Shippensburg University President George “Jody” Harpster is retiring effective Jan. 20, because of family health matters, according to an SU news release.
“It is with a heavy heart that Leslie and I have made the difficult decision to announce my retirement effective Jan. 20, 2017,” Harpster said in a letter to the community. “Important family health matters have arisen that require our attention and so we must do what is best for both ourselves and the university.”
Harpster’s letter did not go into detail about the family issue, but he said he and his wife, Leslie, thank the community for their love and support. Harpster said he is sad to leave at this time in his tenure, but is confident SU will thrive.
SU’s 16th president took office in January 2015, adding to his long history at SU. Harpster served as the interim president from June 2005 to February 2007 and from May 2013 to when he officially took office in 2015.
He was also the executive vice president for external affairs and government relations at SU. Harpster has spent 21 years working at SU, but has been involved with the university for about 40 years.
In 1974 Harpster graduated from SU with a master’s degree and went to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for his doctorate. After serving as the dean of students among other positions on the Charlotte campus, Harpster returned to SU in 1995.
“For the past two decades, my wife, Leslie and I have enjoyed the opportunity to share in that progress as part of the Ship family — serving in whatever capacity we could to help the university succeed,” Harpster said in his letter.
Under Harpster’s presidency, SU added the first electrical engineering degree in PASSHE history and SU’s first two doctoral programs, in educational leadership and in counselor education and supervision. His letter also cites SU as building partnerships with businesses in the region and growing relationships with elected officials and alumni.
SU’s “Charting the Course, Lighting the Way,” which serves to increase student scholarships and enhance the campus, has been one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in the state system, Harpster said.
“All of these successes, combined with hard work and innovative activities of our restructured admissions effort, have helped stabilize enrollment during these especially challenging times,” Harpster said.
A search for a permanent president will begin as soon as feasible, according to the SU news release.
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Frank Brogan is to meet with SU’s Council of Trustees and with leadership in the PASSHE Board of Governors to appoint an interim president.
Council of Trustees Chair Michael Schaul is to also consult Brogan in appointing an interim president.
“It will happen fairly soon,” said Kenn Marshall, PASSHE’s media relations manager. Marshall said it is likely Brogan will meet with the Council of Trustees and Board of Governors in the beginning of January. If an interim is not found before Harpster retires then it is possible for an acting president to take the office for a short time, as dictated by university policy on the line of succession.
The selection process for a university president usually takes about six months and involves a series of interviews on the university and state system level.
“Through every challenge and opportunity, Ship has emerged strong and united, and I am very proud,” Harpster said in his letter.