State System of Higher Education selects Clarion University president to serve as interim chancellor

HARRISBURG — The Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education announced Friday it has selected Karen M. Whitney, president of Clarion University, to serve as its interim chancellor beginning Sept. 12.

Whitney, who began her tenure as president of Clarion University in July 2010, will serve as interim chancellor following Chancellor Frank T. Brogan’s retirement from the System next month.

“Karen Whitney has provided strong, steady leadership as president of Clarion University for the past seven years,” said Board of Governors Chair Cynthia D. Shapira in a news release announcing the selection. “She is smart, strategic and pragmatic. Because she has strong relationships across the System and beyond — and is keenly aware of the challenges and opportunities ahead — she will be able to hit the ground running so we can continue our forward momentum.

“The State System’s mission has never been more clear—to provide student-centered, high-quality, affordable higher education for our students in every region across the state. When students arrive at our 14 universities later this month — and as students and parents consider their higher education choices in the future — they can know for certain that the Board and this system are laser-focused on that mission and are prepared to do everything necessary to advance it. We are grateful that Karen has agreed to serve in this vital role at this important time, and we know that she will help us continue the evolution of our system to be of highest impact.”

Dr. Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which represents faculty members in the state’s system, said some of the union’s membership expressed concern with Whitney’s selection. But he said his association is ready to forge a relationship with the new interim chancellor.

“In the short time since the board’s announcement, I have already been inundated with phone calls and emails expressing puzzlement, concern, and annoyance with regard to the board’s choice of Dr. Whitney to be the interim chancellor,” Mash said in a statement. “Clarion University has continued to struggle under Dr. Whitney’s leadership, and we have not heard her articulate a solid plan for turning the tide. Campus morale is low, and the Clarion faculty have repeatedly expressed their concern about Dr. Whitney’s leadership style, her priorities, her lack of support for the academic enterprise, and her defensiveness in the wake of criticism.

“It is difficult to square the selection, given that the NCHEMS report stressed the need for all parties to pull together for the sake of our students.

“Nevertheless, I look forward to meeting with Dr. Whitney soon so that I can directly articulate the concerns of faculty and coaches to her with hope that we can forge a new, healthy, and cooperative working relationship. We all hope that we can quickly turn the page and that Dr. Whitney will soon reach out to all constituencies and display the sensible, respectful, strong, and intelligent leadership that our System requires. Our universities were designed to offer a high-quality, affordable education to working-class Pennsylvanians, and we all must work together so that we can make that promise a reality.”

Whitney will assume the role of interim chancellor at a time when the Board of Governors is preparing an inclusive process to develop an implementation plan as the next phase in the strategic system review, which Chancellor Brogan and the Board of Governors commissioned last year. The review resulted in a series of recommendations, including—among other things—organizing the universities and the System to focus on student success, updating the governance structure and creating opportunities for greater collaboration across the System.

“Our purpose is to ensure we have a 21st century public higher education system that optimally serves the people of the Commonwealth, and is second to none,” said Shapira.

“I applaud Chancellor Brogan and the Board for having the courage to tackle issues that have developed over time in this system,” said Whitney. “Because of the foundation they have laid, we are prepared to take bold steps toward increasing educational opportunities for students, modernizing how we do business and ensuring a successful transition to the next permanent chancellor. That’s my focus, and that is what I’m committed to.”

Whitney earlier this year announced her intent to retire as Clarion’s president in June 2018. Instead, she will leave that position in September to assume the role of interim chancellor.

“I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve the students, faculty, staff, alumni and the citizens of this Commonwealth,” said Whitney. “Let me be clear, the reason I accepted the Board’s invitation to serve in this role is because I completely—one hundred percent—believe in this system and that every university in it is vital for this Commonwealth to be successful.”