Following the California State System’s high-profile hire of Mildred García as chancellor over two weeks ago, two major university presidents at Texas A&M and Stanford caught the national radar following their high-profile resignations. However, three institutional leaders managed to escape national headlines and step down prematurely under either peculiar or contentious circumstances.
The average tenure among the six presidents to step down or retire in this list is three and a half years, a starkly shorter timeline than ACE’s president survey that found the average tenure was 5.9 years.
M. Katherine Banks – Texas A&M University
M. Katherine Banks submitted a letter of early retirement to Texas A&M on July 20 following the university’s contract breakdowns with the hiring of prolific former New York Times journalist and experienced academic Kathleen McElroy.
Faculty expressed deep disappointment in the lack of transparency over the negotiation process—which saw McElroy’s offer dwindle from a tenured role to a one-year, at-will position—and the involvement of outside political pressures on the contract fiasco. Bank’s tenure lasted two years.
“We don’t exhibit a very good image of competence to the outside world. We are embarking on high-profile searches. These people who have been selected and interviewed for positions, how will they believe in the seriousness of Texas A&M when this fiasco is going on?” said Raymundo Arroyave, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, in a special Faculty Senate meeting. “I don’t trust the administration in their ability to have the best.”
Marc Tessier-Lavigne – Stanford University
Thanks to the shrewd inquiry of a first-year journalism student, Marc Tessier-Lavigne resigned from Stanford University following heavy scrutiny over his academic work’s potentially manipulated scientific research data.
While a Stanford committee found that Tessier-Lavigne did not know about the malpractice when it occurred and when the papers were originally published, the report still criticized the former president for not correcting the mistakes in the years following and for inadequate oversight and management. Tessier-Lavigne consequently resigned following the committee’s findings. He had served as president from the beginning of 2016.
“I agree that in some instances I should have been more diligent when seeking corrections and I regret that I was not,” said Tessier-Lavigne in a statement. “The Panel’s review also identified instances of manipulation of research data by others in my lab. Although I was unaware of these issues, I want to be clear that I take responsibility for the work of my lab members.”
Erica Muhl – Berklee College of Music
Berklee College of Music’s Board Chairman Martin Mannion announced that Erica Muhl would not be returning as president following a mysterious leave of absence she took in June. Muhl lasted just two years in the position, having started in July 2021.
“While we are unable to share further details, President Muhl will not be returning to Berklee,” Mannion wrote in a statement. “The board thanks President Muhl for her time, her leadership during the pandemic, and her investment in Berklee’s educational experience.”
While details about her departure remain unknown, her previous leadership experience hints at a turbulent past. As dean of the Roski School of Art and Design at the University of Southern California, Muhl faced heavy opposition from students in its MFA program who believed Muhl was responsible for faculty departures amid her failures to communicate curriculum changes and her “persistent belittling of students,” according to a student letter.
Written by the class of 2015, the letter urged university leadership to remove Muhl from her position. The entire class of 2016 withdrew from the program.
“Dean Muhl has alienated students, faculty and alumni and offered convoluted and untruthful information to the public in an attempt to obfuscate the devastating impact of her actions and the failure of her administration,” read the letter.
Joseph Nyre – Seton Hall University
Joseph Nyre elected to cut his five-year contract as Seton Hall University president short by a year. The decision follows stark disagreements with the Board of Regents on how to govern its law school after several longtime employees embezzled nearly a million dollars over several years, according to a school email. Nyre wanted to restrict the school’s autonomy from university leadership, which drew battle lines between him and board members.
“I have pledged my cooperation in assisting with the search for a new President and with making myself available as a resource for the Interim President during my sabbatical,” Nyre wrote in a message to the university community.
Mark Tykocinski – Thomas Jefferson University
Mark Tykocinski has resigned from Thomas Jefferson University after just one year as president following backlash over controversial Tweets he liked on his official university account relating to COVID vaccines and gender reassignment surgery.
Thomas Jefferson University CEO Joseph G. Cacchione emailed the university community on July 20 about the decision without mentioning the Twitter controversy. The official statement is that Tykocinski returned to professorship at Thomas Jefferson “to focus on his research and clinical translation efforts.” However, Cacchione wrote to the community that Tykocinski “should have known better” when the news broke out over his Twitter “like’ history.
Tykocinski worked at Thomas Jefferson for 15 years and was promoted to president after serving as the provost.
Jason Adsit – Mt. Saint Mary College
In a more peaceful leadership transition, Jason Adsit of Mt. Saint Mary College decided yesterday he would not renew his contract at the Catholic university following a five-year tenure. Instead, Adsit is choosing to spend more time with his family, said Michael Horodyski, Chair of the college’s Board of Trustees.
Under Adsit’s leadership, the college developed the Desmond Center for Community Engagement and Wellness under Adsit’s strategy to prioritize student and community engagement. Mt. Saint Mary plans to find an interim president to overlap Adsit’s remaining time in office to support a seamless transition.
“I would like to be the first to thank Jason for his tireless work on behalf of Mount Saint Mary College. I wish him nothing but success and happiness in whatever the future may hold,” wrote Horodyski.
Despite the recent turnovers, two individuals have earned a permanent place as school presidents following their initial service as interims.
- Chris W. Brussalis of Point Park University became president after a temporary role beginning in February. Previously, he has provided counsel to colleges, universities and Fortune 500 companies. He has a master’s in business administration and a doctorate in higher education administration. Brussalis’ initial points of focus at Point Park will be on developing multi-generational housing, additional sports and recreation venues and its nationally known Conservatory of Performing Arts, according to TribLive.
- Allegheny College’s Ron Cole earned a five-year contract following a record $19 million fundraising year and his strategic planning, which impressed the college’s governing body. Cole benefits from being Allegheny’s previous provost and sharing a deep history of the college. To combat national enrollment dips, the college announced a four-year tuition-free program for students who hail from sub-$50,000 households, according to TribLive.