dynamics for change as Conventions and partnering institutions struggled with issues of control and autonomy leading to tenuous relationships.

The findings were interpreted to mean that presidential leadership during the respective periods of strategic transition hinged on the effectiveness of relationships, communication, and visioning, and apparently each was manifested in varying degrees at different times. Academic freedom, institutional stability, and faith surfaced repeatedly as participants used those ideas when providing a rich description of presidential leadership. All themes were analyzed and then discussed in the context of leadership and strategic transition literature, but with a special focus on Christian higher education. Among recommendations for future research was that leadership be directed toward differing denominational affiliations in transition and other kinds of institutional strategic shifts (i.e., from Division II athletic affiliation to Division I affiliation). Such work could help hone in on components of leadership that are of the greatest benefit during strategic change regardless of the circumstances.

Advisor: Sheldon Stick