Smith appointed to national leadership academy; acts in leadership role for PSU during COVID-19 

  Friday, April 17, 2020 11:00 AM
  News, People and Society, Alumni

Pittsburg, KS

Howard Smith

Pittsburg State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Howard Smith has been chosen as one of 35 people to the Executive Leadership Academy for 2020-2021, a prestigious national program that kicks off with a seminar in Washington, D.C., in late June, and continues with a year of activities. 

It’s uncertain whether he’ll be able to attend, or whether it will be held in person at allIn a bit of irony, he hasn’t had much time to give it much thought. 

Since early March, he's been busy as a leader on PSU’s Critical Incident Response Team, focused on a global pandemic that closed campus facilities and moved the instruction of some 300 faculty members online for more than 5,000 students. 

Smith, whose resumé in leadership is pages long, is drawing on his past — starting as a member of Student Government Association when he was a student at PSU — while considering how to map out the future. 

As a full professor in Leadership Studies in the College of Education, he taught leadership for many yearsHe’s been a chair, a dean, and an associate vice president. He’s also served as a school superintendent. And, he was a member of the first class of the Harvard Kennedy School of Crisis Leadership in Higher Education in 2009. 

“It was an excellent group, with folks from all sizes of universities, and it taught us all a great deal,” he said of that experience 

The most important things? 

“To not overreact, to understand what’s before you, and respond to it in a timely fashion, he said. 

Leadership during COVID-19 has been a delicate balancing act for Smith and other members of the Critical Incident Response Team — comprised largely of the university’s President’s Council. 

This particular crisis changes day by day,” Smith said. “Putting too much stuff out too quickly means you confuse the issue but delaying it can cause uncertainty and worry. It’s all about trying to get in the right rhythm.” 

The team has met daily via Microsoft Teams for discussions, planning, decision-making, and formulating communication to key stakeholders and the public. 

I like being a servant leader,” Smith said. “Leaders in these kinds of positions should have a full appreciation for the perspective of what peoples lives are and what they’re going through – not to be in front, but asking what you can do to help?” 

He also draws on the expertise of leaders he looked to as role models, including former administrators in school districts and on campus. 

He looks forward to the time things can return to a semblance of normal. His primary responsibilities include oversight and leadership for the Academic Affairs units including the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and TechnologyGraduate and Continuing Studies; Center of Teaching Learning and Technology; and Institutional Effectiveness.  

Due to resource challenges, he continues to lead all areas in Enrollment Management and Student Success, which includes the Center for Accommodations, Honors College, International Programs and Services, Intensive English Program, Student Diversity Programs, Financial Student Assistance, Student Success, and Office of the Registrar.  

And, he is an active as a member and/or chair of numerous councils and committees. 

Although the Executive Leadership Academy is promoted as a program to hone the skills of university vice presidents and others to prepare them for presidencies, Smith's disclaimer is he’s not looking for that position. 

"There is a lot of value in learning what other people are doing and how they’re successful in various areas,” he said. “There are certain pieces that will help even within my own leadership group.” 

“Right now, what's helpful to me is maintaining focus. It looks like we have a lot of things up in the air, but you have to keep your eye on one thing at a time, give attention to detail, and go with whatever process you use to prioritize,” he said. “It can be frustrating, but you can’t do everything at once.” 

The Executive Leadership Academy is cosponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the American Academic Leadership Institute.