Jeffrey Barker and Irving McPhail are both new presidents, and their terms have been shortened by tragedy.

Barker, President of Converse University, Spartanburg, South Carolina, Died in a bicycle accident in July, Less than three weeks after taking office as president. McPhail served as the president of St. Augustine University in Raleigh, North Carolina for only three months. Died after contracting COVID-19 Last October.

Overnight, their university lost its leader, and their management committee quickly charted the way forward.A small number of institutions-including North Georgia Institute of Technology with Saint Bonaventure University -In the past year, COVID-19 lost its president, and at a time when universities were already burdened with a pandemic, the orchestrated leadership transition fell into chaos and created management challenges.

In the era of pandemics, how to manage an organization after the sudden death of a leader has become an unfortunate but instructive model.

“There has been a lot of discussion about succession planning over the years, but this is really close to the family for many colleges or universities because they face the problem of having to change the president during the pandemic,” said Rod McDavis, the managing principal Search in AGB, the executive search department of the Association of University and College Management Committees.

Several presidents have Resign or retire during the epidemicMcDavis said that succession planning has therefore become the top agenda item of the board of directors.

When Buck delayed his retirement to serve as interim president, Converse had just begun the process of finding a permanent president. Sandra Shearouse Morelli, chairman of the board of directors of Converse University, said that after serving as the provost for 20 years, Buck has the expertise to lead the university.

“It only took us about a nanosecond to realize that we had a very, very capable person sitting in the position of the provost,” Morelli said. “He is the right person at the right time.”

Morelli said that Barker did not run to become the permanent leader of Converse, but he has great ideas for the temporary one-year term of the university. He plans to improve academic programs and student life, increase enrollment and retention rates, maintain fundraising momentum, and improve the diversity and inclusion of the university.

On the morning after Buck’s death, the board of directors called an emergency executive meeting to appoint another interim president. The trustee chose Boone Hopkins, who was the interim provost at the time, and his choice complied with the terms of the existing presidential succession clause in the board of directors’ charter.

Hopkins said in an email: “The personal challenge of losing a dear friend and trusted mentor broke my heart.” “However, I have gained extraordinary benefits from our executive leadership team and the entire Converse community. I’m very pleased with the support of. Tragedies like this reveal the strength of the bond between us. At Converse, we all quickly realized that Dr. Barker’s collaborative leadership model prepared us to move forward together, especially in Such a difficult time.”

Morelli said that Converse has many talented leaders to choose from. The board plans to review its succession procedures and look for areas for improvement when the university faces another sudden transition in the future.

Merrill Schwartz, senior vice president of content strategy and development at AGB, said that the approach taken by the Converse board of directors is completely correct. Schwartz suggested that the college and university management committees develop a clear emergency succession plan, as outlined in the Converse charter. The association recommends that the presidential succession clause be part of the dean’s job description.

“Anything can happen during the presidency,” Schwartz said. “It is important to let the agency know that we have a plan to continue smooth operations immediately, and that the principal’s basic duties will be undertaken by a designated official of the agency.”

McDavis said that without such a plan, agencies may scramble to find a leader. This confusion may affect fundraising efforts and reduce the morale of the organization’s staff.

Although Buck’s absence will not affect the ongoing search for a permanent president, “his wisdom will be forgotten,” said Wallace Davidson Prestwood, vice chairman of the board.

When former President Dennis R. DePerro died in March, St. Bonaventure also appointed its Provost Joseph Zimmer as acting president.

“Words can’t convey the level of destruction our campus communities are now feeling,” Zimmer said. March statement“I know that when people die, saying,’He is a great leader, but he is a better person’ has become a cliché. However, this is the absolute truth for Dennis. We heartbroken.”

North Georgia Institute of Technology chose another senior executive — Michelle Shirley, Vice President of Administrative Services — to serve as interim principal after the death of former President Mark Ivest in September.

“It is truly an honor to be able to help lead the North Georgia Institute of Technology and continue to achieve the university goals and vision set forth by Dr. Ivest.” Shirley said in a statement then. “We have a wonderful and supportive university community, and we are all grateful for the love poured into Dr. Ivester and his family.”

St. Augustine officials took a different approach when they lost their new president after only three months. Instead of promoting a senior administrator as interim president, the university hired McPhail’s widow.

“They felt that because my husband and I were partners, I would be familiar with the direction they agreed to go to college,” said Christine Johnson McPhail, the new principal of St. Augustine. “Of course I am, because he shared with me his plans, hopes and dreams for the university.”

Christine McPhail will serve as chairman of St. Augustine’s for at least four years. Before taking the helm, she served as the president of Cypress College in California and was the founding director of the PhD in Leadership Program at Morgan State University Community College.

Christine McPhail said that because she is more familiar with St. Augustine and higher education, the board does not have to sell faculty when she is appointed.

“My transformation here is not’well, there is a new person coming in’, but’this is someone who believes in what we believe,'” she said.

She plans to see through her late husband’s vision for a long-established black university, which includes improving the student training experience, upgrading campus infrastructure, and addressing the inequality of state and federal funding of HBCU.

Even in times of grief on campus, both St. Augustine and Converse experienced a relatively smooth transition of leadership. Schwartz said the actions of the two boards set a good example for other institutions that find themselves in similar situations.

“It is good for the board to take advantage of these learning opportunities so that they can be prepared when something happens in their organization,” she said.

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