President moves: Recent resignations show 3 reasons why a leader steps down

"I have always intended to end my career as an English professor and I look forward to returning to academic life,” Alma College President Jeff Abernathy said in a campus town hall.

Two presidents have been hired at small private colleges in the past two weeks and one leader is choosing to retire after four decades in higher education. The three presidents to step down demonstrate a variety of reasons for making a change: to reengage in academia, pursue other professional opportunities or make way for new leadership during trying times.


Trevor Bates – Mercy College of Ohio
Trevor Bates

Mercy College of Ohio has announced Trevor Bates as its next president. The private nursing school will officially welcome its fifth president on May 6, according to school communications.

Bates has a proven track record as a higher education leader around Ohio, as well as in the private sector. His last academic appointment was at Mercy from 2017 to 2020 as the vice president of academic affairs. Prior to that, he served as the president of Wilmington College (Ohio) and the founding associate dean of health sciences at Heidelberg University. He currently serves as the CEO of True Empowering LLC, a communications company.

The throughline of Bates’ career is his passion for healthcare. He earned the 2024 Outstanding Educator Award from the Great Lakes Athletic Trainers’ Association and the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Applied Health Sciences.

William Pieczynski – Nichols College (Mass.)

Half a year as Nichols College’s interim president was all the board of trustees needed to determine William Pieczynski was the right person to lead the university for good. Beginning May 1, Pieczynski has been appointed the permanent president of the small private business college.

The new president isn’t a newcomer. He has served at Nichols since 2006, mainly in positions that revolved around fundraising and advancement. He began as the director of the institution’s stock portfolio, transitioning four years later to the vice president for advancement. One campaign he oversaw helped draw in $66 million, the largest in school history, Telegram & Gazette reports.

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Jennifer K. Ward
Jenifer Ward – Luther College (Iowa)

Jennifer Ward capped off her 40 years working in academia as the president of Luther College. Ward, president since 2019, will retire at the end of June 2025, the conclusion of Luther’s 2023-25 strategic plan.

Ward will be remembered for developing a more holistic student experience by overseeing the creation of a new student services department and reorganizing the school curriculum, Iowa Capital Dispatch reports. The work was done in collaboration with the provost.

In her last year as president, Ward looks forward to ramping up community outreach efforts.

Stepping down

Jeff Abernathy – Alma College (Mich.)

Alma College President Jeff Abernathy has informed the board of trustees he will be stepping down following 14 years at his post, according to a school statement. In July 2025, he will depart for a one-year sabbatical and return to the life of academia.

“I have always intended to end my career as an English professor and I look forward to returning to academic life,” Abernathy said in a campus town hall.

Abernathy has propelled Alma forward through a cluster of successful initiatives. His $125 million philanthropic campaign helped Alma undergo a series of campus renovations involving student housing, athletic facilities and an opera house.

He also helped add 27 undergraduate programs to Alma’s academic catalog and founded its first graduate degrees. Lastly, the private liberal arts school strengthened its athletics department, adding women’s and men’s wrestling, eSports, women’s and men’s lacrosse and other sports.

Laurie Patton – Middlebury College (Vt.)
Laurie Patton

President Laurie Patton announced she is leaving Middlebury College at the end of the year to pursue a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” VT Digger reports.

Patton will become the president of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, an academic society founded during the American Revolution by John Adams, John Hancock and other Founding Fathers. She was elected to the Academy in 2018 in philosophy/religion and for her work in educational and academic leadership.

In a University Business feature, Patton discussed how she’s helped transform what a classic liberal arts college has to offer, embedding digital tools and data science lessons in student courses regardless of their major. She has also helped increase enrollment among first-year Pell Grant students and established an affordable housing project set to open in 2025.

Middlebury’s popularity has been strong under Patton. Her most recent fundraising campaign has amassed $444 million of its $600 million goal. “We’re all sad to see her go, quite frankly,” said Board of Trustees Chair Ted Truscott, according to VT Digger. “It’s a tremendous honor for Laurie, and it reflects well on Middlebury that she’s achieved this honor.”

Robbyn Wacker – St. Cloud State University (Minn.)

Declining enrollment, budget cuts, faculty layoffs and a contentious partnership with a for-profit company have spelled the end of Robbyn Wacker’s presidential tenure at St. Cloud State University, MPR News reports. While already scheduled to step down on June 30, St. Cloud State’s vice president for finance and administration is scheduled to step into Wacker’s role on May 5.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Scott Olson said St. Cloud State is “facing financial pressures that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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