In the span of 48 hours, presidents at three of the nation’s leading institutions of higher education – Columbia University, New York University and Howard University – all announced they will retire from their posts in the near future.
Lee Bollinger will be existing his job at Columbia after the 2022-23 academic year after two decades. Just a couple of miles away around the same timeframe, Andrew Hamilton will be leaving his position at NYU. And Wayne Frederick will wait until 2024 before walking away from the president’s role at Howard, his alma mater in Washington, DC.
The stunning treble is part of a growing trend of presidents retiring, resigning, moving into other positions at their institutions or being forced out. Several dozen prominent leaders have vacated their posts in the past two years, some pressed into it because of an increasingly complex higher ed landscape and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic or just because they believe the time is right.
The latter was the reasoning given by Bollinger, who elevated Columbia’s reach beyond the city to become an educational force worldwide through its nine Global Centers while helping lead more than $13 billion in fundraising campaigns.
“I cannot begin to express what it has meant to me to serve in this role for this magnificent University for over two decades,” Bollinger said in a statement to the Columbia community. “Certainly, it has been a defining experience of my life. It has also been an especially high pleasure to do so at the beginning of the new century and in a period of rising intellectual excellence across the institution. No university in the world is more committed to the life of the mind or possessed of the will to bring knowledge and ideas to the service of humanity.”
For Frederick, 34 years at the university including nearly a decade at the helm was enough, though Howard leaders were hoping he might stay on a little longer. Despite the recent protests over students housing and faculty salaries and job security, Howard has raised its stature immensely in the past five years, including a 20% rise in the four-year graduation rate, a spot in the top 100 of national rankings and around $2 billion in assets.
“I join my fellow trustees in expressing my profound gratitude to Dr. Frederick for his tireless, unwavering efforts to lead our University to greater academic excellence, fiscal strength, and service to our community and country,” said Laurence Morse, Chair of Howard’s Board of Trustees. “Needless to say, given his outstanding performance, the board desired that he would have chosen to remain in office longer.”
Frederick has not indicated yet whether he will work beyond his retirement. Bollinger said he plans to return to academic life as well after his 50 years of service. Hamilton is staying on through next year before returning “to scholarly activities” as a chemistry professor. He will walk away knowing that NYU enjoys some of the nation’s highest application rates (more than 100,000 last year) and some of the best numbers when it comes to enrolling diverse students.
“By that time, I will be in my eighth year as president, the University will have withstood the worst of the pandemic, and the time will be ripe for new leadership for the next phase in the life of NYU,” he said. “I love being at NYU. I am proud that we have dropped significantly in one ranking, that of the cost of attendance; that our financial aid budget has increased dramatically, with NYU now educating more Pell grant recipients than half the Ivy League combined; that we have enrolled, for the first time, an entering first-year class for which we met demonstrated financial need; and that our medical school became the first in the nation to become tuition-free.”
Around the nation
University of Colorado: Todd Saliman, interim president and chief financial officer for the system, has been named as the lone finalist for the position by its Regents. Saliman took over last year for Mark Kennedy, a Republican who was ousted by Regents two years into a three-year contract. Kennedy’s reported divisive and polarizing comments, particularly on racial issues, forced the new Democrat-led board to remove him from the post. Before his work as senior vice president for strategy, government relations and CFO at CU, he was a member of the Colorado General Assembly and worked on the state’s Joint Budget Committee.
Ohio Wesleyan: President Rock Jones said he will retire following the 2022-23 academic year to spend more time with family. Jones has spent 15 years in the position, and his shrewd decision-making to cut underperforming programs and some staff helped keep the university’s finances stable during the pandemic. “Rock’s visionary leadership and focused follow-through place Ohio Wesleyan in a strong position for future success as we begin the search for the university’s 17th president,” said John Milligan, Chair of the Board of Trustees. The university is in the process of gathering that search committee.
Sonoma State University: The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., is reporting that former Provost Lisa Vollendorf received a $600,000 settlement over claims that she was sexually harassed by President Judy Sakaki’s husband, Patrick McCallum. Vollendorf, who left the university in 2019, has been named as the next president at SUNY-Empire State University in Saratoga Springs.
Stephen F. Austin: President Scott Gordon resigned from the post this week. Despite being given a no-confidence vote from faculty, Gordon was given an $85,000 pay increase by the board as the university allegedly struggled financially during the pandemic, with Gordon asking for staff reductions and salary freezes, according to a report from the Texas Tribune. An interim president has not been named.
Simmons College: Lynn Perry Wooten, the interim president at the downtown Boston private college since 2020, was officially invested in a ceremony earlier this week. She is a former dean at Cornell University who also spent two decades as a professor and associated dean in the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Jefferson Community College: Dr. Ty Stone, president at the college in Watertown, N.Y., is a popular candidate for positions across the country, though JCC is hoping she remains there. Stone, who lost out as a finalist for the top spot at Delta College in Michigan, is a finalist for two other jobs – president at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee and Muskegon Community College in Michigan.
Rhode Island College: Former South Dakota and Rhode Island state higher education executive Jack Warner has been named as interim president, replacing Frank Sanchez. The transition officially takes place July 1. Sanchez is departing to pursue other opportunities, according to several news reports, although the public RIC has been trying to stem a big drop in enrollment.