Crisis Leadership: The Roles University Presidents and Crisis Managers Play in Higher Education - A Case Study of the State University System of Florida

Brenezza DaParre Garcia, Florida International University


Universities have had a tumultuous history in terms of crises. Though crises have always existed, its definition and emphasis in the landscape of higher education has dramatically changed in the last 50 years. For this reason, the study and implementation of crisis management systems have become a growing phenomenon on campuses around the nation. However, as the types of crises institutions face diversifies, communities’ emphasis on leadership accountability has also become more magnified. The role of the president, thus, has become increasingly relevant and critical to the conversation concerning campus security and safety. The purpose of this study was to better understand the phenomenon of crisis leadership in higher education. A case study of the State University System of Florida was chosen, interviewing all available university presidents and crisis managers. Its diversity in population, infrastructure and mission is the reason it was selected as an appropriate case. This study sought insight on how SUS presidents and crisis managers understood the concepts of crisis, crisis leadership and crisis management; what they perceived their roles and responsibilities to be throughout the crisis management cycle; and how these definitions and roles created and sustained a culture of safety, security and preparedness. The 16 study participants (6 presidents and 10 crisis managers) offered a great deal of insight on how they defined crisis leadership and its respective roles pre-, during and post-crises. Participants believed that the differing definitions of crisis; the university’s culture towards crisis management; the roles played by the university, presidents and crisis managers; resources (established and lacking); as well as the inevitable variability of crises, all played a critical role in leadership. The study’s findings supported Muffet-Willett’s position that crisis leadership is fundamentally connected to the relationship between presidents and crisis managers. Both must offer support, tangibly and intangibly, to one another so that others across the university see the importance being placed on crisis management. Findings of this study supported the assumption made in the literature by student affairs authors that presidents are critical to crisis management. In addition, I concluded that crisis managers are also critical to crisis leadership.

Subject Area

Organization Theory|Organizational behavior|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Garcia, Brenezza DaParre, "Crisis Leadership: The Roles University Presidents and Crisis Managers Play in Higher Education - A Case Study of the State University System of Florida" (2015). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10002862.