The presidential shifts that could elevate 2 centuries-old universities

The University of New Haven and Thomas Jefferson University are embracing dual leadership models.
By: | July 5, 2022
The University of New Haven will move various campus activities outdoors to prevent COVID transmissions when students return for the fall semester.

A university that has been around for nearly 200 years and another that was started more than 100 years ago have both made substantive changes to their leadership structure that they hope will power them for another century or two.

Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the University of New Haven recently announced new presidents with unique transitions, creating models that include others who will help lead from the top.

At Thomas Jefferson, president Dr. Mark Tykocinski and Dr. Bruce Meyer, the head of Jefferson Health, will each report to a yet-unannounced new chief executive. The University of New Haven, meanwhile, shifted Steven Kaplan into a new chancellor and CEO position while hiring Sheahon Zenger as interim president.

“As proud as I am of what we have accomplished at Thomas Jefferson University so far, it is only the beginning,” said Tykocinski, who was provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and dean of its medical college before the promotion. “Higher education is at an inflection point—its future will look very different from its past—and Jefferson is positioned to help define that future. We aspire to be a model for professions-focused education in the 21st century.”

At Jefferson, things look very different than they did just five years ago before its merger with Philadelphia University. It now has 8,400 students and 10 colleges, including eight Global Centers. And it has $200 million in new research grants across a range of health fields and is continually looking to push the bounds of higher education. “We look beyond standard core competencies as we cultivate in our students cross-cutting ways of thinking and higher-order human qualities—dimensions that will ensure their continued relevance in a work world evolving at a bewildering pace, in an age of machine intelligence and robotic automation,” Tykocinski said.

Meanwhile, New Haven also has expanded its reach by creating two new campuses over the past decade—one in Connecticut and one in Tuscany—while building up its capital campaign coffers by more than $160 million, improving campus infrastructure and increasing enrollment to 7,500. Because of the enormity of duties, UNH felt the best way to keep operations running smoothly was by delineating them among two leaders. Kaplan will be charged with overseeing the financials—advancement, partnerships and the board—while Zenger effectively will be the new face of the university, leading the everyday campus operations, as well as overseeing branding and UNH’s status nationally and globally.


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“I applaud the Board of Governors for its creative vision in designing this transition plan, and I believe Dr. Zenger is the ideal person to work with me in this new capacity,” Kaplan said. “I have the utmost confidence he will do a terrific job helping to lead the university forward and that more great days lie ahead.”

Zenger’s background might not be traditional for a university president—he has been UNH’s athletics and recreation director for the past three years while co-teaching a course in literature with Kaplan. Prior to that he worked closely with the chancellor at Texas Christian University and had one of the highest-level athletics director positions in the nation at the University of Kansas.