A Day in the Life: President Christine Riordan
By Katie Farkas
In this new column, The Delphian will highlight a different administrator at Adelphi University in each issue so that students get to know them better. We’ll focus on what their administrative position is at Adelphi, their background and how they came to hold their current position.
Christine M. Riordan, PhD is the tenth president of Adelphi University and has been since 2015. So what does the president of a university do? Dr. Riordan said the position is a little bit of a mix between being the mayor of a city and being a CEO of a major organization.
“When you think about it, we had to shut down because of the pandemic. We had to submit 15 different plans to the state because we were like a little city. We had athletic teams, we had a gym, a daycare center on campus, we had dining halls, which is equivalent to hotels in the residence halls,” she said. “So at the end of the day as president, it's working with the community to set out a strategic plan and vision for the university and then managing how we operate and execute against that strategic plan.”
Prior to becoming president, Dr. Riordan worked at various other institutions and has been in academia since 1995.
“I was a faculty member and I started a leadership institute at the University of Georgia from 1995 until 2005,” Dr. Riordan said. “Then I was recruited to TCU [Texas Christian University] in Fort Worth, Texas to be a chaired professor and an associate dean in the business school and also to start leadership programs there.”
After working at TCU from 2005 to 2008, Dr. Riordan was the dean of the business school at the University of Denver until 2013. She then became provost at the University of Kentucky before coming to Adelphi in 2015.
“The reason why I am in education is to have a positive impact on students’ lives,” she said. “I originally was a faculty member and loved teaching and loved working with the students and I try to spend time with the students. Obviously, with the pandemic, it slowed down but everything we do every day is for the students.”
In her time as president, Dr. Riordan said the hardest situation she has had to combat has been the pandemic.
“What was interesting for me was I actually did a tabletop exercise, a simulation of how you handle a pandemic when I was the dean at the University of Denver. I can tell you that it did not roll out that way. Even though we did this simulation, the way that it rolled out was just very different,” she said.
In January 2020, when the first signs that there were going to be issues around the pandemic started to surface, Dr. Riordan said, “I put together a threat assessment team that started working on our plans. By February it escalated to the highest level of threat and then by March we had our emergency leadership team meeting every morning of every single day of the week at eight o’clock for a couple of hours including the weekends.”
By April, she said that she “was working on the board for the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities, which is the organizing association for the hundred private institutions in the state of New York. So I, along with the provost at Cornell and other leaders from other private and public institutions, started putting together the restart plans to get to the governor on how we wanted to be able to restart and reopen for fall of ‘20.
“I think the reason why it was so difficult was because of the impact on people and the impact on our community,” she said. “It was trying to solve a puzzle without the picture and without the edges around it and my job as a leader was to try to help give people the edges and what that picture was going to look like without really even knowing what it was going to look like myself.”
Dr. Riordan has a bachelor of textile engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA and PhD in organizational behavior from Georgia State University in Atlanta. Although she was born in Michigan, she grew up in Georgia. “My dad moved there for a job when I was three.”
When asked, she offered advice to Adelphi students: begin your network now. “Whether it’s your faculty or fellow students or alumni and contacts. Just really start building out your network because that’s how you end up being exposed to a lot of different opportunities through that network. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Particularly with students, people are typically very open to doing informational interviews and just chatting with students about their experiences.
“The second piece is that there are so many opportunities that are available and there are going to be so many through the lifetime of your career, way more than any other generation I think that’s come before you,” she continued. “And be willing to pivot and keep your eyes open for opportunities and think creatively about how you craft your career.”
Some students may already be aware that Dr. Riordan has a four-legged companion: her 11-year-old Olde English Bulldogge Georgia.
“It’s hard to believe but we’ve been here seven years and so she’s a grand old lady now and she used to hold open office hours and the students used to come and hang out with her in my office,” she said. “I don’t know since the pandemic if she’s going to be able to do that again. She’s gotten a little bit older and more tired, but I’m hoping maybe in the spring I can bring her back to campus.”
Even if Georgia can’t accompany her, Dr. Riordan’s favorite places on campus are “the whole quadrangle with the rose garden and Swirbul Library and Nexus, particularly in the springtime because there are so many people out in that area hanging out.”
The president also spends a lot of time going to the productions and sports games on campus as well.
“I really enjoy watching our student athletes compete and seeing our talented artists and performers in their art shows and performances. When I get the chance, I love talking with students about their goals and Adelphi experience.”
She said her husband Bob also loves coming to campus. “He participates in our adult fitness program. He enjoys going to all the events with me as much as I enjoy them.”
Dr. Riordan is also a big reader. “I also write stories and essays and personal essays. I also just love to sit and watch Hallmark movies.”
The president has two children. “My daughter is 24 and she lives in Manhattan and is working for an ad agency. She was quite disappointed when she graduated during the pandemic when they didn’t have a graduation. I have my doctoral robe from when I was a faculty member so we put on a backyard ceremony for her and Zoomed in all of our family to try to make it special for her.”
Her son is a college senior studying business in Philadelphia. “He has already accepted a job so he’ll be working remotely in the fall of ‘22. I had to check to make sure our graduation was not on the same weekend as his graduation and fortunately, they are not, which is great,” she said.
Dr. Riordan said her favorite Adelphi memories include commencements and the times when we are all together. “We are a community and it’s better when are together. I was very happy that our Spirit Weekend was back last year, to see students and colleagues enjoying our campus. For me, having our students active and the University Center bustling again has been great.”