The majority of universities experiencing leadership transitions these past two weeks are in the midst of a years-long uphill battle to secure the future of their institution. Some college boards are choosing unconventional candidates for the president position to grant it a fresh pair of eyes and a bold new direction.
Bill Johnson – Youngstown State University (Ohio)
The Youngstown State University Board of Trustees has selected U.S. Representative Bill Johnson to lead the university. A Republican, Johnson has served Ohio’s sixth district since 2011.
The closed-door selection process has inflamed criticism from the community. Ed Muransky, chair of YSU’s nonprofit responsible for overseeing its fundraising, has since stepped down, Ideastream reports. One donor who had recently given the school $5 million took issue with Johnson’s lack of academic experience and his vote to overturn the 2020 U.S. election.
YSU Trustee Hackstedde defended the confidential search process, explaining that public debates fail to attract high-quality candidates to the professional repercussions if it were known they were applying elsewhere. Overall, the Board considered 16 candidates, interviewed nine and chose three top picks, WFMJ reports.
As a representative, Johnson has commented on higher education’s bias toward a “liberal ideology” and believed the sector needed more diversity of opinion.
Elizabeth Mauch – Vermont State Universities
Elizabeth Mauch is in as the head of Vermont State Universities. She takes over the newly formed university system at an inflection point following the state’s recent spat of cost-cutting strategies, college mergers and turbulent leader exits amid financial troubles.
Mauch replaces Sophie Zdatny after three years of service overseeing the complex merger of two state universities into Vermont State University and the consolidation of its two-year colleges into the Community College of Vermont. Zdatny believed it was the perfect time to usher in a leader with fresh eyes when she stepped down.
“The Board is confident in Dr. Mauch’s ability to implement ongoing progress and secure continued support of system-wide transformation,” State Representative Lynn Dickinson said, according to VT Digger.
Mauch is currently the president at Bethany College, a sub-1000 student private college in W.Va. Previously, she served as Dean of the College of Education at Bloomsburg University for eight years. She helped Bloomsburg reclaim its accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which it had lost prior to her tenure.
Mary Pope Hutson- Sweet Briar College (Va.)
Sweet Briar College has selected Mary Pope Hutson as its next leader, eight years after helping spearhead the college’s do-or-die fundraising campaign to keep the college open. Despite her lack of academic experience, leaders are convinced by Hutson’s strong entrepreneurial grasp and forward outlook on the century-old college’s potential.
“She has been so successful in the fundraising which has sustained this college, and she has redesigned and restructured and really rebuilt the enrollment and recruitment process, which is showing great gains,” said college board chair Mason Rummel, according to The Washington Post.
Hutson takes the reins from Meredith Woo, who initiated Sweet Briar’s five-plan this year, overhauled its academic curriculum and cut tuition. Her bold leadership won the fandom of many community members and affirmed Hutson’s fundraising campaign that promised its successful remodeling.
Robbyn Wacker – St. Cloud State University (Minn.)
Robbyn Wacker, president of St. Cloud State University, has announced she will conclude six years of service at the Minnesota school in June 2024.
Wacker took over SCSU during a temperamental time in the school’s history. In 2018, school enrollment had been falling by 38% in its last decade, mirroring the state’s overall enrollment trend, MPR News reports. As a response, Wacker spent her time recuperating its losses, often having to make difficult decisions. She axed the men’s football team in 2019 and, last June, laid off 21 faculty members. She also ushered in the offering of online certificates and SCSU was one of the first state schools to offer one in cannabis education.
Robbyn Wacker, who has led SCSU as its president since 2018, announced Nov. 27 that she will be leaving her position on June 30, 2024, upon completion of her contract.
— St. Cloud State (@stcloudstate) November 27, 2023