Eric Zavinski – Editor in Chief
CLARION, Pa- Three months ago, Clarion University President Karen Whitney thought the 2017-18 academic year would be her last year as president. Today, she is beginning her term as the interim chancellor in charge of 14 state schools.
Whitney had wanted to retire from higher education administration in June of next year after leading Clarion University though its 150th anniversary year. Plans changed for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), and after Chancellor Frank Brogan announced his retirement, someone new was needed to fill in the position.
The former Clarion University president is PASSHE’s new interim president, meaning that she will lead the state system and its schools for nearly a year before a full-time chancellor is vetted and installed.
The Clarion Call reported last semester that Whitney had wanted to enjoy her last year as president of Clarion University and had not anticipated leaving early. Retirement from the university presidency after this current school year seemed like a fitting idea for her.
“I felt like I did a lot of great work here in Clarion,” Whitney said. “After eight years, it’s probably a good time to bring [my presidency] to a closure.”
Whitney was hired in July 2010 as university president and became the interim chancellor for the state system Sept. 12.
Brogan officially retired from his position Sept. 1. He announced his intent to retire from his position in mid-July, at which time PASSHE’s board of governors went to work looking for a candidate for the interim job.
In recognition of her leadership of Clarion, Whitney was selected by the board and chosen to serve. She accepted, hoping to bring about a year of “transformation and change” for the 14 state universities.
“I’m very much interested in making sure each of the 14 universities is very successful,” said Whitney.
In terms of Clarion University leadership, Interim Provost Dr. Todd Pfannestiel is serving as acting president until an interim president is found.
One of Whitney’s new jobs as interim chancellor is finding someone who can serve in the capacity as interim president of Clarion University.
The university’s board of trustees’ and Whitney’s goal is to find someone to fill that gap before the end of September.
Several candidates have already been interviewed for the position, and Whitney hopes to find someone befitting the job so that a name can be given to the state system board of governors to be confirmed.
Even though Whitney will be required to serve all 14 state-owned universities in her new career, she still counts Clarion University as her home. She will continue to live in Clarion and hopes to attend ceremonial activities including the 150th anniversary commencements and the Autumn Leaf Festival Tournament of Leaves Parade, in her capacity as interim chancellor instead of university president.
“I want to keep connected to students, faculty and staff,” Whitney said. “And I’m really very hopeful there’s a tremendous interest in helping each university.”
Whitney highlighted a more united PASSHE as a goal of hers and thinks that higher enrollment and educational credibility of each school are attainable within her next year as interim chancellor and beyond.
She will serve in this new position until at least June 30, 2018 and for longer if a full-time chancellor is not found and installed by that date.
During her term, Whitney will also focus on the recent National Center for Higher Education Management Systems PASSHE-wide review that occurred this past summer. The review was conducted by this independent organization in order to assist the universities’ operations and promote steps toward hopefully creating positive change.
“I think the review went very well,” said Whitney.
In the second week of her term as interim chancellor, she will be meeting with the state system board of governors to take action based on the results of the review. Contrary to earlier fears, there are no current plans to close or merge any of the 14 universities.
Whitney said this was the big question posed after the review: “How can we use our resources more efficiently…so our college students can live their dreams?”
A review process and job transition that seems complex, she mentioned, really boils down to simple goals of enabling more students to achieve success after college and contribute to society.
According to Whitney, part of that end goal can be accomplished by making higher education in the state more affordable and credible. Much of Whitney’s work will take place in Harrisburg where she plans to work with officials to raise more funds for PASSHE and aim to get individual schools and departments further accredited.
“Every sentence could be ended with ‘for the students,’” Whitney said.
She said she took this new job because she wanted to show more servant leadership and give back to the system that was her home for the past eight years.
“If [the board of governors] thought I can bring something to the table, I’m certainly willing to try,” said Whitney.
Students saw Whitney in her capacity as president one more time at Saturday’s Clarion University football game at Memorial Stadium at 1 p.m. During the second quarter of the game at the north side of the stands, recognized student organizations gathered with Whitney to say farewell and share stories of times spent at Clarion.
Whitney views the new job she has undertaken as a football game of sorts. With more students who graduate from PASSHE schools, more points are scored on behalf of the system.
“We won’t accept a loss,” Whitney said. “We’ve had challenging years, but it’s made us better at what we do.”
For President turned Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney, what she thought was going to be a year of celebration and reflection has turned into an upcoming year of advancing change.