When institutions of higher education need to fill a top position they increasingly use official search firms - just the way large corporations do. Here are some of those higher education headhunters.
One primary reason is that financial stakes are high. The new leadership has to produce the branding which will restore, maintain, or enhance the value of alumni degrees. Also that branding must be able to pull in grant money, research dollars, and hefty foundation and individual donations.
In some situations, the college or university may need a turnaround. The search firm will seek out the best turnaround talent, hopefully which comes packaged with some kind of academic credentials. However, the need for the former trumps the trappings of the latter. In the 1980s, my alma mater Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pennsylvania reached out to a business woman the late Eileen Farrell who didn't have the traditional Ph.D. Like Matthew on "Downton Abbey," Farrell brought modern financial controls to the Catholic women's college.
In other situations, the record of excellence has to be kept up. That was the challenge when Harvard's esteemed president Derek Bok retired. His track record was so extraordinary that the university brought him back as an interim president when Larry Summers had been forced out.
Now that the very value of degrees - undergraduate, graduate, professional - is being questioned, the stakes could continue rising.