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Navigating the Pandemic as a New Interim President by Registry Member Katherine Douglas

Tue, Dec 08, 2020 at 8:52AM

Navigating the Pandemic as a New Interim President by Registry Member Katherine Douglas

In early February, Registry Member Katherine Douglas began serving as Interim President at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. By March, New York and the rest of the country were facing the pandemic head-on. Kate shares some of the valuable lessons she learned navigating those waters as a new Interim President.

"My placement began on February 3, 2020. In that first month I represented the College at a national Board meeting in Seattle, Washington. Many will recollect that the Governor of Washington declared a state of emergency the last week of February 2020. Hand sanitizer and social distancing quickly became the norm at the meeting. I arrived back in New York the first week in March. Again, many will remember which state quickly became the epicenter of the virus in the United States at that time.  I share these facts to illustrate that the only experience I have had as an interim placement has been a COVID-19 experience. 

Lesson 1: Stress Management

Managing the uncertainty which college colleagues experience in a global pandemic is essential. While stress is part and parcel of higher education administration, the burden of uncertainty brought about by a public health crisis on the scale of COVID-19 is on an entirely different level. Supporting colleagues through an unprecedented degree of ambiguity with a calm, confident, even demeanor contributes to the success of individuals and the institution.

Lesson 2: Community Connection

Staying connected to local communities is core to the community college mission. During a pandemic that connection, collaboration and communication with local, regional, and state authorities gets turned up significantly. Regularly reporting campus data to local health authorities, collaborating with regional officials - in Monroe's case - to become the county's drive through testing site, and submitting plans and procedures to state elected officials to advance the re-opening process became aspects of keeping our campus safe while supporting the economic recovery of the region.

Lesson 3: Adaptability

Every higher education administrator knows that flexibility is essential to success. In the COVID-19 interim environment, adaptability and remaining nimble are essential criteria for successfully addressing challenges. Many times the senior team would work diligently for hours or days on a solution to address a situation only to find that factors changed the calculus of the problem and a different solution was now required. Not losing heart and demonstrating courage at that moment while positively driving the team onward to address the new challenge is the responsibility of the COVID-19 interim."

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