President Jack Ohle, the 16th president of Gustavus, announced his retirement after six years as president in an email to the Gustavus community on June 27, 2013 following a meeting of the Board of Trustees. Having entered into his position on July 1, 2008, he will retire at the end of his contract on June 30, 2014.
President Ohle’s contributions to the College include landscaping and construction initiatives through Commission Gustavus 150. Ohle addressed the source of funding for these various initiatives in order to clarify how these projects were made possible.
“The Sesquicentennial Plaza, Columbarium, and West Mall are major capital projects. There is a long process of discussion and review, and the projects are funded by outside sources. The money that went into developing the West Mall, the Sesquicentennial Plaza, and Columbarium was raised for those projects similar to the way funds were raised for the Beck building,” Ohle said.
Other contributions include Campaign Gustavus, planning the College’s Sesquicentennial, and creating six new endowed faculty chairs.
After serving a combined 16 years as president between both Gustavus and Wartburg College in Iowa, Ohle decided to retire after consultation with his wife, Kris.
“My wife and I have committed our lives to higher education and in return have had unbelievable opportunities. Over the last 15 years, the paradigms in higher education have been shifting related to the cost of education, how and who pays for it, and how we must maintain a strong commitment to liberal arts. Technology is changing higher education tremendously. It is time to have someone else take over the responsibilities for Gustavus as the college moves forward and I retire,” Ohle said.
The President also stated that the heated campus conversation over the past few years did not influence his decision to retire.
“There comes a time when you know it is the right time to retire. People have speculated that my retirement is a result of the conflict and the conversations we have been having on campus. In fact, that had very little effect on my retirement,” Ohle said. “Certainly those issues were not a positive thing for the college, but it was an important growing experience for the campus.”
The Ohles intend to move back to Des Moines, Iowa to live near their three sons and the President plans to volunteer, work with the church, and do some consulting in higher education.
Meanwhile, the Faculty Senate has been busy forming a Presidential Search Committee, headed by Board of Trustees member Warren Beck ‘67. The committee will collaborate with search firm Myers McRae to come up with suitable options for Gustavus’ next president and will incorporate representatives from the Board of Trustees, faculty, administration, and students.
“I announced my retirement long enough in advance to give the Board a full year to find a new president. I took into account how important the transition of presidents is on a college campus and what has to happen to continue Gustavus’ progress between my announcement and my retirement,” Ohle said.
The Gustavus faculty nominated possible faculty representatives to the Presidential Search Committee, 181 votes were cast, and the top five nominees were forwarded to the Faculty Senate for further deliberation to ensure diversity of the final three representatives. The Faculty Senate held an open discussion during their meeting to discuss diversity considerations, such as total divisions, ranks, genders, and Senate histories represented in the potential trio.
After much deliberation and debate, the Faculty Senate agreed on the top three vote-getters nominated by the general faculty based on both diversity of representation and respect for the will of the faculty. Associate Professor in Political Science and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Alisa Rosenthal was elected with the highest number of votes from the general faculty (74) and does not have a history of serving on the Faculty Senate.
“I’m excited to be part of the process, and I think this is a really great moment for Gustavus, but it’s also a weighty task that’s in front of us,” Rosenthal said.
Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biology Brenda Kelly and Associate Professor in History and LALACS Sujay Rao were also chosen to serve on this year’s Presidential Search Committee, each receiving 70 votes from the general faculty. The final composition represented a total of three divisions, two ranks, two genders, and two different Senate histories.
“I feel honored that we have been chosen to take on this very important task in the life of the College as it moves forward. I feel excited at the opportunity to work with a really interesting diverse group of people to achieve a common goal,” Kelly said.
According to Rao, although the three members were chosen to represent the faculty during this search, they are still actively looking for input from their colleagues in order to make the decision that fits the College’s best interests.
“I was very involved in discussions on campus about the relationship between faculty and the President and the Provost office, and dealt also with faculty governance issues. I am also the chair of the History department right now and was director of the FTS program for about five years. In both of those roles, I thought a lot about curriculum and about Gustavus as an academic institution, and the direction we’re going in,” Rao said.
The Search Committee is currently in the process of outlining a prospectus that will clearly define what the College is looking for in their next president, as well as what direction the representatives believe the College should go towards in the future.
“This prospectus will be a combination of many things, including what background that we’d be looking for in a presidential candidate, past experience and also what qualities we would like them to have as a person,” Beck said. “We want to outline the key things we hope to accomplish for the next ten years in office and establish a guideline for what type of person has the qualifications and drive that we are looking for while always keeping the long term future and wellbeing of the College in mind.”
“I’m looking for somebody whose mode is collaboration rather than confrontation, and I think Gustavus is a place that thrives when we’re all working together towards the same goal. I’m looking for somebody who doesn’t believe we’re good enough, who recognizes our strengths, but also believes that we can be better than we are,” Rosenthal said.
The committee hopes to make a decision by late winter, but no final dates or deadlines have been set.
“As a search committee, part of our role is to keep an open mind about what the needs and desires are from the campus community,” Beck said.