SU provost becomes president
Neatly stacked papers and folders sit on the edge of a clean and otherwise bare desk. In front of the president’s desk, four chairs point directly inward at a small round table, which held nothing but an organized portfolio.
Shippensburg University’s new president turns each page in her legal pad with purpose as she talks about the programs, projects and functions she is now overseeing.
But the job was familiar to former SU Provost Barbara Lyman. Not only did she keep a pulse on academics, student affairs and administrative duties in her nine-year history at SU, but she also served as acting president several times.
As provost, Lyman would periodically fill in for former SU President George “Jody” Harpster when he was away for several days. Lyman is entering her 10th year at SU next month and is now the interim president, meaning she will be the chief executive for at least the rest of the spring semester.
When Harpster retired on Jan. 20, Lyman became acting president as per the line of succession rules. It came as no surprise that Lyman would be selected for the position.
“In higher education, primarily, that is the order of succession following a presidential vacancy,” Lyman said. “So there I was in our succession plans.”
Lyman said she was initially neither eager nor reluctant to take over as interim president. The expectation was that Lyman would not be considered as a candidate during the presidential search. Once she learned about the circumstances of Harpster’s retirement and the transition, Lyman said she felt prepared for the job.
“I was certainly willing to step up and serve as interim president of the university,” Lyman said.
Aside from having nine years of experience as provost and occasionally serving as the acting president, Lyman also attended professional leadership programs.
Lyman received her fellowship with the American Council on Education Fellows Program, being one of 29 people who earned it in the 2000–01 year.
She spent her fellowship shadowing the president of the University of Wyoming, learning about the functions of a president and its office.
She said she gained valuable experience there but did not realize she would be using it as a university president.
Throughout her career, which includes serving as a department chair, associate graduate dean and provost before coming to SU, Lyman picked up several guiding principles she uses on the job.
“It’s very important to be mission driven,” Lyman said. “It is very important to keep a student-centered focus.”
Shared governance is another core principle Lyman maintains. She said it is vital to hear from multiple perspectives and to include all relevant parties in a discussion. When making decisions, Lyman said it is important to hear from everyone but use data rather than opinion.
Lyman said her role as interim president is to maintain stability at SU and continue momentum. Everyone has a job to do, she said, and when everyone performs his or her job the university can accomplish its goals. To further momentum, SU is seeking to expand its academic programs, but interim presidents typically do not take on any new significant projects.
One unprecedented accomplishment is SU having not only its first female president, but its first African-American president. Lyman said her appointment as interim president shows women are quite capable of taking on chief executive roles.
But Lyman attended an all-women college, where the administrators were women. For her, it was not unusual to see women in charge.
Lyman said her days as president are busy, but she is used to long days.
A goal she and her husband made when first coming to SU was to attend as many school functions as possible. She said she plans to continue going to performances and student athletic competitions as time allows.
For now, Lyman’s goal is to maintain stability and momentum at the desk of the president.