Presidential habits: How a track record of successes (or failures) has shaped their careers

Dr. Fayneese S. Miller's resignation follows the full-time faculty's majority vote in January that they "no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward." Meanwhile, more universities welcome their first woman presidents.

The past week saw a top 10 research university gain its first female president and a pair of small private schools electing new leadership. One president accused of failing to protect academic freedom resigned, while another president was ousted for repeated communication failures, a trait which also lent him the axe in a past leadership role.

One major appointment

Joan T.A. Gabel – University of Pittsburgh

Joan T.A. Gabel found a new home at the University of Pittsburgh after serving for four years as president of the University of Minnesota. She was the first woman president at Minnesota, and the same is true at Pitt where she will be serving as the 236-year-old school’s 19th chancellor. She starts in July.

Under Gabel’s leadership, Minnesota enjoyed experiencing record-high graduation rates and oversaw the conclusion of a $4 billion capital campaign. She also capitalized on the school’s STEM offerings, investing heavily in the school’s annual research and contributing to an increased number of startups and patents. These qualities make her a great fit for one of the nation’s top 10 research facilities.

“I believe Pitt stands on the threshold of even greater accomplishments and achievements in the future under her guidance. She clearly reflects the vision, drive, experience and understanding of the issues and complexities of leading a major research university,” said Doug Browning, chair of the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees, according to the school’s website.

Prior to Minnesota, Gabel served as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of South Carolina from 2015 to 2019.

Private school hires

Two small private schools with fewer than 2,000 students also elected new presidents.

Dr. Wayne P. Webster – Albion College (Albion, Mich.)

Beginning in July, this liberal arts college will be welcoming Dr. Wayne P. Webster as its 18th president after he was unanimously selected by the school’s 15-person board of trustees. This will be Webster’s first full-fledged president role, having served previously at the interim president and vice president positions at other nationally recognized schools in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Throughout his career, he has contributed to raising more than $250 million in fund endowments. One of his most notable attributes, however, is his keen listening and engagement ability with constituents.

“Wayne listens with respect and builds with consensus, which is a powerful combination. He has demonstrated a passion for liberal arts in small college settings like ours. He understands and embraces the Midwest,” said Board Chair Joanne Miller in a press release. “He truly brings the perfect blend of attributes we need right now.”

Dr. Julie Schornack – Marshall B. Ketchum University (Fullerton, Calif.)

Dr. Julie Schornack will be the second president and first female president to lead the school since its expansion and name change in 2013. MBKU’s primary focus is healthcare, and it’s comprised of three primary schools focused on optometry, pharmaceuticals and schooling for physician assistants.

Schornack has previously served the school in the associate dean and vice president positions.

President resignations

Dr. Fayneese S. Miller – Hamline University (Saint Paul, Minn.)

Dr. Fayneese S. Miller’s resignation follows the full-time faculty’s majority vote in January that they “no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward.” Out of the 91 full-time faculty members approached to vote on this, 71 agreed with the statement.

While the school suffered from declining enrollment and a proliferation of student protests, the driving factor behind the no-confidence vote is Miller’s handling of a school lecturer who was fired for showing a picture of Muhammad in her art class.

“We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community,” the faculty statement said. “Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.”

Tim McGrath – Golden West College (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

Tim McGrath has resigned following being placed on temporary administrative leave. The school’s Academic Senate motioned a no-confidence vote due to his failure to communicate security incidents involving sexually explicit emails that were sent to employees. He also failed to facilitate a shelter-in-place order.

Strangely enough, prior to GWC, the Academic Senate at San Diego Mesa College let McGrath from his vice president position following a no-confidence vote for very similar reasons. The Senate cited a poor leadership style and a lack of communication.

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Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, 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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