Winthrop University trustees will hire the school’s 11th president on Friday – a decision that comes nine months to the day after Winthrop’s most recent president was told she would be fired.
The school entered the week with three presidential finalists, but one has since withdrawn his name, saying he wants to focus his attention on another job for which he was named a finalist.
Two academic deans – both from public universities larger than Winthrop – are still in the running:
▪ Jeff Elwell, a theater professor and dean at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
▪ Dan Mahony, a sport management professor and dean at Kent State University.
Elwell, Mahony and the third finalist – Alan Shao, College of Charleston School of Business dean – rose to the top of the applicant pool after a Winthrop search committee reviewed more than 80 candidates.
Elwell was the first to make a campus visit last month. He said then he would be a “24/7, 365” type of president, who would “listen a lot ... get the real lay of the land ... and value people and their input.”
He noted growing student enrollment, increasing employee pay, and finding money for a new campus library as top priorities, if chosen to lead Winthrop.
As each finalist interviewed and made his case for why he would be best for Winthrop, Elwell had a unique icebreaker with employees and students: His son Preston is a Winthrop freshman, enrolled on an athletic scholarship.
His son encouraged him to apply for the job, Elwell said, but he didn’t need much convincing because he and his family already had been impressed by Winthrop’s campus, employees and programs.
Still, Elwell’s application letter for the Winthrop presidency was likely one of the last received by the search consultant before the “soft” application deadline of Jan. 1. He sent it the day after Christmas, he said, writing to Winthrop trustees “from the heart.”
Mahony was the second finalist to visit, telling the campus during his public presentation that he’s a collaborative leader who aims to be the calmest person in the room. He said he would prioritize drafting a long-term vision for the school and helping Winthrop cultivate donors to boost fundraising more like a private university.
He cited his success at Kent State, where he helped his college’s donation levels jump 35 percent over the past two years. Growing Winthrop’s student body is financially important to the school, Mahony said, but a more aggressive fundraising strategy is critical, too.
Better marketing of what Winthrop offers its students and community, he said, is needed to boost enrollment and giving to the university.
A researcher with experience in intercollegiate athletics, Mahony said his experience working with administrators for university athletics would serve him well as a president.
Both Elwell and Mahony have experience supervising faculty and staff, starting new academic programs, budgeting, fundraising and teaching.
Faculty applauds ‘inclusive process’
Friday’s selection of Elwell or Mahony rests with Winthrop’s 15-member board of trustees, the majority of whom are elected by state lawmakers. The board also includes two elected Winthrop Alumni Association representatives and appointees of the governor and state superintendent of education.
Two other members – who represent students and faculty – cannot vote on the Winthrop president, but they participate in board discussions.
Winthrop faculty representative John Bird, an English professor, and trustees Chairwoman Kathy Bigham were co-leaders of the search committee, which had help from a paid search consultant, Bill Funk of Dallas, Texas.
This year’s presidential search – the second in as many years – lasted nearly six months. The school’s 10th President Jamie Williamson was fired in June, just five days short of her one-year anniversary on the job.
Many faculty members have said they have felt more included in the trustees’ process this time around. After Williamson was fired last summer, The Herald learned through university records that several Winthrop professors had raised concerns about Williamson as a finalist. Trustees said afterward that they wanted to run a better recruitment and vetting process for the next president.
They tweaked the process by hiring a new executive search firm, appointing Bird to help lead the committee work, and adding more on-campus interviews for finalists to take questions from employees and students. The board also used an online survey to gather opinions.
Last week, Winthrop faculty members applauded the board’s efforts. The faculty conference commended trustees for “setting up an inclusive process for the presidential search.”
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