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Academic Publications

Crisis Salience Theory: A Framework for Analyzing Community College Leadership during a Time of Three Intersecting, Slow-Moving Crises

Daniel Tarker, MFA, Ed.D. 

This exploratory, psychological narrative study examines how community college presidents make sense of crisis situations based on their cognitive schemas, and what leadership behaviors, competencies, and traits they draw on in response. The sample consisted of 12 retired community college presidents from a diverse range of institutions based on region, urbanity, and size. Findings informed the proposal of crisis salience theory. This theory suggests leaders make sense of crises on a continuum between immediate events and slow-moving situations. Perceptions of the immediacy of a crisis, informed by how much public scrutiny the event is receiving, influence the leader's response. Leaders emphasize behaviors like taking a front and center role and communicating during an immediate crisis versus using more transformational and adaptive leadership strategies to address slow-moving crises.

Transformational Leadership and the Proliferation of Community College Leadership Frameworks: A Systematic Review of the Literature

Daniel Tarker, MFA, Ed.D.


Due to a significant turnover of community college presidents, considerable research has emerged on the topic of community college leadership in recent years. What competencies, skills, knowledge, behaviors, and traits do community college presidents need to possess – especially when they face an unprecedented number of challenges including increased accountability, changing government funding models, and pressure to adopt significant curriculum reform to improve student completion and success rates? An unintended result of the expansion of the literature may be the emergence of a research phenomenon called construct proliferation. Construct proliferation occurs when multiple, competing theories and frameworks are developed to explain a similar phenomenon, which can impede research. One solution to this problem may be to use transformational leadership theory and the five-factor model as theories to help synthesize these multiple constructs. This article reviews the literature on community college leadership published since 2005 to demonstrate how transformational leadership and the five-factor model can inform community college leadership frameworks like AACC’s Competencies for Community College Leaders and the major themes that have emerged in the literature on community college leadership over the past two decades. Findings indicate that both theories may be useful in addressing the issue of construct proliferation in the community college leadership literature.

Executive Leadership and Crisis Management at Community Colleges: An Exploratory, Narrative Study

Daniel Tarker, MFA, Ed.D. 

This exploratory, narrative study investigated two research questions. One, how do executive leaders at community colleges describe how their cognitive schema and sensemaking approach informed their understanding of a crisis that their organization faced. Two, how do executive leaders at community colleges describe what leadership traits, behaviors, and competencies they used during the crisis management process. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 retired community college presidents and chancellors from across the United States. Data were coded using in vivo coding for the first cycle and focused coding for the second. The study found that community college presidents drew heavily from past work experience in order to make sense of crisis situations. Those who rose through the ranks through specific channels such as public relations, human, resources, business, and counseling drew heavily from their professional backgrounds to understand how to respond to crises. Participants also differentiated crises levels based on how immediate the response needed to be, how much attention the situation was receiving from the public, and whether the event threatened organization’s mission. Findings indicate that during times of normalcy, participants favored interpersonal or transformational

leadership approaches. However, once the term challenge or crisis was introduced, they began to emphasize more dominant behaviors such as taking a front and center role. The communication competency also increased in importance when reflecting on leadership during times of crisis. Based on the findings, this study introduces the rudimentary beginnings of crises salience theory, a construct to explain how a leader’s behaviors change based on their perceptions about the urgency of a crisis. This construct could either evolve into an extension of terror management theory or grow with research into a similar framework that explains organizational leadership behaviors during crisis events.

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