HARRISBURG, Pa. — The board of governors for Pennsylvania’s struggling state-owned university system announced Friday that Clarion University of Pennsylvania President Karen Whitney will take over as the system’s interim chancellor on Sept. 12.
Whitney will succeed Chancellor Frank Brogan, 63, who is retiring after four years at the helm of the State System of Higher Education .
The system’s enrollment has fallen from a peak of about 119,500 in 2010 to about 104,700 six years later, and its recent decision to raise tuition by 3.5 percent addressed only part of a massive budget deficit.
Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira praised Whitney’s “strong, steady leadership” at Clarion during the past seven years.
“She is smart, strategic and pragmatic,” Shapria said. “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.”
Whitney promised “bold steps toward increasing educational opportunities for students, modernizing how we do business and ensuring a successful transition to the next permanent chancellor.”
Whitney had planned to step down as Clarion president in 2018, but now she will leave that post in September.
The union representing faculty at the Pennsylvania 14-school system issued a statement raising concerns about Whitney’s selection.
The union said Clarion University has struggled under her leadership, but added it is ready to work with her.
Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said morale on the Clarion campus is low and faculty members have complained about Whitney’s “leadership style, her priorities, her lack of support for the academic enterprise, and her defensiveness in the wake of criticism.”
“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,” Mash said.
A national search will begin in the fall for Brogan’s successor. A system spokesman said Whitney is not interested in holding the job permanently.
Whitney, 57, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Houston, as well as a doctorate in higher educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin.
The announcement follows a report last month that called for major changes in the university system and found fault with its governance structure and leadership.
The review by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems said the schools need more of a spirit of cooperation and a greater focus on their educational mission.
It did not recommend closing or merging any of the schools, but endorsed changing the board to become a group of “lay persons” that would no longer include the governor, his aides or sitting lawmakers.
The center said it was not criticizing Brogan, the board or any individuals, and that its study was focused on “outdated processes and governance roles, structures, and traditions that have amassed over years and years.”
Leadership failures it identified included a “transparency and credibility gap,” failure to recognize and address problems before crisis stage, a longstanding climate of confrontation and distrust between the chancellor’s office and the union, and “a state of high tension and distrust at most campuses between institutional leaders and faculty and staff.”