Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Being Interim: Leading in a Transitional Appointment

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Robert DeBard (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Milton Hakel (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Member)


Student affairs administration in colleges and universities has evolved significantly over time. Since the late 1800s, a corps of personnel specifically charged with university operations and student engagement has become a permanent part of university life. Despite the growing body of literature that seeks to document and make meaning of the experiences of this university constituency, there are yet aspects that remain unexplored. Notwithstanding the frequent and regular use of interim administrators, the nature and meaning of the experiences of those interims and their impact on the organization, particularly as concerns the practice of leadership, has been largely ignored.

A Web-administered survey of student affairs professionals who were members of a student affairs professional organization in the eastern Midwest ascertained that the majority of those survey respondents had served in an interim capacity, either previously or currently. A collective case study approach was then used to study more deeply the experiences of administrators serving in interim positions as mid-level managers within student affairs units at three universities in the Midwest. The interim administrators as well as their supervisors and direct reports participated in individual or focus group interviews.

The findings reported here indicate that interim administrators took their roles and responsibilities seriously and executed them in the same ways as they did their permanent appointments. These interims noted, however, the absence of explicit and direct training for the position they had agreed to take on. Moreover, the interims also discussed the impact their predecessor and the nature of that departure had on their effective and positive transition into their responsibilities as an interim. Other key findings are also reported in this study and implications for practice and further research are included.

As noted earlier, temporary administrative appointments are customary within colleges and universities. This study hopes to influence the future use of interim administrators in student affairs and higher education. To the extent that the findings and suggestions offered here are followed by those interested in continuously improving the practice of leadership and managerial effectiveness in higher education, this goal will have been accomplished