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Governors as University Presidents

Posted at 6:28 pm February 1, 2018, in U.S. Governors

BlogLogoWith Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon stepping down in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal, the school has turned to a former governor as its interim leader. The university’s Board of Trustees chose former Governor John Engler (R, 1991-2003) as interim president yesterday, a choice that was met with controversy.

While college or university president is not a common career path for a former governor, it is certainly not unprecedented. In fact, three former governors are currently serving as presidents of major universities.

Former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D, 2003-2009) has been president of the University of California since 2013, a position she took after serving as United States Secretary for Homeland Security (2009-2013). Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R, 2005-2013) is the president of Purdue University. He was selected as president in 2012 while still serving as governor and formally took over the role as soon as his term ended in 2013. Finally, former Oklahoma Governor David Boren (D, 1975-1979) became the president of the University of Oklahoma in 1994, following a 15-year stint in the U.S. Senate. Boren he has announced his retirement as president, however, effective June 30, 2018.

While these are the only three former governors currently serving as university presidents, there are at least four other examples of governors taking the position after their governorships: former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (R, 1982-1990) served as president of Drew University from 1990-2005; former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander (R, 1979-1987) was president of the University of Tennessee from 1988-1991; former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford (D, 1961-1965) spent 16 years as president of Duke University, from 1969-1985; and former Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey (D, 1983-1987) was president of The New School from 2001-2010.

If you know of other examples of governors taking on the roles of college or university president, we would love to hear from you. If you would like to read more about these and other “fun facts” about U.S. governors, click here.

-Kristoffer Shields