Interim college presidents provide an essential role when institutions are in a state of transition, whether peaceful or turbulent. They are usually tasked with “keeping the boat steady,” guiding an institution straight without too much force or lack thereof.
That’s what Temple University found in the late JoAnne A. Epps, who tragically passed away on Tuesday while attending a memorial service, the university said. After former President Jason Wingard resigned amid growing crime rates, Epps’ three decades of service at the Philadelphia-based school proved the key indicator of a temporary school leader who could help ease the tension. Her main points of focus for Temple were to help reverse its enrollment declines, increase campus safety, and foster a sense of learning, listening and overall community engagement, The New York Times reports.
In honor of the late “Temple icon,” as members of the Temple Association of University Professionals called her on X, it’s important to reflect on what makes a strong candidate for the interim leader position, especially in the midst of their increased need due to decreased president tenures.
What should institutions look for in an interim leader?
Interim presidents who are seasoned higher education leaders with a strong understanding of the university can be great mentors for the next president, wrote Brian Krehbiel, managing partner at WittKieffer, a leadership advisory firm. Mentors guiding the next president help streamline their learning curve by establishing priorities, building confidence and providing a smooth onramp.
Additionally, Krehbiel believes institutions should be on the lookout for an interim leader with expert knowledge regarding a key challenge the institution is facing, such as revamping its student retention strategy or implementing a school-wide technology.
Lastly, while most institutions would opt for the interim leader who doesn’t rock the boat, Krehbiel believes institutions should find a seasoned leader who’s spent years having to make tough choices in his or her previous position.
“With vast experience and thick skin developed over many years, interim leaders can be agents of change,” he writes. “They can make tough, necessary decisions without fear of repercussions, shielding the leadership team and permanent hire from the fallout of choices that inevitably will be unpopular with some constituents.”
What should interim leaders learn upon entering their position?
Richard Green, who served as an interim president at Lincoln University in 2015, has three tips for incoming college presidents.
- Don’t lose sight of all the lessons you’ve already learned as a higher education administrator or in situations that are comparable to where you are now.
- There is no time to be new. The interim leader of institutions is still the leader, regardless of the circumstance, so assume the posture effectively.
- Strategy must be “grounded in a sound understanding of the institution and community members one is charged to lead,” Green writes. One must learn the institution’s history and the events that have led to its circumstances today. One cannot expect to move forward without first examining what came before.