On January 14, 2015, the Board of Trustees announced that President Jeffrey Herbst has decided not to seek a renewal of his contract with the University after the end of this academic year. Beginning on July 1, 2015, Professor of History Jill Harsin will serve a one-year term as the Interim President of the University.
During his five-year tenure as President of the University, Herbst compiled a list of accomplishments that included expansions to financial aid and study abroad as well as the the adoption of Colgate’s Strategic Plan: Living the Liberal Arts in Our Third Century, among other achievements.
“The first initiative he brought … I was really aware of because he was very passionate about it … bringing a global sense to Colgate,” Harsin said.
Harsin credited Herbst with making Colgate’s numerous study groups available to students on financial aid and expanding financial aid in general to make a Colgate education more accessible to students of many different backgrounds. Under Herbst’s presidency, the number of extended study programs increased, providing more travel opportunities for student athletes and other students who have commitments during the semester and are unable to spend their entire semester abroad.
“He fits the profile of someone who is coming to an institution and is expecting to move on to another institution, you can expect they will be looking to associate themselves with some significant changes,” William Henry Crawshaw Professor of Literature Margaret Maurer said.
Maurer, who has served under six presidents while at Colgate, went on to describe Herbst’s tenure as a period of significant change for the University.
Both Dean of the College Suzy Nelson and Board of Trustees member Ayanna Williams shared very similar sentiments, describing his time at Colgate as dynamic. Nelson considers some of the changes made by Herbst as long-term impacts that will improve the University and ensure that it will go on strong for another century. Williams spoke specifically of the Strategic Plan as one of the programs championed by Herbst that has meant the most to her. She described the plan as an initiative that will impact the lives of all the students that are currently enrolled at Colgate as well as those who choose to attend the University in the future.
Harsin said her interim presidency will be focused on ensuring that the initiatives adopted during the previous five years continue to run smoothly, one of which is Colgate’s Strategic Plan. Harin said that, although Herbst was one of its largest supporters, the strategic plan was a collaborative effort and his impending departure does not affect its implementation or the periodic reviews of the original charter that would have happened anyway. In addition to keeping the initiatives on track, Harsin expressed interest in being both visible and available to talk to members of the student body during her presidency.
First-year Faith Rupert expressed how some students seem to think Herbst is leaving because of some of the recent events on campus.
“There has been a lot of conspiracy talk that Herbst would leave after the some of the events of last semester and so when they sent out the email saying he was gone almost no one was surprised,” Rupert said.
According to Vice President of Communications at Colgate Rachel Reuben, the events of the last semester did not play a role in the President’s decision not to seek renewal of his contract. Reuben explained that Herbst believed it was a good time for him and his family, along with the University, to make a transition, as the university is set to kick off another fundraising campaign and celebrate its year-long bi-centennial. Rueben said it is likely that the Board of Trustees would have wanted him to commit to another five years and that a single five-year term is very close to the modern day average tenure for a university president, which is somewhere between five and seven years.
Senior President of the Student Government Association Sarah Rende believes it is a good time for a transition to a president who is more visible to the student body.
“I’m excited for someone who can focus on socially inclusive issues. Herbst was great with fundraising … but I would love someone who is more of a presence in terms of day-to-day student life,” Rende said.
According to Reuben, all members of the Colgate community will play a role in helping to pick the next President. The search committee will speak with various members of the campus community to help develop a prospectus, or general profile of what they are looking for in the next president. When the prospectus is finalized in the coming months, it will be made public on the Colgate website. Nelson held similar sentiments, emphasizing the role the whole community will play in helping to find the next president. The search committee will also be partly comprised of some of these community members as well.
“There will be students, staff, faculty and trustees on the search committee,” Nelson said.