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Leading in the eye of a storm: how one team of administrators exercised disaster resilience

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Global climate change threatens university campuses around the world. However, prior research suggests that universities around the globe tend to prioritize preventing further climate change rather than developing plans to address the effects of ongoing, irreversible climate change. Further, scholarship on climate change and disaster resilience tends to focus on national and municipal government efforts to respond to crisis and often overlooks universities. In this paper, we build on prior literature by addressing the following research question: How can a team of administrators support organizational resilience to respond to natural disasters? Drawing on a framework from management literature, we performed a basic qualitative inquiry study to consider whether a university’s response to a hurricane demonstrated resilience or rigidity. We found that university administrators exercised resilience by taking time to communicate and process information, using material resources, and focusing on extending emotional or relational resources. Our study provides one example of how a university can learn from prior crises and exercise resilience when faced with new threats. We offer recommendations for future research, including examining how organizational resilience occurs at multiple levels of an organization and how organizational resilience may vary when universities encounter different types of crises.

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  1. We use the common US term “administrators” to refer to university leaders who, as in the UK, may hold titles such as Vice Chancellor, Rector, Provost, Principal, or President (Breakwell and Tytherleigh, 2008).

  2. This is an undercount. For example, the Caucus’ count does not include Hurricane Florence’s impact on campuses, such as the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (Crowe, 2018). See


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This study was funded, in part, by a research grant from The University of Mississippi’s Flagship Constellations Disaster Resilience Seed Grant Program

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Correspondence to Frank Fernandez.

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Fernandez, F., Coulson, H. & Zou, Y. Leading in the eye of a storm: how one team of administrators exercised disaster resilience. High Educ 83, 929–944 (2022).

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