How can presidents better handle campus emergencies?
- Following recent incidents of unrest at institutions like Virginia Tech and Berkeley, researchers from the University at Albany have released a study in which they look at the role of the president in these situations and determine methods of crisis leadership, reports Phys.org.
- Researchers found that while many institutions may have emergency management plans, many don't actually prepare or train presidents and other high-level officers how to handle their jobs in the middle of a crisis.
- The study outlines six tasks of crisis leadership — creating pre-conditions that facilitate collaboration during an incident, effectively interpreting the complex context of the unrest, fast response and targeted decision making, extending information to stakeholders and constituents on decisions carried out, figuring out the right moment to shut-down the crisis and learning from, as well as documenting, the event to enhance safety and performance.
Failure to respond appropriately in a time of crisis can have long-term effects on an institution, but it can also have an immediate impact on the security of the president and other leading campus decision-makers' jobs. For example, former president of the University of Missouri Tim Wolfe was forced to resign following his handling of racial hostilities on the college campus in 2015. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also resigned. Beyond just campus unrest, campus leaders are also scrutinized in other instances of emergency, like natural disasters. For instance, when the University of South Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma, regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska resigned after facing criticism for fleeing to Atlanta during the storm, while ten students remained on campus.
Presidents can no longer act as backseat policy decision-makers, but must show that they are actually here for students for their jobs to remain relevant — and part of that comes from understanding how to handle crisis situations, moments where students not just hope, but expect to see advising from the institution's leader. In a recent conversation with Education Dive, President Antonio Pérez of Borough of Manhattan Community College recalled that he had to fill this role when 9/11 occurred and one of his campus buildings crumbled in the aftermath.
"I believe that a leader at times, when he is put in a situation where he has a responsibility, it's no longer about his own personal safety," said Pérez. "It's about what their responsibilities are and how to carry those out."
He also emphasized the importance of preparation in the role of president.
"We try to determine who are our customers, what do they want, and what are they like, so that we can respond and find a way to reach them," said Pérez. "I think its critical businesses are projecting, and forecasting with regard to their customer and delivery of their products..."
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