Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Pamela L Eddy

Committee Member

Debbie Sydow

Committee Member

Jeremy P Martin


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous influence on higher education in America. While college presidents have led through multiple crises in the past several decades, this challenge is unique for both the depth of its influence (e.g., revolutionizing course and service delivery methods, financial upheaval and institutional closures, political implications of institutional decisions) and the fact that every college and university in the world was influenced nearly simultaneously, providing the inability to benchmark decisions. As college presidents were faced with series of unprecedented choices during the period from March 2020 through November 2021, this study sought to prompt reflection on the choices made, as well as influences on those choices and implications to inform crisis leadership in the future. This hermeneutic phenomenological study utilized interview data and a thorough web content analysis to engage college presidents in reflections on their experiences, specifically evaluating the impact that COVID-19 had on their leadership style and their perceptions of the effectiveness of their choices from a retrospective stance. This research surfaced four key findings: 1) that reflections and past experiences informed presidential crisis response decisions throughout the evolving crisis; 2) that central to the success in managing a pervasive and unprecedented crisis is engaging as many people as possible in the crisis response; 3) that communication is essential and that communication strategy must be intentional and evolving with respect to the most salient needs of the community, and; 4) that presidents must employ a holistic approach to viewing, assessing, and solving institutional problems that can be supported by utilizing a four frame approach to leadership decision-making and execution.




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