Higher ed will lose 2 more top university presidents in 2023

Boards at North Georgia and Wayne State will be searching for new leaders to replace Bonita Jacobs and M. Roy Wilson.
M. Roy Wilson

Two leaders who have overseen a slew of successes at their universities during the past decade announced they will be stepping down at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs said she is planning to retire next June, while Wayne State University’s M. Roy Wilson did not offer a reason that he will not pursue a contract extension at the end of July 2023. They join the growing scroll of presidents who are walking away from power posts after enduring more than two years of the COVID pandemic and facing new challenges, including meeting lofty enrollment and fiscal goals.

Like the dozens who have relinquished control over the past few months, they offered upbeat statements about the resiliency of their institutions as they head toward 2030 under new leaders.

“Wayne State today is strong and has a promising future,” Wilson said. “Together we have made great strides and I am proud to have served this institution and privileged to be a part of this community. I am deeply grateful that this university gave me my voice as a leader. I did not have a place that I called home when I first came here, but going forward I will always proudly call Wayne State and Detroit my home.”

Jacobs, the first-ever woman to be selected president of the institution in 2011, said she is remaining for another year to ensure that the university remains strong while it searches for her successor. “Our momentum points to a bright future,” Jacobs said. “I am announcing my plans now to ensure the Board of Regents has ample time to select UNG’s next president and to provide for a stable transition over this next year as we celebrate North Georgia’s 150th anniversary.”

Jacobs received high praise from the head of Georgia’s university system, Chancellor Sonny Perdue, for her efforts in transforming the former North Georgia College & State University into a standout university that last year was named the best public institution in the state for value and for veterans by U.S. News and World Report. Under Jacobs’ leadership, North Georgia has grown to nearly 19,000 students across five campuses, which includes a more than 20% increase in enrollment in just a decade, a 40% increase in research grants and a 64% boost in scholarships for students.

“She has been a trailblazer ever since,” said Perdue. “Over the past decade, she has been a critical factor in the university’s growth and how it has helped students find success and prosperity. President Jacobs has been a great leader for its campuses and the university system. I’m grateful for her leadership and service.”

Wayne State had flourished under Wilson since his start in 2013 and until the pandemic hit, seeing a 21-percentage point rise in the number of six-year graduates through 2018. It also had its biggest incoming class in the fall of 2020. But over the past two years, there have been noticeable declines in enrollees. However, fundraising efforts and research grants continued to hit or exceed their targets.

“The impact of President Wilson’s transformative leadership will be felt for years to come,” Board of Governors chair Mark Gaffney said. “He has led our campus in putting students and their success above all else, furthering the university’s role in providing life-changing opportunities for all students to earn a college degree. We are grateful for his years of service and commitment.”

Candidate pools are expected to open by respective boards this fall.

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Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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