Bevy of presidential changes highlight start to the new year for higher ed

The COVID-19 pandemic and retirements prompt shifts among leadership roles at several colleges and universities.
By: | January 7, 2022
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Higher education is just seven days into the new year and the revolving door of college presidents coming and going is spinning wildly.

On Thursday, Chris Howard announced he was leaving Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh to become Arizona State University’s executive vice president and chief operating officer of the ASU Enterprise, which is constructing a national university forged on access and excellence. “To say that it has been both an honor and a privilege to serve as the eighth president of Robert Morris University these past six years would be a gross understatement,” said Howard, a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Business School grad, distinguished military veteran and former star athlete.

Chief Academic Officer Mary Ann Raforth has been named as interim president as the Board of Trustees conducts its search for a replacement. Howard built quite a legacy at RMU, including being named among the best value schools in the nation and also one of the most formative for veterans. His ability to lead strong capital campaigns while leading innovation in academic programming was instantly recognized by ASU. “[His] leadership experience will help us continue to advance the entire ASU Enterprise as we seek new partners, new sources of revenue and new opportunities to carry out the aspirations expressed by the ASU charter,” ASU President Michael Crow said.

Robert Morris is one of several institutions dealing with leadership changes to start 2022. Another in Pennsylvania, Elizabethtown College just lost its president, Cecilia McCormick, who resigned after two-plus years on Monday because of personal reasons. “I am proud of the work we have done to keep our college community safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said McCormick, the first female president of the small private institution, which said it would announce an interim replacement soon. “However, like so many others among us, the pandemic has also reinforced for me the importance of prioritizing what’s most important in our lives. As we start a new year, and with the college on strong footing, I believe this is the right decision for me and my family.”

The lack of improvement on COVID-19, the financial strains and expectations and the changing dynamic of institutions trying to meet students’ career desires and affordability has caused added stress for those in leadership posts, not just presidents. Some older leaders decided in 2020 and 2021 to simply walk away, and that too has filtered into this year, with University of Florida president Kent Fuchs saying he will step down by 2023.

But institutions are pressing on, and many have named replacements, too, to start the new year. In Florida, Brevard College’s Board of Trustees approved former Southwestern College President Dr. Bradley Andrews as its next president. He brings more than 30 years of leadership experience to the post and replaces Rev. David Joyce, who served for a decade before announcing his retirement.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to join such a committed and impressive team,” Andrews said. “The distinctive mission and talented people at the College, the vibrant spirit and hospitality of the Brevard community, the great success and strength that has been so diligently cultivated by President Joyce and the Board; this is a special college.”

In other news:

  • Gordon Jones began his tenure as the new president at the College of Western Idaho on Monday, saying, “I’m thrilled to serve students and brighten the future of our communities.” He previously served as dean of Boise State University’s College of Innovation and Design and was managing director of the Harvard University Innovation Lab. He will officially start on Monday, replacing the retiring Bert Glandon, who spent 20 years in the position.
  • Like Jones, Brad Smith officially stepped into the president’s role on Monday at Marshall University, calling it “a dream come true.” Smith, a graduate of Marshall who is the former CEO of Intuit, has been a longtime benefactor for the university, donating millions to various initiatives. Both the university’s undergraduate and graduate students are named for him.
  • Former provost and professor Rosemary Allen was named as the first female president in the 193-year history of Georgetown College in Kentucky this week. She has had a distinguished career as a leader and faculty member for nearly 40 years. “I will do everything in my power to protect and advance this college, and I am deeply honored by the opportunity to serve as its 26th president,” she said.
  • Seattle Central College has a new interim president, Yoshiko Harden, who was previously the vice president of student services before taking over as acting president when Sheila Edwards Lange became chancellor of the University of Washington at Tacoma.
  • Michael Reed, current provost and vice president of academic affairs, was named president of the Pennsylvania College of Technology on Wednesday. A former principal in the Harrisburg school system, he takes over for Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, who is retiring after 23 years as president and 45 with the college.