The last two weeks have seen two long-serving presidents retire from their posts with a tinge of bittersweetness. One new presidential hire will be entering an office that hasn’t changed hands in 26 years. On the flip side, another president didn’t make it into his first year before resigning, and one president of a major university left following two “embarrassing” mishaps.
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Kent J. Smith Jr. — Langston University
The only HBCU in Oklahoma will be looking for a new leader as Kent J. Smith Jr. retires after an 11-year tenure at the school. Smith Jr. will be moving into entrepreneurial pursuits after serving in academia for 30 years, according to The Oklahoman.
Smith Jr. will be remembered at Langston for helping secure a Tulsa campus and a permanent Oklahoma City Campus. He also led the school through seven of its largest freshman enrollment classes in Langston’s 126-year history. Despite this, Smith Jr. steps down at a time when Langston’s total enrollment has been steadily declining for the past decade, like other regional colleges in the state.
William Craft — Concordia College
Walking out of academia hand in hand with his wife, William “Bill” Craft will be leaving behind a nearly pitch-perfect presidency during which he led the Minnesota school’s largest fundraising effort, garnering more than $157 million—exceeding the target by $7 million eight months early.
Craft also helped establish a diversity office and oversaw the creation or revitalization of the college’s teaching, learning and recreational facilities, as well as centers for integrated science and student success. As accomplished as his tenure was, he was humble enough to credit his 12-year career at Concordia to its late former president for establishing a solid foundation that allowed him to seamlessly take the liberal arts school to the next level.
“I was in the fortunate position to be able to build on that, rather than to repair things,” he said, according to InForum.
Craft’s initial plans are all in the family: dedicating time to his grandchildren, cycling and singing with his wife in the choir.
Dan Arvizu — New Mexico State University
After a rocky year of highly publicized scandals, both in his professional and private spheres, Chancellor Dan Arvizu stepped down a week into April.
Arvizu faced a growing wedge between his leadership and the school’s community after a perfect storm of events. The first sign of an avalanche was a deadly shooting that occurred allegedly among players in the school’s basketball program. That program was then suspended after allegations surfaced over school hazing practices that a police report says may have involved criminal sexual contact. As the university began conducting its own independent investigation into the matter, Arvizu’s firestorm reached its peak following publicized police body cam footage of an officer trying to resolve a domestic dispute between Arvizu and his wife.
Though Arvizu has chosen to resign, the NMSU Board of Regents did not turn a complete cold shoulder during the resignation announcement.
“The Board of Regents appreciates all Chancellor Arvizu has done for our university,” Ammu Devasthali, chair of the NMSU Board of Regents, said in a statement.
Parwinder Grewal — Vermont State University
Slated to open in July, Vermont State University is already without a president today. Its former leader cited personal reasons for his departure.
VTSU is a new school made up of seasoned parts, consolidated from Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College. Administrators chose Parwinder Grewal in July of 2022 to oversee the revamp and hopefully return the merged institution to financial stability.
Grewal, however, faced student, faculty and community backlash for his plans to reformat their library systems into an “all-digital” model that would have eliminated several full-time positions and a huge selection of its books.
Kristen Raney — Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
Sitting President Jeffrey Rafn is in his 26th year at the helm of 111-year-old Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, but starting in July, a new chapter will begin. Rafn will step down, and Kristen Raney will become the school’s first female president.
Raney currently serves as the vice chancellor for academic affairs at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. Previous to that at Saint Paul College (Minn.) as the dean of students, interim vice president of student affairs and vice president of academic affairs.
Her deep expertise in cultivating student success is what led NWTC’s Board of Trustees to tap her, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Vann R. Newkirk — Wilberforce University
Dr. Vann R. Newkirk will be leading Ohio’s Wilberforce University as a seasoned tradesman, having served as president at Fisk University (Tenn.) and more recently as interim associate vice president at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville.
Known for his interest in enhancing institutional research, he intends to incentivize the community’s fundraising efforts to strengthen the administration’s resources. His leadership career has spanned several HBCUs, and he is currently writing a history of African Americans in Alabama.