Five University Presidents Announced Resignations in First Week of April

One is staying in higher ed. Another is opening a Chick-fil-A. Here’s a look at the varied reasons these presidents are leaving their posts.
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  • One leader is stepping down following a fight over academic freedom.
  • Another is moving on to become the first woman chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • And a 30-year veteran of higher education is moving on to open a new Chick-fil-A franchise.

In the first week of April, at least five university presidents have announced their retirement, resignation, or reappointment.

Each leader is leaving their post for very different reasons, some of which touch on the big issues facing higher ed.

Hamline University President, Who Was Involved in Academic Freedom Fight, Plans to Retire

Fayneese Miller, president of Hamline University, on April 3 announced that she will retire at the end of the 2024 school year.

Miller, who took the helm of the St. Paul, Minnesota, university in 2015, faced widespread criticism last fall and early this year when she refused to renew the contract of an adjunct professor who showed students historic images of the Prophet Muhammad, which offended a Muslim student.

The professor, Erika López Prater, is suing Hamline, alleging religious discrimination and defamation.

In an April 3 press conference, Miller criticized media coverage of the incident, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

"It's a false narrative, Hamline University believes in academic freedom. We believe in free speech. We believe in all of those things, and never has Hamline University violated anyone's academic freedom. That is not who we are," the president said.

"I cannot state enough is that what was reported in the media was not the incident. I cannot say that enough. No one was let go for showing an image."

University of Minnesota's President to Become First Woman Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh

Also on April 3, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) announced that Joan T.A. Gabel, current president and chief executive of the University of Minnesota System and Twin Cities campus, will be the institution's next chancellor.

Gabel will start in July and be the first woman to lead Pitt.

"I am excited and filled with optimism when I think of leading this institution into its important next chapter — to taking leaps when needed, and incremental steps as necessary, to ensure that every step we take, however large or small, moves us forward," Gabel said in the announcement. "I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead this world-class community of learners, leaders and discoverers from Pittsburgh and Bradford to Greensburg, Johnstown, Titusville and beyond."

Gabel will replace Patrick Gallagher, who has led the university for nine years and announced last year that he would be stepping down to fill a faculty position in Pitt's physics and astronomy department.

Lake Superior State University's President Retires Amid Enrollment Woes

Lake Superior State University (LSSU) President Rodney S. Hanley on April 3 stepped down effective immediately. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lynn G. Gillette has been named interim president.

"We wish Dr. Hanley and his family all the best in their future endeavors," Tim Lukenda, chair of the LSSU Board of Trustees, said in the school's announcement. "It is time to look forward and maintain our focus on this great institution and all of the wonderful things it has to offer our students of today and in the future."

The board will look for a leader to help address LSSU's enrollment challenges, the release said. The Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, school is the smallest public university in the state with 1,655 students enrolled this past fall.

Langston University's President Decides to Pursue Entrepreneurship, Own Chick-fil-A Franchise

The president of Langston University, a historically Black college and university in Oklahoma, is leaving higher ed for an entirely new industry: fast food.

Langston President Kent J. Smith Jr. on April 4 announced his retirement effective at the end of the spring semester. Smith, who has led the institution since 2012 and spent more than 30 years in higher education, said he's leaving higher ed to pursue entrepreneurship and will be a Chick-fil-A franchise owner and operator.

Smith said he's leaving the campus with pride and accomplishment and has enjoyed his and his family's years on campus. In fact, his youngest son was given the middle name Langston to honor the university, he said in the statement announcing his retirement.

"I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and have dreamt of building a legacy to leave for my five children and my grandson," he said in the statement. "Therefore, I have accepted an offer to become a Chick-fil-A franchise owner/operator. I feel strongly that the time is right to begin a new chapter in my life."

Under his leadership, Langston University has erased almost $10 million in student debt. It most recently cleared over $4.5 million in student debt for students enrolled in the summer 2022, fall 2022, and spring 2023 semesters through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

University of Saint Francis President Steps Down to Focus on Catholicism

University of Saint Francis President Eric Albert Zimmer announced April 5 that he will step down from the Fort Wayne, Indiana, institution at the end of the spring semester. Zimmer said he plans to pursue other opportunities within the Catholic Church and academia.

"I have enjoyed my time at the University of Saint Francis," Zimmer said in the announcement. "Over the last three years, we have met many challenges. I am grateful for the efforts of many who have assisted me in achieving our goals. I look forward to assisting in the transition and I am confident that I will be leaving the University in the hands of tremendously talented and capable colleagues."

Zimmer's daily duties will be assumed by Vice President for Academic Affairs Lance Richey while the board of trustees searches for a new president.