The Registry is a resource for institutions of higher education, including seminaries, that are seeking interim presidents or other interim senior administrators, including vice presidents of finance, advancement, academic affairs, enrollment management, and student services. Founded in 1992 as The Registry for College and University Presidents, its roster includes about 700 names of potentially available executives, including 200 retired college and university presidents, who are available for service across the United States and Canada.
William C. Nelsen is a member of The Registry who has served as academic dean at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and president of Augustana University in South Dakota. A Lutheran minister, Nelsen got a call two years ago from The Registry, asking if he’d consider being a candidate for the interim leadership of Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
William Nelsen was hired as interim president with a specific goal: to close the Massachusetts campus of Episcopal Divinity School and to find a suitable institution to partner with.
Courtesy Episcopal Divinity School
Nelsen had already been vetted — The Registry screens its roster of potential leaders by interviewing former board members and colleagues. Members of The Registry also gather each year at a conference to share what they’ve learned in their various interim positions. So when the EDS board chair contacted The Registry, the chair knew that he didn’t have to worry about reference checks or being connected with someone who was out of touch with current issues.
At first, Nelsen felt that he couldn’t be considered for the EDS position because he was directing a major program for his local Lutheran synod. But as the seminary and Registry leadership kept refining the position description and reviewing potential candidates, Nelsen’s name, along with several others, kept floating to the top. With support from his bishop, Nelsen agreed to throw his hat in the ring.
Eventually four members of The Registry were selected to go to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for two days of intensive interviewing. The decision about which candidate to hire was entirely the board’s. And then a contract with a carefully defined set of expectations was drawn up between the school and The Registry, followed by a separate agreement between The Registry and Nelsen himself.
After two years, following the successful move of Episcopal Divinity School to New York City, through an innovative affiliation agreement with Union Theological Seminary, Nelsen’s tenure as interim president of EDS came to an end. He’s back home in Minnesota, but he’s crafted a report to share with fellow members of The Registry. Future interim leaders will be able to learn from what he’s done, just as he learned from others before him.