As Heidi Schlumpf wrote in a 2014 In Trust article, “too often interim [presidents] are only considered in emergencies, when there’s an unexpected vacancy at the top. But interim or 'acting' presidents…can be valuable to a seminary, offering stability and continuity, achieving specific – often financial – goals, and providing time to reexamine mission and vision while searching for the most appropriate permanent leader.”
To dig into the ways in which interim leaders can add value to their institutions, as well as interim dos and don’ts, Schlumpf interviewed several people with experience in this area. This included a number of former and current interim leaders from various backgrounds. Key wisdom from this endeavor included: when to select interim leaders from outside versus inside the institution, how the temporary nature of the position can allow for difficult (and often unpopular) financial decisions, and the optimal term length for interim presidencies.
Much of this wisdom is echoed in Peg Birk's 2012 article "Time out or time wasted?" Birk, who was interviewed for Schlumpf's article, has served as an interim executive for several organizations, including the Fund for Theological Education (now called the Forum for Theological Exploration). In her article, she outlined some of the many ways in which interim presidents can add value to an institution, including providing more time and objectivity for evaluating institutional health and selecting the right permanent leader. On the flip side, however, Birk warns of some of the pitfalls that can occur during an interim presidency.
You can read the rest of Birk's reflections online now, as well as Schlumpf’s findings at “Sometimes an interim president is just what a seminary needs.” (Note: Login required.)
In addition, the Chronicle of Higher Education has put together a resource titled “How to be an interim president” that includes articles on how real-life interim presidents have overcome challenges. (Note: A Chronicle login is required.)
And if you have any further insights on the value of and keys to success for interim presidencies, we’d love to hear from you!