Shippensburg University Interim President Charles Patterson spoke with SU student media hours after his appointment on Thursday.
Patterson will take over leadership at the end of June when current president Laurie Carter departs for Lawrence University in Wisconsin. He currently serves as president at SU’s Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) sister school Mansfield University.
Mansfield University is in the northeast integration process with Bloomsburg and Lock Haven universities. Patterson explained the process of eliminating and reducing the number of senior executives at each campus.
“And so throughout that process, if I’m successful, I will effectively have reduced the presidents positions and their presidents cabinets on these campuses. So that means through selfless leadership, I’ll go find another job,” Patterson said.
He said he wanted to stay in the state system to continue the work in financial sustainability and to ensure affordability for the commonwealth.
“And I really have a passion for that, with my background in university leadership and higher ed finance. That work is so meaningful, that I sought an opportunity to really stay here within the state system,” he said, noting the opportunity to move to SU.
Patterson’s online biography discusses his successes at Mansfield, including increased enrollment and first-year retention. When asked if he plans to carry his strategies employed at SU’s sister school, Patterson explained that the conditions at Mansfield are different than those SU faces.
“Some of the challenges that we have at Mansfield, where we’ve grown the enrollment by 10% in the last two years, and we’ve increased retention, may or may not be some of the same challenges we see on the ground at Shippensburg. But whatever the solutions are, we have to address growth, we have to look at how we recruit students and retain students in an affordable way,” Patterson said.
Patterson’s online biography notes his passion for servant leadership and transparency. When asked about the importance of transparency and relaying messages that may be upsetting, Patterson said he values communication of the whole picture and the challenges the community faces.
“You know, I don’t think any message should upset people. I think that facts are facts, and if we’re not talking about the facts, then how can we make decisions collectively as a university community,” Patterson said.
Patterson also said this includes holding open meetings where students, faculty and other campus community members are invited and involved in the conversation.
With the continuation of the PASSHE System Redesign and financial sustainability conversations, fears of faculty retrenchment and department cuts remain among the SU community.
Patterson’s Mansfield is in the process of integration with Lock Haven and Bloomsburg universities.
“And it’s not lost on me that the optics, that here’s a university president whose institution is going through integration. I will tell you that integration for Mansfield is extremely meaningful. Mansfield is not in the same position that Shippensburg is in,” Patterson said. “Mansfield is in a different position financially, is in a different position when it comes to its location and in a rural environment and the changing demographics and everything that goes along with the challenges of higher education right now in the United States.”
Patterson said SU is in a position where it can counteract the enrollment decline over the past five to seven years by leveraging the available student opportunities. He listed SU’s “great” facilities, new programs and the completion of the School of Engineering’s Steam Plant. He added that SU needs to do the right things to grow revenue resources through not only student enrollment but also fundraising and other external sources of funding.
“There’s a lot of things that can be leveraged to ensure the continued growth of Shippensburg and one of my goals really would be to ensure that the growth is consistent with keeping Shippensburg out of such conversations,” Patterson said. “To the point where, when those issues come up, you would look at Shippensburg University and say it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to involve this institution in another integration model, or other things.”
Patterson said campus community members should know he is approachable and wants to have conversations.
“I value making other people successful. And that’s, how I lead. For an institution and institutions value is derived from the success of its students, its faculty and staff — the individual successes of students, faculty and staff. And when I can provide the opportunity for students, faculty and staff to be successful, the institutional profile has increased, national recognition is gained, great things happen. So my focus is on the success of the campus community,” he said.
He hopes the next year for SU is filled with growth and a return to a sense of normalcy. Patterson said he wants to foster an environment where students can hold events, attend athletic competitions and “the camaraderie and excitement” that exists on college campuses.
“Our freshmen many times may not have experienced that yet. And it’s gonna be a great time to see our freshmen and now sophomores experience that sometimes for the first time,” Patterson said.
Patterson learned about an age-old SU debate during the final moments of his interview: Starbucks or Dunkin’.
“My wife is from the Boston area, and you know Dunkin’ prevails up there. We lived up there for a while, so I kind of got used to Dunkin’. But I got to say Starbucks,” Patterson said. “Is that the right answer? Is there no right answer? How about I get a Starbucks coffee and a Dunkin’ donut?”
Patterson begins his role as SU interim president in late June. Officials said Patterson’s role and any interim president appointment at Mansfield will be discussed at upcoming meetings.