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The ideas and thoughts of college and university presidents are most frequently and primarily known through their public roles and rhetoric. Over the past few years nearly three dozen college and university presidents have written diaries for public view as part of the Journal of College and Character. These presidential reflections provide a unique and rare opportunity to gain a behind-the-scenes view of the contemporary presidency, and of the leadership and values of presidents. This article is based on research of the words and impressions of these presidents in these public diaries. Using the perspectives revealed by the presidents, the article assesses, analyzes, and compares and contrasts the major themes which emerge and the content of their reflections. This assessment contributes additional understanding of the presidency by developing an inside picture of presidential thought about the issues with which they regularly grapple. The diaries are an important lens presenting a significant set of accounts and vantage points about what presidents contemplate. We are able to obtain provisional answers to questions such as: What things create and cause unavoidable and sometimes constant tensions and pressures? What do we know about what presidents really think? What do we know about their private reflections about the curses and blessings of the great weight of responsibility they bear in leading colleges and universities? What are the things which concern these presidents as leaders and individuals? How are they trying to exert leadership to the nation's campuses? The reflections in these diaries are of interest because they provide a glimpse of the internal journeys and musings of presidents. These presidents have used this medium to share thinking about the broader implications of what they are doing, how they are leading, what leadership itself is all about and what is required of the leader, not to mention the simple, routine things presidents face in day-to-day life. We also view a picture of remarkable moments and instances, revealing significant candor and disclosure in the stories of their leadership and aspects of presidential leadership much more from "inside" the ivory tower than that commonly and normally observable. The presidents thus contribute significantly to understandings of the office they hold, of the importance which the presidency continues to bear for the hopes and aspirations of our colleges and universities, and of the way in which presidents of today will shape the future of the college and university presidency itself.

Original Citation

Nelson, S. (2002). Internal Journeys of College Presidents: Diary Reflections About Leadership and Values. Journal of College and Character, 3(7). Available at


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