The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors appointed Charles Patterson as Shippensburg University’s interim president Thursday. Patterson is the current Mansfield University president.
The news broke across campus in waves, from those attending the board of governors meeting, to those who found out in an email from current SU president, Laurie Carter. Carter will depart from the university in late June to take on the same role at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.
Carter introduced Patterson as a “servant leader” with two decades of leadership in higher education.
“Dr. Patterson’s tenure as a president in the state system is a benefit to Shippensburg University. He is a leader in innovation that will carry our university through system redesign,” Carter wrote.
According to a university press release, the council of trustees worked collaboratively with the PASSHE Board of Governors and Chancellor Daniel Greesnstein “to ensure a seamless transition to continue the university’s sustainability and system redesign.”
SU Council of Trustees Chair Michael Ross said in a press release that he and the other trustees are confident in Patterson’s appointment.
“Given the current challenges facing PASSHE, having the right person at the helm of Shippensburg University has never been as important, and I and the Council of Trustees am confident that we have the right person at the right time,” Ross said. “Dr. Patterson has built an exemplary resume of accomplishments and transparent leadership, fully understands the goals and objectives of System Redesign, and how to build on the foundation laid by President Carter, and he is eager to be at Shippensburg University.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Association of Pennsylvania College and University Faculties (APSCUF) President Jamie Martin expressed concerns with presidential appointment processes at PASSHE schools.
According to Martin, Act 50 of 2020 granted the chancellor and Board of Governors the authority to a process to consolidate universities. While APSCUF did not oppose the legislation, Martin said they had a different understanding of the nature of consolidation and the union’s role in the process.
“We further recognize the authority of the chancellor to make presidential appointments, but the manner in which the recent ones have occurred seem to be out of step with the concepts of transparency and shared governance,” Martin said. “It has become clear that there is a disconnect between the narrative about faculty support and excitement about the consolidation and the actual views of the faculty. The questions raised by our members are legitimate, and the concerns that they have are real and are shared by members at all six campuses. I do hope that you will listen to and take to heart those concerns — because the support, involvement and investment of faculty in a consolidation is integral.”
SU Human Communication Studies professor and department chair, Kara Laskowski, serves as the SU APSCUF chapter president. She echoed Martin’s transparency concerns and explained the need for campus community members to be involved in this process.
“As noted by President Martin in this morning’s public comment session, APSCUF has significant concerns about transparency and shared governance. While the chancellor espouses dedication to both ideals, the process undertaken in this appointment was neither transparent nor consultative. In past presidential transitions, both interim and permanent, input was sought from students, faculty and staff. This chancellor did not follow that practice, and I will echo Dr. Martin’s comments: ‘This pattern is deeply troubling,’” Laskowski said.
Laskowski is hopeful that Patterson’s appointment will “prove positive” for the Shippensburg community.
“We know that the circumstances and culture of each campus differ, and the challenges that are experienced at Mansfield — namely, those that have lead President Patterson to advocate for the chancellor’s plans to consolidate universities and to pursue retrenchment of faculty in order to meet an arbitrary student to faculty ratio — are distinct and much more severe than those we face at Shippensburg,” Laskowski said.
She added, “I had the opportunity to speak to now Interim President Patterson last evening [Wednesday], and I am confident that he is not only aware that there are differences, but also committed to learning what those are, and who we are.”
On behalf of APSCUF SU, Laskowski said they are looking forward to an open and productive partnership with an interim president who “understands and respects the role of the faculty union and the importance of shared governance on our campus.”
SU Student Government Association (SGA) 2021-22 president elect Riley Brown first thanked Carter for her service to the university and what she has done over the last four years.
Brown then said he is looking forward to working with Patterson, noting his “distinguished record in higher education.”
“I look forward to seeing him around campus, and I’m going to encourage him and relay to him that a good president has a very strong relationship with the student body in many different capacities,” Brown said.
He added, “I think anytime that somebody steps into a new leadership role, it’s important to give them time to adjust and also provide a welcoming environment for them.”
Brown also encouraged students to introduce themselves to Patterson and welcome him to the campus community. He said Patterson is not a total outsider, citing his experience in public higher education, and students should keep their minds open and feel confident in him as interim president.
Patterson assumes his role at SU at the end of June.