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From Our President: Thinking About Crises Before They Happen



Leading a college or university is an extremely demanding job on the quietest of days. When crisis strikes—in the form of a tornado, a student death, a website hacking, or a protest—the challenges and the stakes increase exponentially. So how should presidents prepare their campus, their leadership team, and themselves for the next crisis? It’s a question that is on the mind of leaders new to the job and those with decades of experience.

This question was the focus of ACE’s recent Presidential Roundtable, Leadership in Times of Crisis. More than 20 presidents and chancellors gathered in late June to share lessons learned from events on their own campuses, and to hear from compelling speakers like Penn State President Rod Erickson. The discussion was wide-ranging and incredibly frank, and will result in a publication that will provide practical guidance to campus leaders about creating crisis teams, analyzing the effectiveness of campus public relations offices, and maximizing relationships with the media.

Many of these same issues were also part of the robust conversation at the first gathering of participants in ACE’s Institute for New Presidents in late July. This program, in its inaugural year, is designed to bring together presidents in their first two years of service to talk with peers and more experienced leaders about the challenges of their new role. Much of the second day of the program was focused on risk and crisis management and communication.

This issue of The Presidency aims to bring you some of the best thinking from some higher education leaders about preparing for and weathering difficult times. Janice Abraham, president and CEO of United Educators, provides a roadmap for how to think about your crisis preparedness based on UE’s experience as first responder in a number of difficult situations. Teresa Valerio Parrot, principal at TVP Communications, offers insight on a crucial part of any plan—how to communicate with your stakeholders about a crisis.

Walter Kimbrough, the new president of Dillard University, addresses how to prevent and manage the risks of hazing, an issue that has been the focus of much on-campus concern and off-campus media coverage. Finally, Larry Hincker, who was charged with overseeing communication with a diverse number of publics during and after the tragic events of April 16, 2007, shares his perspectives on how to move a university community forward.

It is our hope that The Presidency provides you with information that helps you see around the corner and prepare for possible challenges. As the fall semester begins, I encourage you to share this issue with your leadership and crisis management teams and to call on ACE if we can be of assistance in planning or responding to unforeseen events.

Molly Corbett Broad
American Council on Education


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