Leadership in a Time of Crisis

A new university president steps decisively into a uniquely challenging environment.

by Sandra Guthrie, Bradley University
Stephen Standifird, PhD is Bradley University’s 12th president. Courtesy of Evan Temchin, Bradley University
Stephen Standifird, PhD is Bradley University’s 12th president. Courtesy of Evan Temchin, Bradley University

The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed many industries forever, perhaps none more so than higher education. Bradley University’s Stephen Standifird has had to navigate the crisis as a first-time president with no certain answers. However, that doesn’t mean he’s not optimistic about the university’s future.

“I’ve often said if you want to understand an organization, watch it operate in a crisis, which is what most organizations are doing today,” he says. “When I look at how our faculty and staff have stepped up to help us through our current environment, it speaks extremely well for the future of the institution.”

Survive, Then Thrive
The phrase Standifird often uses around campus is “survive, then thrive,” which means investing in new programs and initiatives. He said the pandemic has forced Bradley to become nimble in its response. One example is the training in online learning the university offered the faculty over the summer. Standifird said about 90 percent volunteered to take it.

“This idea of them stepping into the challenge instead of running away from it was remarkable,” he adds. “I guest-lectured in a strategy class this semester and watched the professor use the technology to create an engaging, immersive experience.”

One important measure of Standifird’s early leadership has been the preparation and ongoing work Bradley has done to keep the campus and the Peoria community safe. To that end, the university partnered with OSF HealthCare to develop a testing, surveillance testing and contract tracing process. 

Legacy of Community Engagement
Community service has been an important component of Standifird’s life and career. Before arriving in Peoria, he served on the boards of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana and the Central Indiana Academy of Dance. He recently joined the board of Distillery Labs, the innovation and entrepreneurial center in downtown Peoria, while this summer, his daughters Sorana, 11, and Brianna, 7, joined the Peoria Ballet Academy.

Standifird adds that he is an advocate for connecting the university and Peoria, to help the city continue to develop and engage. He sees building relationships with local businesses and organizations as part of Bradley’s DNA. “Lydia Moss Bradley was one of the most philanthropic, community-oriented individuals I think Peoria's ever had the benefit of having as part of its community,” he explains. “So the very institution that we are a part of is a legacy of community engagement. We honor her by continuing this legacy.” PM