College and university presidents face a range of challenges, like shrinking populations and changing attitudes about academia. How leaders respond to these challenges will shape their institution’s future and their professional legacy.
This summer, three college presidents retired after decades-long careers in higher education: Jim Campion of Columbia-Greene Community College (C-GCC), Karen Haynes of California State University San Marcos (CSU San Marcos), and Gary Wirt of Goldey-Beacom College (GBC).
In conversation with journalists, Campion, Haynes, and Wirt reflected on the accomplishments they’re most proud of. They led different kinds of institutions, but their answers all point to a core mission in higher education—supporting student success. Here’s what three recently retired college presidents say are their greatest achievements.
Building a diverse community
Campion, who has served as president since 2000, has been an administrator within C-GCC since 1974. Across his tenure as president, Campion has led the college through student enrollment fluctuations and launched a $20 million capital project, which included replacing infrastructure and improving accessibility on campus.
Of his accomplishments, Campion said he is most proud of hiring a diverse group of talented faculty and staff. “We’ve worked hard to make sure we have a diverse community and student body. That led to student success and that’s what we’re all about. If I contributed to that in some small way by hiring the right people and right jobs, I think I’ve accomplished something.”
“We’ve been able to put together a team that has produced a ranking of second in the state,” Campion said of the college’s placement in a 2018 WalletHub report that ranked the best community colleges in the United States.
Campion’s successor, Carlee Rader Drummer, will be the first woman to lead the college as president.
Widening access to opportunity
Haynes retired in June after leading CSU San Marcos for more than 15 years. Haynes began her higher ed career as a professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas, before eventually becoming a dean at the University of Houston, then president of the University of Houston-Victoria.
Haynes considers leading two universities as president as one of her biggest accomplishments.
“The fact that I have had an 8½-year first presidency and a 15½-year second presidency has suggested to me that it is possible,” she said. “It’s possible both for a woman to do that successfully and it’s possible for a woman who tries to see, and actually execute, some life balance.”
As president of CSU San Marcos, Haynes said she is most proud of pushing her college to become a more inclusive school that reflects the region’s demographic diversity. “I’m very proud of the specific access opportunities we’ve developed for tribal communities, for veterans, for former foster youth—all that are specific populations that are the most underrepresented in higher education.”
Strengthening the humanities
Wirt, the 13th president of GBC, has worked at the college for 46 years. He first joined the college as an adjunct faculty member, eventually moving up through the ranks to hold administrative positions, including dean of students and president of student affairs, before becoming president in 2015.
Across his career at Goldey-Beacom, Wirt says he’s most proud of the college’s transition from “business school” to more expanded offerings, including English and psychology. “This was a significant shift in the philosophy of our education, our mission, the processes that drive the offerings, and the faculty we employ.”
“The change… involved a complete reworking of our print and electronic materials, recertification by our accreditors, and frankly, a new way of thinking,” said Wirt. He also celebrated the college’s move to hire better credentialed faculty. “All full-time faculty now have the highest degree in their field. I know of no other school in the region that has achieved this.”
Wirt’s successor, Colleen Perry Keith, will be the first female president in the college’s 133-year history.
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